Skip to Main Content

The Silence in Her Eyes

A Novel

See More Retailers

About The Book

In the vein of Paula Hawkins and Ruth Ware, a bold and suspenseful psychological thriller about a young woman with a rare neurological condition who is convinced her neighbor is going to be murdered—from the author of the “timely must-read” (People) The German Girl.

Leah has been living with akinetopsia, or motion blindness, since she was a child. For the last twenty years, she hasn’t been able to see movement. As she walks around her upper Manhattan neighborhood with her white stick tapping in front, most people assume she’s blind. But the truth is Leah sees a good deal, and with her acute senses of smell and hearing, very little escapes her notice.

She has a quiet, orderly life, with little human contact beyond her longtime housekeeper, her doctor, and her elderly neighbor. That all changes when Alice moves into the apartment next door and Leah can immediately smell the anxiety wafting off her. Worse, Leah can’t help but hear Alice and a late-night visitor engage in a violent fight. Worried, she befriends her neighbor and discovers that Alice is in the middle of a messy divorce from an abusive husband.

Then one night, Leah wakes up to someone in her apartment. She blacks out and in the morning is left wondering if she dreamt the episode. And yet the scent of the intruder follows her everywhere. And when she hears Alice through the wall pleading for her help, Leah makes a decision that will test her courage, her strength, and ultimately her sanity.

Excerpt

Chapter One ONE
On my eighth birthday, the world came to a standstill. My mother’s face became a portrait of pain. My father’s face vanished forever.

Two decades have passed since then; my mother died on my twenty-eighth birthday. She is now no more than handfuls of ash in a small glass urn, tucked away in a marble mausoleum.

I must have left my white stick in the car, so I am leaning on the arm of Antonia, who has been my constant companion since the day I was born. Others may think I’m blind, but I can see more than they imagine. We are leaving the cemetery behind, with no plans to return. As Mom often assured me in her final days, she won’t be on her own, but will be with hundreds of thousands of souls, in a plot close to Heather and Fir Avenues, listening day and night to “Blue in Green.” The moment has come for me to fend for myself.

I know the avenues of the cemetery by heart, the plot numbers, the rows of vaults, and the sculptures of angels with downcast eyes looking like exhausted ballerinas. I’ve visited the century-old Thomas family mausoleum with my mother on more than one occasion. My father rests there too. A decade after his passing, Mom and I began restoring the place, as if she suspected that another death was around the corner. I never knew which of us she was preparing the space for. I was eighteen at the time and hopeful that my dark days were coming to an end. I was wrong.

It’s a short drive from Woodlawn to the home Antonia shares with her husband, Alejo.

“You’ll be fine, Leah,” she reassures me as she closes the car door. “I’ll see you tomorrow. I love you.”

The driver continues along the freeway, the Hudson River on the right as we enter Manhattan. In a few minutes, I will be on Morningside Drive, at the limestone entrance of Mont Cenis, the old ivy-covered building where I live. I begin counting the streets, the stoplights, the corners leading to the apartment that is my refuge, my island within an island. A few minutes before arrival, I order my dinner over the phone.

When the car comes to a halt, I thank the driver, take out the folded aluminum white stick, open it, climb the six front steps, and hurry to the elevator. I don’t want to run into any of my neighbors or Connor, the building superintendent. The last thing I want is to hear kind remarks or condolences. That will only upset me.

Entering the apartment, I feel a heavy, cold wave of exhaustion wash over me. In the cavernous living room, I open the enormous French doors that lead onto the sliver of a balcony looking out over Morningside Park. The still evening’s distant rumble of thunder reaches my ears. A breeze ruffles my hair, but to my eyes the leaves on the trees appear motionless, as though they are struggling against some higher force. On the street corner, an old woman with a dog is looking down at the ground; a man is reading on the bench under the bronze streetlamp; the Columbia University security guard stands at attention like a toy soldier in his sentry box. Nothing moves.

Overwhelmed by the smell of the first raindrops on dry leaves, I pull the doors closed. On the other side of the glass, the old woman and the man have disappeared; the guard is still there, unmoving. A yellow taxi dissolves in a brief instant. For most people, such images are quickly forgotten. For me—a person with motion blindness, or what doctors call akinetopsia—they stay with me, in my mind, like photographs.

When I was growing up, Mom and I shared a ritual of silence. Neither of us ever raised our voices. We knew each other’s gestures by heart and picked up on the slightest murmur. My mother grew accustomed to talking to me without moving, her body frozen still. The codes of our language were reduced to verbs conjugated as imperatives: sit down, walk, lie down, get up. Those were the orders of the day.

Now I sweep the informational leaflets about akinetopsia—a word derived from Greek that used to remind me of a phrase in the Japanese anime I read when I was a kid—into the recycling basket. And the brain scans and magnetic resonance test results and encephalograms. All gone.

When I was a little girl, I imagined the brain was an enormous worm that expanded to create the different lobes. I imagined the occipital lobe, the visual processing center, wrinkled like a raisin, hemmed in by the parietal and frontal lobes. I imagined how my senses of smell and hearing imposed themselves on the other senses, which gradually lost prominence until they almost faded away altogether.

This is the legacy of having spent two decades monitored by an enormous magnet that tried to read my mind and work out why I rejected movement. I used to dream that a knight in shining armor would wake me with a kiss, but when I opened my eyes, plagued by static images that hung over me like a veil, I regretted those dreams. I knew my life wasn’t a fairy tale.

For months, doctors kept me shut up in a Boston hospital, where they meticulously investigated the way I had begun, against my will, to perceive the world. My mother’s and Antonia’s voices blended in with those of the doctors. “Her speech is not impaired.” “Her sense of smell isn’t either.” “The girl can hear.” “She lost her sight,” Antonia said to Mom. “She can see a little.” The only thing my eyes couldn’t capture was movement. At times I thought that everyone around me had died. In the beginning, the sporadic headaches were like someone drilling into my skull, but then they began to disappear as I grew used to them until one day, I no longer felt them anymore.

Antonia kept wondering where the cheerful, vivacious girl that I’d been had gone. In the hospital, the two of them would stand by my bed and talk about me as if I’d also gone deaf. I realized one day that they were whispering. But they did not know that over time, my ears had become more acute and now even the slightest sigh or murmur reached me with the same clarity as elephants perceive the lowest frequencies. I once heard my mom say that my gaze was fading. I began to slowly distance myself from moving figures, those with life, until books became my only friends. I didn’t need anything else.

When I emerged from confinement, my mother dedicated her life to my care, tirelessly taking me to consultations with experts, desperately searching for the decisive act that would snap me out of my dream. They explained to her that I was in a kind of visual coma and made it clear that the brain damage was reversible. One day, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, I might regain the twenty-four images per second that the visual field needs in order to perceive movement. Might.

Mom became my teacher and I learned to add, subtract, multiply, and divide complex fractions with surprising speed. She encouraged me to be passionate about the far-off worlds and history I could find in the pages of books. Hoping that I would regain the ability to see movement, she refused to have the city’s school system, or my doctors, label me as disabled.

Because she was so devoted to me, and because we knew no one else with my condition, her social circle narrowed. She was an only child like me, born to older parents. She lost her father when she was only twenty; her mother passed away not long after. “You must have children young,” she always told me. “If not, you’ll leave them all alone at a very early age, like my parents did to me.”

Our neighbors, Mrs. Elman and her companion, Olivia, became our family, and Antonia, who has taken care of me since I was a child, bless her, stayed on as my mother’s ballast. Though they disagreed on much, they were a good team. Antonia filled the apartment with little prayer cards of the Christian martyr St. Lucy, whose eyes, according to legend, had been gouged out. At night, Antonia would tell me stories about Lucy’s sacrifices and how she became the patron saint of the blind on an Italian island far away from Manhattan.

For as long as I can remember, my world has revolved around my mother, Antonia, Dr. Allen, Mrs. Elman, and Olivia. These are the people in my life.

As soon as I hear the intercom buzz, I rush to the door to greet the delivery boy. I have no need of the stick as I make my way down the hall, eyes closed. Opening the door, I wait for him in darkness, surrounded by the smell of sun that always precedes him. The ping of the elevator announces his arrival at my floor, and my heart begins to race. Smiling, I take a deep breath, and when I breathe out again, there he is with my meal—the boy I dream of every night and wait for every evening. He is the boy with the friendly smile and the permanent shadow of stubble, thick eyebrows, long eyelashes, his brow hidden beneath unruly locks of hair he always tidies before meeting me at my door.

When he’s in front of my door, I keep my eyes wide open, because I know that if I close them, he will disappear, leaving behind only the aura of sun and sweat he greets me with each day. I want to keep his image.

“Miss Leah, here’s your order,” he says.

Even though I can’t see his lips moving, every one of his words is like a caress.

I stretch out my right hand and he places the bag over my wrist, making sure it doesn’t slip. I can feel his warm fingers linger on my forearm.

I mustn’t shut my eyes. If I do, he’ll disappear, like he always does, I tell myself as a gust of air stings my pupils, the need to blink filling my eyes with tears.

“Call if you need anything else. Have a good evening,” the boy says.

I listen to his parting words and hear his voice moving off toward the elevator. Its doors open and close, and it begins to descend; I hear the bell as it reaches the lobby. Then I hear the automatic front door swing closed and the boy’s footsteps as he hurries away—but according to my eyes, he is still at my front door, enveloping me with his cheer. Until I blink, and when I open my eyes once more, he is gone.

Walking back to the kitchen, I leave the food on the white stone draining board and go back to the glass doors but don’t look out. I think of him staring up at me from the sidewalk, still smiling at me, an orphan now.

And that’s when it sinks in. For the first time in my life, I am alone. In this apartment, full of memories. Some of them, I am sure, are better off forgotten.

Mom! I want to call out but find myself unable to. It was time for her to get some rest. That’s what I’ve been telling myself since leaving the cemetery.

I move away from the window, dreaming that the boy is still down below, waiting for an invitation to call on me again.

I lay my supper out on the table: tomato soup, a dinner roll, a pear, and a bar of dark chocolate, half of which I will take to bed with me, saving the rest for tomorrow. On Fridays I usually eat with Mrs. Elman and Olivia, the elderly ladies on the fifth floor, who are as good as grandmothers to me, but this time I made my excuses beforehand, knowing I would be exhausted after the cemetery. Mom had made it crystal clear that she wanted only Antonia and me at her send-off. She didn’t want a funeral full of weeping and prayers. And so there were none.

My mother’s bedroom is mine now. Tonight, I plan to sleep there for the first time, despite a vague feeling of apprehension that is bubbling up inside me. I worry the hallucinations, which began when I was a teenager, will start up again. In preparation, I’ve turned the bedroom into a fortress, with walls of books to shield me from noises coming from the adjoining apartment and the voices that tend to float up from the building’s interior courtyard. I enjoy my acute sense of hearing in the daytime, but at night it is torture and has grown only more pronounced over the years. That is why, even when the temperature outside is below freezing, I turn the air-conditioning on to block out any hint of sound.

When the sun comes out, the sounds calm down. Daylight softens not only other people’s voices, the cries of babies, dogs barking, and the sirens of ambulances going to and from the hospital on the corner but also the sounds of arms slipping into coats, muffled footsteps, and the jagged breathing of the first-floor tenant, who is destined to die of a heart attack if his sleep apnea is any indication.

My sense of smell is another superpower, if you can call it that (I live in New York City, after all). Each of my neighbors has a distinct scent I am able to detect from afar. Whenever I enter the elevator, I can tell if Mr. Hoffman, who smells of mothballs, has recently come or gone, or if the kids from the fifth floor have been messing with the buttons again. I also know if Mrs. Segal’s shih tzu has lately wiped its wet muzzle on the rug, or if Mrs. Stein’s teenage daughter smoked marijuana the night before.

I go to bed clutching my book and stare at the towering stack Mom left behind for me to conquer on my own. I am currently engrossed in a novel called A Blind Man’s Tale, by a Japanese author she introduced me to. Mom ordered an English edition from some obscure website, and it took more than two months to arrive. It’s about a sightless masseur in medieval Japan who becomes the confidant of a beautiful, lonely noblewoman.

I focus on the words and close my eyes before turning each page. When I open them again, there is the next one. For me reading is a constant process of blinking. It is past midnight by the time I close the book, and I consider turning on some music. Perhaps “Blue in Green,” my mother’s favorite melody, which my parents used to play every year on their anniversary—they danced to it on their wedding day—but sleep comes quickly tonight.

A scent wakes me up in the middle of the night. It is a subtle fragrance of bergamot, a combination of citrus and black tea. In a second, the masculine scent takes me back to a past I can’t define, to my childhood, and terrifies me. I feel like I’m being watched. I think I can hear someone breathing. Am I dreaming?

Still half-asleep, I gather my thoughts and try to piece together a face. The scent is familiar, and yet it doesn’t belong to any of my neighbors. This is someone I don’t know.

The someone’s heart is beating fast. What should I do? Scream? Turn on the light? It must be a nightmare.

In my mind, I go over my bedtime routine. No, I didn’t leave the fire escape window open. I’m convinced I locked the front door. There is no cash in the apartment.

So, what could they want? Mom’s jewelry? Maybe the laptop? Let them take the laptop. All the possibilities I can think of flash through my mind. Someone could have followed me home, traced my footsteps, but in that case, I would have noticed right away. That strange smell I still can’t place, a mixture of bergamot…

I shudder. A draft of cold air creeps beneath the sheets, sweeps over my body, and settles on my shoulders. I can’t stop shivering.

Slowly opening my eyes, I confirm that yes, I am awake. This presence—who or whatever it is—isn’t a nightmare. I stay completely still, facedown, and pretend to be asleep.

There is a stranger in the room.

About The Author

Ciro Guitérrez
Armando Lucas Correa

Armando Lucas Correa is an award-winning journalist, editor, author, and the recipient of several awards from the National Association of Hispanic Publications and the Society of Professional Journalism. He is the author of the international bestseller The German Girl, which is now being published in seventeen languages and has sold more than one million copies; The Daughter’s Tale; and The Night Traveler, for which he was awarded the Cintas Foundation Creative Writing Fellowship. He lives in New York City with his husband and their three children. Visit ArmandoLucasCorrea.com.

 
 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (November 12, 2024)
  • Length: 272 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982197513

Raves and Reviews

“Unique and propulsive, The Silence in Her Eyes is an utterly satisfying thriller. Leah’s rare condition (motion blindness) leaves readers wondering if she is a trustworthy narrator, and the questions mount as twist after twist unfolds. Readers will devour this taut, genre-bending thriller, and eagerly anticipate Correa’s next foray into psychological suspense.” —Nicole Baart, bestselling author of The Long Way Back

“A gripping story…This slow-build suspense novel keep the tension rising as readers are drawn ever deeper into Leah’s claustrophobic world…The twists are enjoyable.” —Library Journal

“Correa brings new life to the familiar Rear Window conceit, wrapping things up with a stunning finale that forces readers to reevaluate each character and their motives. Paula Hawkins fans will devour this.” —Publisher’s Weekly

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Armando Lucas Correa