The Hypnotist's Love Story(13)

by Liane Moriarty

It was true that she wasn’t unhappy about Patrick being a widower. She quite liked the fact that it made things more complicated. It made her feel like she was part of the rich tapestry of life (and death). Also, it gave her a chance to demonstrate her professional skills. She imagined people saying to her, “Do you worry about his feelings for his wife?” and she’d say serenely, “No, actually, I don’t.” She would understand completely if he still had feelings for his wife. She would know instinctively when to draw back, when to let him grieve for her.

“I never fell in love with the one-legged boy,” said Julia.

“No, you were too busy breathing down the phone line to your ex-boyfriend’s new girlfriend.”

“Aha! Touché!” Julia expertly flourished an imaginary sword. She’d been the school’s fencing champion. She twisted the towel back around her head and lay down on the bench again.

“Anyway, I’ve got an excuse for my stalkerish behavior,” she said. “I was seventeen. Teenagers don’t have properly formed brains. It’s a medical fact. How old is your stalker?”

“She’s Patrick’s stalker, not mine. She’s in her early forties, I think.” It was like pulling teeth getting the basic facts out of Patrick about Saskia. Ellen noticed that he avoided using her name wherever possible. He called her “that woman,” or “bunny-boiler.”

“There you go. She’s a grown-up woman. A middle-aged woman, in fact. No excuse. She’s loopy. Loony bin material.”

Ellen sighed and stretched out her arms and legs as hard as she could, before releasing them and letting her body melt into the bench. “We’re all a little crazy, Julia.”

Chapter 5

“You will lose weight”/“You can become just as slim as you choose to be!”

Look at the differences between these suggestions. The first could be described as authoritative, paternal and direct. The second could be described as permissive, indirect and maternal. Milton Erickson believed that the unconscious mind would resist authoritarian suggestions. He was the first to use “artful vagueness.” Don’t you just love that phrase?

—Excerpt from an advanced hypnotherapy

class delivered by Ellen O’Farrell. Three students

nodded, the rest stared at her, artfully vague.

The news that she was unexpectedly meeting Patrick’s son that night for the first time caused Ellen to feel a completely out-of-proportion sense of panic.

“Sure! Of course, of course!” she said to Patrick, nodding her head like a maniacal puppet, when he rang to ask if it was OK to bring Jack along with him to dinner tonight because the kid from school he’d been planning to visit had come down with some virus.

“He can just eat whatever we’re eating,” said Patrick. “Or we’ll just order him a pizza or whatever. Don’t stress. Oh, and he’ll bring along a DVD to watch.”

So, what, should she give the child a sliver off each of their pork medallions? Should she rush out and buy him a lamb chop? But there wasn’t time. She was seeing two clients that afternoon and the first one was due in five minutes.

All she had to drink was champagne and wine. She needed Coke, or lemonade, or at the very least, juice. She had strawberries in liqueur and King Island cream for dessert, entirely inappropriate for a child.

He’d expect ice cream. Cake. Cupcakes? Too childish? She mustn’t insult him by treating him like a little kid. Good Lord. She needed hours to prepare for this. She needed to ring her friend Madeline, who was the expert on all things children; to text Julia, who would tell her she was being an idiot; to e-mail her friend Carmel in New York, who would order her a book on Amazon with a title like The Secret to Positive Step-Mothering; to Google “eight-year-old boys and how to talk to them without appearing desperate to be their mother.”

When she and Patrick had talked about her meeting Jack for the first time, they’d agreed that it would be during the day, not at night; probably a trip to the aquarium. Some sort of activity to keep the pressure off. She had planned to make funny, interesting, seemingly off-the-cuff (but actually carefully scripted) remarks about fish that would appeal to an eight-year-old boy.

She felt a chill as she remembered something else: Her DVD player wasn’t working. The poor motherless child would be bored out of his mind.

Games! They’d have to play games. Did children still play board games? Or should they just sit around and talk? But what about?

For a moment she actually felt close to tears.

She needed to reframe this problem in a more positive light.

Ellen, he’s a kid, not the queen of England or the president of the United States.

Well, that wasn’t at all helpful because, actually, Ellen would be more comfortable meeting the queen or the president. The queen reminded her of her grandmother, whom she missed every day, and President Obama seemed like a jovial, chatty sort of fellow. Ellen was an only child who had grown up around adults, and her job brought her into contact with new people all the time. She wasn’t shy, and although she had a tendency for self-loathing (working on this was an ongoing self-improvement project), she didn’t really feel socially inferior to anyone.

Except children. Yes, truthfully, she felt inferior to children.

They were their own species with their own language and culture. They seemed so full of self-confidence these days. When she’d gone to the shops today after the pool, a little girl whom Ellen wouldn’t have thought had been more than eight went gliding by, chatting away into a pink mobile phone. She was wearing a fur-lined hooded coat, her face was painted like a tiger and she was gliding because her sneakers appeared to have tiny wheels magically hidden in the soles. Not only that, her shoes had flashing pink lights along the side. Ellen had stared, full of wonder, at this exotic tiger princess on her invisible skates.

A few of her friends had babies, but babies were easy. You could cuddle them, and make them laugh just by tickling their palms or blowing raspberries into their soft, sweet necks. Oh, she adored babies, but kids …

Actually, in spite of the fact that she was in her midthirties, many of her friends of similar age were childless. “You girls all think you’ve got forever,” her mother said. “You do realize that you’re born with all the eggs you’re going to get? Not that I’m in any rush to be turned into a wrinkly, gray-haired old granny.” A clipped laugh.