The Hypnotist's Love Story(14)

by Liane Moriarty

OK, so Ellen didn’t have much experience dealing with children. But it had to be more than that causing this sense of panic. She peeled back the layers of her consciousness with brutal efficiency to reveal the naked, hairy truth.

She wanted to be this child’s stepmother. She wanted him dressed in a cute little suit at her wedding. She wanted him to be a big brother to her own little baby, because she was thirty-five and born with all the eggs she was going to get. She wanted his daddy to be the one because she couldn’t stand to look up another profile on that awful Internet dating site and find another middle-aged, bald, chubby man staring smugly at her out of the computer screen, demanding a “slim lady who takes care of herself, for snuggles and long walks along the beach.” Yes, she wanted this child to love her and approve of her and save her from snuggles with chubby, smug men.

And of course that was all too much, and all too soon, and all very embarrassing, and if the kid sensed her crazy desperation (and she suspected that children were like dogs, with an instinct for fear), then he would—

The doorbell rang in an impatient way.

Ellen looked at her watch. It was her two-o’clock client. She ran down the stairs, two at a time, and then stopped at the bottom and recited her standard pre-appointment affirmation: Breathe in, I am now fully present with this client, breathe out, I will give everything I have to give.

She opened the door, smiling calmly and professionally. Neurotic Ellen was now safely stashed away in a closed cupboard at the back of her mind.

The client was Rosie: her bride-to-be who had promised her fiancé that she would give up smoking by her wedding day.

She was a short, curvy woman with big trusting round eyes and a tiny gap between her two front teeth, giving her an innocent, childlike look. Ellen couldn’t actually imagine her smoking. It would be like watching a toddler with a cigarette in her mouth.

At their first session Rosie had mentioned that she was marrying “Ian Roman” and given Ellen an expectant look.

I’m meant to recognize that name, thought Ellen.

“He’s in the media,” said Rosie. “He’s quite, um, prominent.”

And then Ellen thought, Ian Roman! It was one of those names that sank into your subconscious via osmosis. He owned newspapers or television stations or something. His name appeared in the financial pages. Not that Ellen made a habit of reading the financial pages.

“So my married name will be Rosie Roman.” Rosie gave an artificial little laugh.

“You don’t have to change your name,” pointed out Ellen.

“Oh, no, I’m not a career woman or anything.” Rosie waved her hand dismissively, as if she’d just been offered something far too expensive for her tastes. “I’m just an ordinary person.”

Rosie seemed in a bad mood today, moving her head from side to side as if her neck was sore, and then pulling hard on the hem of her jumper as though it had shrunk in the wash.

“How are the wedding plans going?” asked Ellen, leading her up the stairs.

“Don’t ask,” said Rosie.

“Oh, dear.”

“Stupid time to give up smoking, when I’m stressed out of my mind.”

“Not necessarily. It’s often a good time to break a habit when you’re out of your day-to-day routine.”

“I guess.” Rosie didn’t seem convinced.

Ellen watched Rosie’s shoulders relax as they walked into her glass office. The combination of the light and the ocean view was so powerful that sometimes she thought she probably didn’t need to do much else for her clients but allow them to sit there.

“So how is it going?” asked Ellen, when they were sitting down.

“I’m still smoking like a chimney,” snapped Rosie.

Before Ellen had a chance to respond, Rosie said, “I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I know it’s my fault. I haven’t even been listening to the CD you gave me.”

Ellen had given her one of her CDs with a specially prepared script for breaking the smoking habit. She’d made them years ago, and clients were often effusive about them, although she found it unbearable to listen to her own voice.

“Why haven’t you been listening to it?”

Many clients didn’t get around to listening to her CDs, and they always told her this with guilty, defiant looks, as if they were admitting they hadn’t done their homework but knew they couldn’t really get into trouble because they were grown-ups and were paying for this.

Rosie shrugged. “I don’t know. I just can’t seem to think of anything else besides the wedding. Like, for example, I despise the color I picked for the bridesmaid dresses. Apricot! It was like I was suffering temporary insanity.”

She lifted a chocolate out of the bowl and then dropped it again.

“My fiancé gave up smoking years ago. He just decided one day when he was driving along the F3. He wound down his window, threw out the half-full packet of cigarettes and never smoked again.”

“Litterbug,” said Ellen.

Rosie looked at her with surprise and giggled. “Yes.” Then her smile vanished abruptly, as if she’d been caught out.

There was something not quite right here. Ellen had a feeling that Rosie was lying to her about something. People were always lying, of course, whether consciously or not.

“Do you want to give up smoking?” said Ellen.

Rosie widened her eyes. “Of course!”

“Well, sometimes there are unconscious blocks to letting go of a habit. I’m thinking we might do something a bit different and explore that today.”

“Sure,” sighed Rosie. “Although I can tell you, there’s nothing mysterious about it. I just need more willpower.”

“Well, let’s see.” Ellen paused, trying to decide on what induction to use. Then she knew the perfect metaphor. “What color do you wish you’d chosen for your bridesmaids?”

“Blue,” said Rosie immediately.

“OK, would you like to choose a spot on the wall to focus on? Anywhere you like.”

Rosie sighed and shrugged and looked around the room. She kept her eyes fixed on the same spot in the far right-hand corner that almost everyone chose and said, “OK.”

“Soon you will blink.”

Rosie blinked.

“That’s right,” said Ellen warmly. “And sooner or later your eyes are going to close. It might happen straightaway or it might take a little longer.”