The Hypnotist's Love Story(16)


by Liane Moriarty

“It’s all right,” she said to Jack. “My DVD player isn’t working, but you can watch it on my laptop if that’s OK.”

“Yeah, that’s OK,” said Jack kindly. “I can work your laptop.” For the first time he tilted his head up to look at her properly.

“You must be disappointed about your friend being sick,” she said to him.

“Yeah,” he said impatiently. “Hey, will you please hypnotize me? Also, could you teach me how to hypnotize my friends? Like, so they do whatever I command? That would be so cool! They could be my slaves.”

“That’s sort of unethical,” said Ellen.

“What?”

“OK, let’s get that DVD on.” Patrick clapped his hands together.

“You’re acting really weird, Dad.” Jack frowned.

Patrick gave Ellen a self-conscious grin. “Weirder than usual, hey Jack?”

Jack shook his head gravely. “Seriously, Dad.”

They headed down the hallway and Jack stopped to touch a fingertip to the silver metallic polka dots on the orange wallpaper. He looked back up at Ellen. “This is a cool house.”

“Thank you.” She was so smitten she only just managed to stop herself from calling him “darling.”

Twenty minutes later Jack was sitting in Ellen’s living room with the laptop on his knees, headphones over his ears, his eyes fixed on the flickering images on the screen and his big chunky sneakers up on Ellen’s beautifully restored retro coffee table.

Patrick didn’t tell him to take his feet off the table, and Ellen didn’t know how to ask him to take his feet down without sounding like an evil stepmother. What did a few scuff marks matter?

“Well, he’s gorgeous,” she told Patrick when they were sitting at the dining room table. She had laid out a platter of sourdough bread and dips and big green olives. They could see the top of Jack’s head where he sat watching his DVD through the dining room door. She lowered her voice slightly even though he obviously couldn’t hear them.

“He has his moments,” said Patrick. He cleared his throat and smiled at her. “You’re the first woman I’ve introduced him to since his mother died.”

“Well, that’s an honor: But wait, didn’t you introduce him to Saskia? I mean, you said you lived together for a couple of years. So she must have lived with Jack too.”

She hadn’t thought about that before. Saskia had known Patrick’s little boy as well.

Patrick’s nostrils twitched as if he’d just smelled something unpleasant. He spat an olive stone out into the palm of his hand. “I don’t count her.”

Ellen was unsettled. He couldn’t just pretend Saskia had never existed. He must have loved her once, in the beginning. And Ellen was not the first woman he’d introduced to his son. That was factually incorrect. She didn’t like that.

“How old was Jack when Saskia lived with you?”

“He was a toddler, I guess.”

“And did they … get on? Was he upset when she left?”

“He doesn’t even remember her,” said Patrick dismissively, which didn’t answer her question at all. His eyes lost their focus on her, and he suddenly called out, “Jack! Get your feet off the table!”

How could he see that Jack had his feet on the table from here? Or had he noticed before and not bothered to say anything?

“Excuse me.” Patrick stood up and went into the other room.

When he came back he was all set for a new subject. “So, how was your day today? You had a couple of clients, you said. Were they good, ah, sessions?”

If she knew him better she would have said, I haven’t finished talking about Saskia and Jack, but she was always struggling to contain her possibly voyeuristic interest in his ex-girlfriend. After all, he didn’t seem to want to know anything about her ex-partners.

So she told him about her session with Rosie and how she’d discovered that the reason she didn’t want to give up smoking was because she didn’t really want to get married. Of course, Ellen was careful not to reveal any names, or the fact that the cancellation of the wedding would probably make the social pages of the Sydney papers. She thought it was an interesting topic of conversation that showed her in a good light.

Patrick listened intently, and then he squinted at her, as if he were trying to see through sunlight. It made him look older. He had deep lines on either side of his eyes, she guessed from all that outdoors work as a surveyor.

He said, “She’s calling off the wedding? Because of you?”

“Well, I don’t know exactly what she’s going to do next. That’s up to her. I guess I just helped her see how she really felt.”

“But imagine how that poor bloke is going to feel. Are you sure it’s not just a case of cold feet? Or maybe she’s just looking for an excuse for why she can’t give up smoking?”

Ellen felt irritated. She had been expecting fascination and even awe over what hypnotherapy could achieve. She scratched at a spot on her wrist. (Irritability always manifested itself as an itchy feeling on her right wrist, in the exact spot where she had suffered dermatitis as a child.)

“I don’t make my clients do anything,” she said. “I help them to bypass the critical factor and directly access their unconscious minds. My client had what’s called a mini ‘satori.’ It’s the Zen word for enlightenment.”

Ellen thought back to the end of her appointment with Rosie. After she had come out with the revelation about her marriage, Ellen had given her a posthypnotic suggestion: “When you come out of this trance you will feel calm and in control as you make your decisions about what you want to do next.”

When Rosie had emerged from her trance, she had blinked and immediately held up her hand to look at her engagement ring. She’d slid the ring from her finger and held it up to the light with her fingertips, looking at it curiously like it was a strange and unpleasant scientific specimen. Then she smiled at Ellen and said, “You know what? I don’t even like the ring.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to imply any criticism,” said Patrick. “I guess I just identify too much with the man.”

“It’s OK,” said Ellen. This was the first time there had been the slightest hint of tetchiness between them. It had to happen, she told herself. There was no need for alarm.