The Hypnotist's Love Story(3)

by Liane Moriarty

He was on the run from the law.

Her own breathing was starting to get a bit ragged.

Too much imagination for her own good. Mrs. Pascoe’s comment on her Year Seven report card.

She looked around her. The other diners were all involved in their own conversations, cutlery softly chinking against plates, the occasional not-too-raucous burst of laughter. Nobody was looking at the woman with the empty chair across from her.

Was there time? Was it really necessary? Yes.

She sat up straight in her chair and placed her hands palm down on her thighs. She closed her eyes and breathed in through her nostrils, out through her mouth. With each breath she imagined her body being filled with a powerful gold light. The light gave her energy and strength. The light filled her feet, her legs, her stomach, her arms and, finally, whoosh, it whirled around her head, so that all she could see was a golden glow, as if she was looking directly into a sunset, and for a moment she felt as if she were floating just a few centimeters above her chair.

I will be fine. Whatever he says will not touch the essence of me. I will cope. On the count of three. One … two …

She opened her eyes, refreshed and reinvigorated. She looked around. Nobody was staring at her. Of course, she knew that she hadn’t really levitated above her chair while glowing like a lightbulb, but sometimes the feelings were so astoundingly real she couldn’t believe they hadn’t physically manifested in some way.

Self-hypnosis was such a wonderful tool. She could always tell when a student or client actually got it. They were awestruck by what their minds could achieve. The first time that levitating sensation happened to her it was like she’d discovered she could fly. She could wipe out the drug problem if she could just teach teenagers self-hypnosis.

Patrick still wasn’t back. She looked at the meal in front of her. No point letting it go to waste. A waiter gliding by stopped and refilled her wineglass. Good wine, good fish. Pity she didn’t have a book.

She thought about her day.

Right up until the moment that Patrick put down his knife and fork, it had been perfect. Exquisite, even.

She’d slept deeply and dreamlessly to the rhythm of the rain on the roof and woke late to sunshine on her face. The first thing she saw when she opened her eyes was the branch she’d hung from the ceiling as a reminder of the Buddhist sutra of mindfulness. She’d then inhaled and exhaled three gentle breaths while maintaining the “half smile.”

(Although she wished she’d never mentioned this practice to her friend Julia, who had asked Ellen to demonstrate her half smile. When Ellen finally complied, after much cajoling, Julia had rocked with laughter for ten minutes straight.)

When she got out of bed, the windowpanes were icy against her fingertips, but the new gas heating system her grandparents had installed (thanks to Great-aunt Mary’s lucky lotto ticket!) before they’d died had transformed the house into a cozy cocoon. She ate porridge with brown sugar for breakfast while she listened to the ABC news, which was upbeat and wry. The recent flu pandemic was probably not a pandemic after all. (Her mother, who was a GP, had said all along that this would be the case.) A missing toddler had turned up safe and sound. The latest gangland killing was probably just a family feud. The latest political scandal had fizzled. Traffic was moving well. Winds would be southwesterly and light. For once the world seemed extremely manageable.

After breakfast, she’d rugged up warmly to walk along the beach and come back exhilarated and windblown, licking salt from her lips.

She’d had four appointments that day. She had her last session with a man who had wanted help overcoming his flying phobia so he could take his wife to France for their ruby wedding anniversary. As he left, he shook her hand vigorously and promised to send Ellen a postcard from Paris. She’d also met two new clients. She always enjoyed meeting new clients. One was a woman who had suffered from some sort of debilitating unexplained pain in her leg for the last four years and been to countless doctors, physiotherapists and chiropractors, who were all baffled. The other was a woman who had promised her fiancé that she would give up smoking by their wedding day. Both sessions had gone well.

Her final appointment was with a client who was probably not going to be one of her success stories. She was having trouble pinning down what Mary-Kate really wanted to achieve from hypnotherapy, but she refused to be referred to anyone else and insisted that she wanted to continue treatment. Ellen had decided not to try anything too complicated today and just given her a simple relaxation session. She called it a “soul massage.” Afterward, Mary-Kate said her soul felt exactly the same, thank you, but that was Mary-Kate.

After Mary-Kate had plodded off, Ellen cleaned the house, carefully leaving a few things lying about so it didn’t look like she had cleaned up but was just naturally tidy. She had considered taking down some of the Buddhist quotations she had displayed all around her house on pale purple Post-it notes. Her ex-boyfriend Jon used to make such fun of them—standing at her fridge, reading them out in a stupid voice. But hiding her true self wasn’t the way to start a potential new relationship, was it?

She also remade the bed with her crispest, nicest sheets. It was probably time to sleep with him. Oh, yes, it was a bit clinical, but that’s how it was when you were dating in your thirties. It wasn’t hearts and flowers anymore. They weren’t sixteen. They weren’t religious. They had met on the Internet: a dating website. So it was all very clear and upfront. They were both looking for a long-term relationship. They had ticked corresponding boxes to indicate this.

There had been some kissing (quite lovely), and now it was time for sex. She’d been celibate for almost a year, and Ellen liked sex. It surprised some men, who seemed to develop an ethereal, sweetly innocent image of her in the beginning, which she didn’t mind; she even played up to it a bit. It just wasn’t quite accurate.

(She also liked horror movies, and coffee, and steak cooked medium-rare. A lot of people were convinced she was vegetarian, that, in fact, she should be an herbal-tea drinking vegetarian, even going so far as to prepare special meals for her at dinner parties and then insisting that they “clearly remembered” her saying she didn’t eat meat.)

She had taken her time getting ready for tonight: a long steamy bath with a glass of wine and a Violent Femmes CD. The violent chords and strident voices were so startlingly different from the chiming, bubbling relaxation tapes she played all day that it was like having a bucket of cold water thrown over her head. The Violent Femmes reminded her of the eighties, and being a teenager, and feeling supercharged with hormones and hope. By the time Patrick had knocked on her front door she was in such a deliriously good mood, the thought had actually flitted across her mind, You must be heading for a fall.