The Hypnotist's Love Story(7)

by Liane Moriarty

Of course, it was to be expected that she thought of them. For a while each had been the person who knew her best, who spoke to her every single day, who knew where she was at any particular time, who would have sat in the front row at her funeral should she have tragically died.

It sometimes seemed so peculiar and wrong to her that you could be that intimate with someone, to go to sleep with him and wake up with him, to do really quite extraordinarily personal things together on a regular basis, and then, suddenly, you don’t even know his telephone number, or where he’s living or working, or what he did today or last week or last year.

Ellen watched a giant wave on the horizon curl and crash with a distant boom.

That’s why breakups felt like your skin was being torn from your body. It was actually strange that more people weren’t like Saskia, instead of being so well behaved and dignified about it.

“Good morning!” An elderly couple walked by from the opposite end of the beach at a brisk pace, elbows pumping. Ellen picked up her own pace so as not to be outdone by octogenarians.

When her grandparents were alive, they would walk along this beach every night just before the six o’clock news.

They spent sixty-three years together. Sixty-three years of waking up next to the same person, in the very same bedroom, in fact, where she and Patrick had made love last night. (Which, now that she thought about it, was terrible. She liked to think that the spirits of her grandparents still inhabited the house. She hoped her poor grandfather hadn’t been trapped in the bedroom, standing behind the curtains, shielding his eyes.)

Ellen had always assumed she would marry young and have a relationship like theirs. She thought she was that sort of person. Traditional. Nice. As if nice girls always found nice boys. As if “niceness” was all that was necessary to maintain a relationship.

In all honesty (and the achievement of genuine self-awareness was her ongoing goal), it wasn’t her niceness so much as the fact that she believed herself to be nothing like her own mother: her mother who had brought up Ellen alone, with barely a man in sight.

And yet, here she was, thirty-five and looking for men on the Internet. Each time she clicked on to the website she felt like she was doing something vaguely unseemly.

Unseemly for her. That was the crux of it. She didn’t think there was anything unseemly about anyone else doing Internet dating. Oh, no, it was fine for the unwashed masses! But Ellen helped people with their personal lives for a living.

That was it. She thought she should be the sort of person who was great at relationships, and it seemed she actually wasn’t. Really, she kept telling herself briskly, why shouldn’t she have suffered and had her heart broken like anyone else? Why shouldn’t she have found it hard to meet the right man, like so many other women? Why shouldn’t she be worried about the ticking of her biological clock, even if it was a cliché? Why shouldn’t she be a cliché?

She was ashamed of her shame. As penance she was extremely open about her single status. She told all and sundry that she was Internet dating. She went on each awkward new date with her head held high, her outlook positive and her heart and mind open to all possibilities.

But it was hard work at times.

She reached the rock pool where she always turned back and put her hands on her hips, breathing heavily. She’d been walking faster than she realized.

She looked back along the beach toward her grandparents’ house, now her house, the glass room at the back winking in the morning sun, like a diamond stuck haphazardly to the side of the house. “Fabulous. He’s made it even more of an eyesore,” her mother had said when she saw the new room Ellen’s grandfather had added on, thanks once again to Great-aunt Mary’s lotto win.

Ellen’s grandfather’s childless, unmarried younger sister, Mary, had won half a million dollars in lotto and then died just six weeks later, while she was still pondering what to do with her windfall. (A new TV, perhaps? One of those “flat screens”? But really, Deal or No Deal would still look exactly the same, wouldn’t it? Just bigger.) All her money had gone to Ellen’s grandparents, who had used it to put on the extra glass room, install gas heating and go on a ten-day cruise each year until they died. Great-aunt Mary’s lotto win had also resulted in their decision to leave their house to Ellen when they died, while her mother and Amnesty International had inherited the capital. This suited everyone because Ellen’s mother had no desire to live in her childhood home. “No amount of money could save it,” she liked to say, with sad authority, as if she’d been asked to give her expert opinion.

It was a strange-looking house, built in the seventies and incorporating all the most fashionable design features that decade had to offer: exposed beams and bricks, a stainless-steel spiral staircase, mirrored arches, lime green shag carpet and a bright orange kitchen. But Ellen had always loved it. She thought it had groovy retro charm and she refused to change a thing about it, except for adding an off-street parking spot for her clients. While her career as a hypnotherapist had supported her “quite remarkably” well (as her mother was always telling people, equally disappointed and proud), she had still been renting an apartment and an office when her grandmother died. Inheriting the house and using her grandmother’s sewing room to treat her clients meant that Ellen was now enjoying the most financially secure position of her life.

A white stone on the sand caught her eye and she bent down to pick it up. It had a pleasing shape and feel to it; it might come in useful for one of her clients.

As she straightened back up, she looked out at the ocean and felt a loosening sensation in her chest, as if she’d been released from a corset. You weren’t meant to admit, even to yourself, how badly you wanted love. The man was meant to be the icing, not the cake. She was a bit embarrassed by the depth of her happiness. Thank goodness no one could see the champagne corks popping in her head.

When she got home she would answer Patrick’s text and suggest they see a movie that night. Not very original, but still one of the loveliest things to do with a new boyfriend. She would try not to sound overly eager.

She walked closer to the water and dug her toes deep into the sand. She remembered the feel of Patrick’s back beneath her fingers, his collarbone against her lips.

Sorry, Saskia. I think I’m keeping him.

So, he’s slept with the hypnotist.

I can tell. I knew as soon as I saw his hand pressed to her lower back as they came out of the movie. It was low, you see, and confident, indicating ownership.