The Hypnotist's Love Story(9)

by Liane Moriarty

“I’ll give you a suggestibility test,” said Ellen. She got up on her knees, mildly exhilarated; she would never have done anything like this with Jon.

Patrick looked up at her. “Like a gullibility test?”

“No, no, it’s just a little exercise to show the power of your imagination. Relax! It’s nothing strange. You’ve probably done it before at a sales conference or something.”

“OK.” Patrick got up on his knees, facing her, with a brave set to his shoulders. The smell of his aftershave was already familiar to her but still new enough to arouse. “Do I close my eyes?”

“No. Just hold your hands like this.”

She interlaced her hands as if in prayer and then lifted her index fingers so they were aligned but not touching. Patrick did the same and looked her straight in the eyes. There was something very sexy about this.

“Now imagine a powerful magnetic force is pulling those two fingertips together. You’re fighting it but you can’t resist. Watch them. It’s getting stronger. Even stronger. It’s too strong—there.”

Patrick’s fingertips closed.

“See! Your subconscious believed the magnets were real.”

Patrick looked at his fingertips still pressed together. “Well. Yes. I mean, I don’t know. I guess it felt real, but that’s just because I was going along with what you were saying.”

Ellen smiled. “Exactly. All hypnosis is self-hypnosis. It’s not magic.”

“Do something else.”

“All right. Close your eyes this time, and stretch your arms out in front of you.”

He did so, and she paused for a moment, observing the planes and hollows of his face in the moonlight.

“Hello?” he said.

“Sorry. OK. Imagine that I’m tying a huge helium balloon to your right wrist. It’s tugging it upward. Feel it tug. Now in your left hand I’m giving you a bucket. It’s very heavy because it’s filled with heavy wet sand from the beach.”

Patrick’s right arm floated straight up and his left hand dropped down. Either he was doing this to please her or he was, in fact, an excellent subject for hypnosis.

“Open your eyes,” she said.

Patrick opened his eyes and looked at his arms.

“Huh,” he said. He dropped his arms and put them around her waist. He lowered his head as if to kiss her and then he stopped and suddenly spun around to look behind him.

“What is it?” said Ellen, startled.

“I’m sorry,” said Patrick. “I thought I heard something. I thought it was her.”

There was already no question as to who “her” was. Ellen looked around at the shadowy areas under the bridge for a lurking woman. She noted that she was experiencing a slight buzz: a pleasant burst of adrenaline at the thought of Patrick’s stalker secretly observing them.

“You haven’t seen her tonight, have you?” asked Ellen. The other night they’d been to the movies and dinner and Patrick hadn’t even mentioned he’d noticed Saskia until they got back to the car and found a letter from her sitting on the windscreen.

Patrick glanced around, his eyes narrowed. Then he sat back down again.

“No, I haven’t seen her at all. I think she’s giving us the night off.” He put his arm around her. “I’m sorry. It makes me twitchy sometimes.”

“I can imagine,” said Ellen sympathetically. Was there something moving over by that pylon? No. Trick of the light, damn it.

“So your business is all about the power of the mind,” said Patrick.

“That’s right,” said Ellen. “The power of the subconscious mind.”

“I believe in it, don’t get me wrong,” began Patrick.

Here we go. Ellen’s stomach muscles clenched.

“But there’s a limit to it, isn’t there?”

“What do you mean?” said Ellen. He’s not Jon, she told herself. He’s just stating an opinion. Calm down.

“I just mean, it can’t cure everything. When Colleen—that was my wife—when she got sick, people kept telling her to think positively. As if she could just think the cancer away. After she died I saw a woman on TV saying: ‘I refused to let the cancer beat me. I had two young children, you see. I had to live.’ It infuriated me. As if it was Colleen’s fault that she died. As if she should have tried harder.”

Go carefully, thought Ellen. She opened her mouth to speak and then closed it again.

Patrick put his hand on her knee. “By the way, I don’t want you thinking you’ve got to walk on eggshells whenever anything comes up about my wife. I’m fine about it. I’m not going to go all weird on you, I promise.”

Hmm, thought Ellen. “My mother is a GP,” she said. “So—” So what? So I have some sort of medical credibility because of her? My mother doesn’t really believe in what I do either. “I have looked after clients with terminal illnesses for pain management or stress relief, but I would never, ever promise I could cure them.”

“I didn’t mean to imply that,” said Patrick. His hand tightened on her knee.

“I know you didn’t.” Ellen put her hand over his, and wondered if he was seeing his wife’s face right now.

She didn’t tell him that she did believe that the mind had miraculous untapped powers.

Show me the empirical evidence, said Jon in her head.

They didn’t speak. The sound of a ferry horn floated across to them from the other side of the harbor. There were footsteps behind them. They both turned to watch a woman wearing a dark business suit and white sneakers walking down the path toward them.

“That’s not—” said Ellen.

“No,” said Patrick, his face clearing as the woman was illuminated by a streetlight.

They were silent. Ellen thought about how she’d closed off such a huge part of her identity during her years with Jon. If this relationship was going to work, she needed to throw open those doors! Let in the light! The air! The— OK, Ellen, enough with the house metaphor.

“I really love what I do,” she said to Patrick. That defensive tone was still there. She made a conscious effort to let it go, to just be. “I’m quite good at it too.”

Patrick gave her an amused sidelong look. “Are you the queen of hypnotherapists?”