The Hypnotist's Love Story

by Liane Moriarty

Chapter 1

When people think of hypnosis, they think of swinging pendulums, “You’re getting sleepy” and volunteers clucking like chickens on stage shows. So it’s not surprising that many of my clients are quite nervous when they visit me for the first time! In fact there is nothing unnatural or frightening about hypnosis. Chances are, you’ve already had the experience of going into a “trance-like state” in your day-to-day life. Have you ever driven to a familiar destination and found that you have no memory of the drive? Guess what? You were in a trance!

—From “An Introduction to Ellen O’Farrell,

Hypnotherapist” leaflet

I had never been hypnotized before. I didn’t really believe in it, to be honest. My plan was to lie there and pretend it was working, and try not to laugh.

“Most people are surprised by how much they enjoy it,” said the hypnotist. She was all softness and soap; no makeup or jewelry. Her skin had a polished, translucent look, as if she only ever bathed in mountain streams. She smelled like one of those overpriced crafty shops you find in country towns: sandalwood and lavender.

The room we were in was tiny, warm and strange. It was built on the side of the house like an enclosed balcony. The carpet was musty, with faded pink roses, but the windows were modern: floor-to-ceiling panels of glass like those in an atrium. The room was flooded with light. As I walked in, the light seemed to whoosh through my head, like a brisk breeze, and I could smell old books and the sea.

We stood together, the hypnotist and me, our faces close to the windows. When you stood that close, you couldn’t see the sand below, just the sea, a sheet of flattened, shiny tin that stretched out to the pale blue line of the horizon. “I feel like I’m at the helm of a boat,” I said to the hypnotist, who seemed excessively delighted by this comment and said that was exactly how she always felt, her eyes round and shiny, like a children’s entertainer.

We sat down opposite each other. My chair was a soft, green leather recliner. The hypnotist’s chair was a striped red-and-cream winged armchair. There was a low coffee table in between the chairs with a box of tissues—some people must cry, sobbing away about their past lives as starving peasants—a jug of ice water with two perfectly round slices of lemon floating on top, two tall water glasses, a small silver bowl of shiny wrapped chocolates, and a flat tray filled with tiny colored glass marbles.

I once had a big, old-fashioned marble that belonged to my father when he was a boy. I’d hold it in the palm of my hand for luck during exams and job interviews. I lost it a few years ago, along with all my luck.

As I looked around me, I saw that the light reflected off the ocean and onto the walls: prisms of dazzling, dancing light. It was a bit hypnotic actually. The hypnotist had her hands folded in her lap, her feet placed squarely on the ground. Flat ballet shoes, black tights, embroidered ethnic-looking skirt and cream wraparound cardigan. Hippie but elegant. New age but classic.

I thought, What a beautiful, calm life you must lead. Sitting in this extraordinary room each day, bathed in dancing light. No e-mails filling your computer screen. No irate phone calls filling your head. No meetings or spreadsheets.

I could sense her happiness. It radiated off her, sickly, like cheap perfume; not that she would ever wear cheap perfume.

I tasted sour jealousy in my mouth and helped myself to a chocolate to make it go away.

“Oh good, I’ll have one too,” said the hypnotist, unwrapping the chocolate with warm, girly camaraderie, like we were old friends. She is that sort of girl. She probably has a whole circle of giggly, supportive, lovely girlfriends, the sort that hug each other hello, and have Sex in the City DVD nights and long, shrieky telephone conversations about men.

She opened a notepad on her lap and spoke with her mouth adorably full of chocolate. She said, “Now, before we do anything, I’m going to ask you a few questions. Oh, dear, I shouldn’t have chosen the caramel. Chewy.”

I hadn’t expected so many questions.

For the most part I answered honestly. They were innocuous enough. A bit pathetic even. “What do you do for a living?” “What do you do to relax?” “What’s your favorite food?”

Finally, the hypnotist sat back in her armchair, smiled and said, “And tell me, why are you here today?”

Of course, my answer to that one wasn’t one hundred percent truthful.

He said, “There’s something I need to tell you.”

He had placed his knife and fork on the edge of his plate, and now he was sitting up straight, with his shoulders back, as though he was finally ready to face the music. He seemed fearful and slightly ashamed.

Ellen, who had been smiling, instantly felt a painful cramp knot her stomach. (A part of her mind registered this: the way her body responded first. The mind-body-spirit connection in action. So fascinating.)

Her happy, open smile stayed foolishly frozen on her face.

She was thirty-five years old. She knew what this meant. This nice man, this self-employed, suburban surveyor, this single dad who liked camping and cricket and country music, was about to say something that would put her off her barramundi in white wine sauce. He was about to say something that would ruin her day, and it had been such a lovely day, and the barramundi was really very good.

She put down her fork regretfully.

“What’s that?” she said, her tone pleasantly quizzical, and every muscle in her body tightened as if she was preparing to be punched. She would cope. It wouldn’t be the end of the world. It was only their fourth date. She hadn’t invested that much of herself. She barely knew the man. For heaven’s sake, he liked country music. That should have been a red flag from the beginning. Yes, she had been indulging in some hopeful daydreams in the bath tonight, but that was a common pitfall of dating. She was already moving on, working on her recovery. She would be over it by Wednesday. Thursday at the latest. Thank the Lord she hadn’t slept with him.

She couldn’t control what was about to happen, only her response to it.

For a moment she saw her mother, eyes lifted to heaven. Ellen, tell me, my darling, do you truly believe this facile self-help nonsense you spout?

She did, in fact. With all her heart. (Her mother later apologized for her comment. “That may have been patronizing,” she’d said, and Ellen had pretended to faint in shock.)

“Actually, can you excuse me for a minute?” He stood up and his napkin slid to the floor. He picked it up, his face flushed, and carefully laid it on the table next to his plate.