From the author of critically acclaimed What Alice Forgot comes a wonderfully fun, insightful novel about the crazy things we do for love.
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Liane Moriarty is the author of What Alice Forgot (Amy Einhorn Books, June 2011) and two other novels, Three Wishes and The Last Anniversary, both of which were published around the world and translated into seven languages. She is also the author of the Nicola Berry series for children. Liane lives in Sydney, Australia, with her husband and two small, noisy children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
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,
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.
She looked up at him.
“I’ll just…” He gestured at the back of the restaurant.
“All right,” she said soothingly.
“Over there to your left, sir.” A waiter discreetly pointed in the direction of the toilets.
She watched him go.
She didn’t really like the name Patrick anyway. It was a namby-pamby sort of a name. You could imagine your hairdresser being called Patrick. Also, his male friends apparently called him “Scottie,” which was … well, perfectly acceptable really in that Aussie blokey way.
If he ended it, it would definitely hurt. Just a little sting, but a sharp one. There was nothing extraordinarily wonderful about Patrick Scott. He had an ordinary pleasant face (long, thin, slightly receding hairline), an ordinary body (average height, quite broad shoulders, but naturally broad, not look-at-me-I-work-out broad), an ordinary job, an ordinary life. It was just extraordinary how comfortable she’d felt with him, almost straightaway, within minutes of meeting up with him for the very first time in that embarrassingly empty café. She’d suggested the café and had been horrified to find it virtually deserted, so that their nervous first-date voices seemed too loud, and three bored teenage waitresses stood about the room with nothing better to do than eavesdrop on their stilted conversation. They’d been waiting for their cappuccinos, and he was playing with a packet of sugar, turning it around in circles and tapping it on the table, when their eyes met, and they sort of grinned at each other in mutual recognition of the awfulness of the whole situation, and all of a sudden Ellen felt all the tension in her body drift away, as if she’d been given a powerful painkiller. She had the strangest feeling that she already knew this man; she’d known him for years. If she believed in past lives (and she didn’t not believe in them; in her work she’d seen it all, her mind was wide open to all sorts of bizarre possibilities), then she would have said they must have known each other before.
That sort of instant warmth had happened to her many times before with women; oh, she was the star of female friendship—but never with a man.
So yes, she barely knew this nice surveyor called Patrick Scott, but it would hurt if he broke up with her. Probably more than a little sting.
She thought about the hundreds, maybe thousands of stories of rejection she’d heard from her clients over the years. “I cooked a three-course dinner party for thirteen of his relatives, and while I’m doing the washing up, he announces he doesn’t love me anymore.” “We had a fantastic holiday in Fiji, and on the way home we’re drinking champagne and she tells me that she’s moving out! Champagne—as if it’s a celebration!”
Oh, the naked pain that still furrowed their faces, even when they were describing something that happened years ago. Rejection by a lover or even only a potential lover was so tough on the Inner Child. Fears of abandonment, memories of past hurts, feelings of inferiority and self-loathing, all rose to the surface in an unstoppable torrent of feeling.
She was trying to observe her situation, objectively, like a client’s case history, in the hope that she could stay detached from it. It wasn’t working.
Of course, all this panic might be for nothing. Patrick might not be about to dump her at all. There had been no signs, and she was good at reading people. That’s what she did for a living, after all. He had said she looked “gorgeous” when she opened the door for him tonight, with such a pleased expression on his face, as if he’d just been handed a gift, and he wasn’t the smooth, charming type who automatically gave the sort of compliments women liked to hear. There had been a lot of eye contact over dinner, some of which could have qualified as “lingering.” Throughout the meal she had noted that he was leaning forward toward her (although perhaps he was a bit deaf; it was surprising how many men were just a little deaf—she knew this both from dating and from her work).
She had felt that their body language and breathing rhythms were in sync, and that wasn’t because she’d been patterning him, at least not deliberately, the way she would with a client.
There had been no awkward pauses or uncomfortable moments. He had been interested, in a respectful way, about hypnotherapy. He didn’t say, “Show me! Make me cluck like a chicken!” He didn’t sneer, or worse, take a gently condescending tone and say he wasn’t really into “alternative medicine.” He didn’t say, “So do you need any trainingfor that?” or “Is there any money in that?” He didn’t seem afraid. Some men she’d dated seemed genuinely frightened that she might hypnotize them without their knowledge. He just seemed curious.
Also, a few minutes ago, he’d shown her photos of his son! His adorable blond, skinny little eight-year-old son, on a skateboard, playing the trombone in a school band, fishing with his dad. Surely, he wouldn’t have shown her those photos if he’d already decided it wasn’t going to work.
Unless the decision had just hit him with a flash. Now that she thought about it, it had been oddly abrupt, the way he put down his knife and fork to make his announcement, his eyes looking over her shoulder, as if he’d just seen a glimpse of a different future in the distance. She’d been midsentence, for heaven’s sake. (She had been telling him a story about a patient who was obsessed with Jennifer Lopez. The patient was actually obsessed with John Travolta, but she always changed the details for confidentiality reasons. And the story sounded funnier if it was Jennifer Lopez.)
He’d looked so sad. Even if he wasn’t about to dump her, he was definitely about to say something unacceptable or unpleasant.
Perhaps he’d lied about being a widower. He was actually still married and living with his wife, even though they slept in separate rooms.
He wasn’t a surveyor at all; he was a mobster. Now the FBI would come after her and insist she wear a wire. Her body would never be found. (She’d watched the entire series of The Sopranos on DVD last summer.)
Or perhaps he had a terminal disease. That would be terrible, but at least not personally hurtful.
Whatever it was, she was pretty sure that sunshiny feeling she’d been experiencing all day was about to vanish.
She took a large mouthful of her wine, and looked up to see if he was on his way back from the toilets. No. Goodness. He was taking a while. Had he just splashed water on his face and was now standing at the bathroom mirror staring into his own eyes, his hands gripping the sink, breathing heavily?
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 thi...
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