Sheila was going to see a hypnotist. She'd been through the psychologists, who had passed her on to the psychiatrists, who had passed her on to priests, who then referred her back to the psychologists. Clearly, the quest for sanity and spiritual peace is a square dance.
Or perhaps it's just The Exorcist.
One day, one of Sheila's friends who didn't really like her said, "Why not try a hypnotist?" It was the funny sort of toss-off answer a contestant gives on Family Feud when the clock is ready to buzz.
Sheila knew of a hypnotist who had a very tiny office in a hinterland shopping mall where nobody ever went, and especially no one under the age of forty.
This mall had lost its anchor stores, so was dying a slow death. Mostly oddities rented space. Sheila remembered a used bookstore with only ratty paperbacks. A store of "Native American" art that was all resin "MADE IN CHINA." A tanning salon that couldn't afford repairs to their machines which was always closed.
Sheila remembered this mall actually had a hole-in-the-wall business that sold only confections made from popcorn. Every Christmas, the store sold brightly colored red and green popcorn balls of all sizes--golf ball, baseball, infant's head or bowling ball. Popcorn balls the size of medicine balls could be special ordered. Photographs taped to the counter showed happy, stupid-looking people holding these. Stockings stuffed with caramelized popcorn balls, popcorn snowmen, popcorn Santas appeared each December. At Easter time, popcorn balls appeared in chick shapes, dyed colors to match the pastel carcinogens used to render adorable and kill baby chicks in Easters past. It has to be a drug front, Sheila thought.
Sheila found the empty mall comforting. Her pet name for the mall was "The Valium Mall." Few younger people realize Valium (now rebranded "Diazepam") was once culturally ubiquitous, but Sheila had a fondness for seventies movies. Everyone took Valium in those movies, the characters and the actors playing them. Sheila liked to watch movies or shows featuring discarded actresses of the seventies like Jill Clayburgh, Louise Lasser and Kristy McNichol. Often these actresses appeared drugged while performing. Sheila liked thinking these actresses now probably have days just like she has. Because their movies and shows don't even run on television.
Sheila was worried about the possibility that the hypnotist might be a sexual predator and program her to have degraded Motel 6 sex with him or a bunch of his friends. Or something even worse. Kill his ex-wife. Kill his child. Something that would end with Sheila being prison-interviewed by Paula Zahn wearing one of her spiffy corduroy jackets.
But she had read a decent amount on hypnosis online and Sheila felt comforted in the knowledge that nobody can make you do something truly against your will, even while under hypnosis.
Sheila entered the Valium Mall on a Tuesday afternoon. It was rather warm for late winter. It was even warmer than she expected in the mall, since it had a sort of greenhouse glass roof. This clearly benefited the athletic-looking greenery growing around the artificial pond at the center of the mall concourse. These looked like jock plants to Sheila. They swelled with the arrogance of health.
The mall was predictably dead. Ferns nodded ever so slightly in the sun coming through the peaked glass roof. Areca palms nodded like patients in nursing homes while Lene Lovich squeaked out a song in terrifying bird notes. Sheila looked up at the speakers and smiled. Sheila remembered how much Lene Lovich had reminded her of a gigantic German bird back in the forgotten days of music television. Birds were the only thing missing from the that little green mall oasis. And Lene Lovich filled in.
Two lanky, somewhat creaky humans power-walked in the mall distance. They were taking their afternoon constitutional. This merchant's graveyard was the perfect place. No hoodlums to heckle them. They looked like Giacometti figures in the distance against a color field of light. The mall was so huge. So unsuccessful. How did it manage to remain here day after day? Sheila felt attracted to the mall's perverse will to survive. Thoughts of Stephen King evil houses and hotels flitted through Sheila's brain, but those engrams quickly broke up like sea foam on rocks.
Sheila had to climb actual wooden stairs to get to the mall's second floor where the hypnotist had his office. These extremely large wooden stairs had no risers, so it gave one a feeling of giddiness as one climbed. All that terrible openness. It was doubtless a daunting staircase for those with vertigo or fear of heights, but Sheila enjoyed the tingles.
She entered the tiny business with the terrible signage and sat down for a moment in one of the chairs just inside the door to gather her feelings. She sat down in a chair that appeared to come from the set of Battlestar Galactica. The seventies version of the show--not the later revistation. It was bright orange and "futuristic" in that 1970s way. Something Farrah Fawcett would have sat in to have her portrait done by some Italian photographer. Italian photographers love vinyl, plastic, neoprene, nylon, polypropylene. Anything like that. Especially if these are orange or any colors less common in nature.
Jeff Treon ("has appeared on The Joy Millar Show") didn't have a photoelectric tripwire to let him know he had a client, and probably the first one of the day. Probably the only one, thought Sheila. Sheila wondered if he was masturbating to internet porn in the back somewhere.
Instead of a photoelectric tripwire, there was a tiny bell that looked like it came from a birdcage waiting on the miniature counter.
When Sheila tentatively rang the tiny bell, while thinking of Alice in Wonderland for some reason, Jeff bopped out with spaniel eagerness and came and stood behind the counter. The hypnotist smiled for what was soon a rather scary number of seconds.
Sheila wondered if it was up to her to initiate conversation and her expression and mind both began to wander.
Jeff kept smiling. A dentist's smile. Sheila wondered if this was because he had so few clients. If he was somehow stalling, like a man holding back from an orgasm.
But he spoke. Finally.
"How may I restructure your consciousness?" he asked with the big glib dentist smile still on his face.
So he was an idiot.
Sheila's torso was already processing the "Run!" signal but her mind was slightly behind.
"A joke! It's a joke!" Jeff assured her.
Jeff was a small but agile man in a white jacket that looked somewhat medical. Maybe it's more a pharmacist's jacket, Sheila thought. No, not that either. Maybe hypnotists order from a special catalogue.
Looking again, Sheila realized he had muscles. He was just miniature. He had the body of a junior high gymnast.
"Well, why don't we go back here to my office and let's find out how I can help you..."
Sheila dropped a brochure she hadn't even realized she was holding and bent to retrieve it, but Jeff was faster. Coming up from the floor together, Sheila towered over him and Jeff grazed her breasts just a bit, instantly apologizing. Images of that teacher who had apparently enjoyed sex with her student flitted through Sheila's head. Then CNN's stern voice. What was her name? Sheila could see her face. Her frightened face with the childish expression framed by those funny seductress curls.
Sheila entered the consultation room and involuntarily spoke the words too dark. Jeff heard and began stuttering something, waving his hands, but it was already too late. It reminded Sheila of the haunted houses the Jaycees make around Halloween by taking over and redecorating some abandoned house, usually one down by the railroad tracks. The rooms only have light in one corner. So Lizzie Borden can surprise you with her axe.
Then Sheila saw the seventies poster with the blacklight shining on it.
"I'm sorry. I can't do this."
And she ran.
But Jeff caught her arm (gently) in the front room and said, "Please! At least take my card. Call me anytime."
He seemed sincere and worried, not greedy and desperate, so Sheila took the card while her eyes kept swimming towards and away from Jeff's eyes by milliseconds. She felt like a school of fish with a hand touching her. She realized those were the only brown eyes she had ever found that beautiful. The flecks of green. Jeff's flecks had a sweet, disturbing glow.
A month and a few days later, Sheila was sitting in Planned Parenthood, swinging her legs in nervousness, a young girl tic she suddenly thought she was too old to do. So stopped.
There was no way she was going to share this information with her insurance, her workplace, God only knows who else reads the stuff.
The doctor came into the room holding a clipboard to her chest.
"Well, you are pregnant," the doctor said.
Sheila smiled her son-of-a-bitch smile. The one she had either learned or inherited from her father. She turned her head sideways and glared a smile at an inanimate object.
"The father is a hypnotist," Sheila said then.
"Oh. That must be...interesting." The doctor had no idea what Sheila meant or how to respond.
Then the women shared a tiny nervous laugh. A tiny laugh that let each other knew they both understood meaning is ultimately a joke played on everyone. The doctor touched Sheila's hand.
"You let me know, okay?"
The doctor left the room.
Sheila touched her stomach.
She wondered if the baby would be able to hypnotize people. Then she realized her brain was telling her a joke. Why was she telling herself jokes at "a time like this?"
She thought "abortion" and then something said "no."
She was sure it was the fetus. Thinking for her.
It was already hypnotizing her.
Sheila went to the parking lot and sat in her stupid Prius. Cars are stupid, she thought. Cars are the dumbest invention of the last twenty-five centuries, she thought. Cars are responsible for more deaths than Hitler, she thought.
She loved her car.
She turned the radio off and called Jeff. She knew he'd have no clients. Patients. Clients. Whatever. He'd have nobody. He'd be alone.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Just staring at the walls. You?"
"I'm at Planned Parenthood."
He was silent. Then "Does that mean..."
Jeff spoke very quickly now, way too fast, and he sounded very much like a boy. "I can hypnotize you to want to have it and love it to death right up to the moment of graduation from whatever college or the military or first great love and the rest. Or...or...the other thing."
Sheila wondered why he had used "it" but then she knew she knew.
"You're not really a hypnotist."
The silence grew into a funny shape. Sheila could feel it changing. It was like someone making a balloon animal out of silence.
"Will you take that job at Walmart? I know it doesn't pay shit but with my job..."
She knew what she was saying. She felt her body tensing. Her brain tried to figure out where the millisecond window of response was. The invisible response. The real one.
We live with these phones now because we believe in the invisible response. Not the real one.
The silence changed again. The subtle difference of a black on black painting. Sheila moved the phone and looked down.
Sheila quasi-sobbed, but a sugary laugh derailed the stupid thing.
She went back into Planned Parenthood to talk to the nice doctor.
She sat among a bunch of largely weightless teenagers whispering and joking about s.t.d.'s and pretended to read a brochure. She wished she were a zero gravity teenager. She visualized all the teenagers in the room as astronauts floating around in a Space Shuttle. She even saw them in the suits. Then she thought about brightly colored popcorn balls and all the shapes you can make with them.
She remembered that Siouxsie and the Banshees had been playing in the empty Valium Mall on her second trip there.
"Cities in Dust."
The day spring broke.
She thought about explaining the concept and history of music videos to a teenager who sat alone near her, looking very worried. She had watched him nervously checking off boxes on his clipboard.
But instead she just closed her eyes and went into a Missing Persons video from 1984.
Dale Bozzio could only be explained today by making comparisons to Lady Gaga.
She could survive if she could just learn to trust something like Google instead of other humans.
After all, Google was the one who had pointed out the similarities between Dale Bozzio and Lady Gaga.
It would never matter how corpselike she got.
If only I had never been in a band, Sheila thought.