I’m going under tonight. I’ve seen this hypnotist’s show before and figure I can trust him just fine to put me under. The only embarrassing part of the act was when he made the women on stage believe they were doing a striptease for their husbands. But even that I can handle, I reassure myself. Besides it might actually help Dennis see me in a new light. Lately he’s been restless, telling me I hold him back, I’m too safe, don’t take enough risks, and I’m not living life boldly enough. “Carpe Diem,” he’ll say as if mocking Robin William’s character in the movie, only I know he really means it. So in less than one hour, I will seize the day, and the night, and my husband’s respect back. All by announcing I am pregnant when it’s my turn in the spotlight.
“The rabbit died,” said that nasally nurse with the goofy sense of humor on the phone yesterday, and it had taken me a few seconds to reconcile her morbid, archaic expression with the fact that I finally had a wondrous life growing inside of me after three years of fertility futility. No more temperature taking, ovulation kits, semen analysis, uterine biopsies, and standing on my head after lovemaking.
But right now Dennis pays for our two tickets with a credit card that I strongly suspect will be declined. It’s the third one we’ve exceeded our limit on since he lost his job at the architectural firm. But I’m right behind him, expediently holding two twenty dollar bills so his red-face embarrassment will be short lived. That’s what a good wife does after all. But it’s dark by the box office and so I miss his grateful expression as we’re unexpectedly ushered into an elevator behind two perfectly proportioned blondes. The more platinum of the two drawls, “Going up,” while pushing a button with her fuchsia fingernail. Both young women follow us in and meld their lithe bodies into chairs directly next to us. I notice the taller one lets her high-heeled encased ankle graze my husband’s pant leg as she deeply crosses her exposed thighs. But I turn my attention to the overhead banner that proclaims, “The Hip Hypnotist. Is it your turn to surrender?” And another sign to the right that advertises, “Enjoy yourself and Enjoy the show…Because you ARE the show!” I squeeze my husband’s hand with affectionate anticipation knowing how pleased he’ll be to see me up on stage as a vivacious volunteer. And the grand finale when the hypnotist asks each participant to tell the audience something they would never guess, something shocking…well, I can’t think of a more fun and bold way to break the news of the baby. I only hope I won’t be too mesmerized to appreciate Denny’s pride.
I’m immediately reassured when a slide show flashes on a big screen monitor explaining that being hypnotized is relaxing, enjoyable and further elaborating that we will be alert at all times to what is going on around us. And how it only serves to bring us into a deeper state of reflection where our inhibitions will be tempered. This sounds like exactly what I need. Denny is always complaining I’m too uptight, too in control and far too anxious to have any fun.
I’m not expecting such a frenzied rush to the stage when the MC invites people up and I’m nearly trampled trying to grab a chair in the line-up. I’m relieved to see that I’m seated between two conservative, stuffy looking gentlemen so I feel very at home even though the lights are painfully bright. I glance back into the second row, my hand shielding my eyes as they strain to seek out my husband from the crowd. I am rewarded to see him nod appreciatively. “Just wait,” I say silently, “if you think this is good, just wait.”
I gently flutter my eyelids closed as instructed and feel a certain warmth radiating from my toes on upward. I speculate if this is the heat the Hip Hypnotist suggests I’ll be feeling, or if I’m just flushing with embarrassment wondering if people think my hairstyle is dated. “Don’t analyze,” I chide myself, “Just go with the flow.” But what is that soft background music? It almost sounds like the instrumental part of The Doors, Light My Fire. I love playing Name that Tune.
All at once, Hip’s voice seems to come to me from everywhere and nowhere, soaking through my ears, dripping into my mind’s eye where it paints delicate pictures out of watercolored words. “A river of thought,” he murmurs. “A stream of consciousness,” the voice drones, “a trickle of trivia…” Did we pay our water bill this month I wonder and visualize the online automatic withdrawal system that I recently set up. But Hip’s gentle touch on my shoulder distracts me from this mundane image as he calmly states that each time he taps me, I will be filled with a deeper and deeper sense of tranquility. I crack one eyelid partway open, then quickly admonish myself in my former preschool teacher’s voice, “no peeking.” But now Hip is counting backwards from ten to one and when he’s done, we’re supposed to open our eyes and find that we’re in a fantasy field of flowers.
Someone lowers the lights and fades the music and I’m horrified to realize I feel no different at all. I am exactly the same. Three, two, one. A panicky sensation grips my throat and I begin to sneeze in succession, four, five times, something I always do when I’m edgy. But nobody says “bless you” and I realize everyone around me is probably too busy frolicking in their lovely imaginary meadows. And here I am, stuck — trapped inside the same old self-conscious, timid, awkward wallflower on this stage while Hip heads toward me with efficient strides, probably to test my level of hypnotization, if that’s even a word. To add to my mortification, the prim looking man seated on my left lowers his face with drowsy oblivion deeply into my lap. Obviously looking to graze in greener pastures.
Hip the Hypnotist seems entirely satisfied to raise my arm up and watch it droop down again, apparently checking the “floppy factor,” a true litmus test for hypnotists. He then nods approvingly, gesturing toward me and egging the audience into rapturous applause.
“One more thing,” Hip adds when the clapping dies down, “If at any time during our show, someone next to you in the first few rows appears to have gone under, please raise your hand and one of our lovely assistants will escort them on stage to join our act.”
Still alarmed that I’m not under some spell or feeling any different at all, I think back to when I saw this show before. What’s next? What the hell is next? Oh, we stink. That’s right. I can fake that. I quickly remember all the things I’ve pretended in my life. Pretended to be asleep when Dennis came to bed, pretended I liked his mother’s obnoxious perfume, and pretended I had my doctorate degree when I was around the snooty women at my husband’s X-mas party. I begin to hold my nose and fan the air, looking suspiciously at the man to my right as Hip insists our neighbor hasn’t showered in weeks. The audience barely chuckles and out of the corner of my eye I think I see Dennis yawn and glance sideways at Blondie next to him.
Next we’re jockeys and thoroughbreds in the Kentucky derby and I have to make a quick decision which one would be less embarrassing. I’m self-conscious about my weight so I decide to be a horse, but once again I’m humiliated beyond belief as Hip proposes that the horses have just done the unthinkable and yet again, half the participants (the jockey half) hold their noses at the disgusting stench. What is it with this guy and odors, I wonder? But the audience seems to really enjoy this and so I play along, all the while planning my seductive striptease where I can more than likely redeem myself in front of Dennis before I broadcast that I’m the expectant mother of his first child.
It dawns on me that everyone else on stage seems to be genuinely hypnotized as they prance freely around and I can’t believe I’m the only one held prisoner by my inhibitions and hang-ups.
“What’s your name and where ya from?” Hip closes in on me with his microphone and I try to make my eyes look dreamy and awestruck, the way I imagine they should look in a trance.
“Sharon Henderson from California,” I recite zombie-like.
“That’s a strange racehorse name,” Hip persists.
Shit, I think, I’m blowing it. I quickly add, “otherwise known as Lucky Lady from Laughlin,” I toss my hair like a Clydesdale mane but decide that actual neighing might be too much. And that’s when I notice Hip’s eyes narrow just a bit before he moves on.
Next we’re skiing in the Alps, only we’re doing it barefoot. Easy. Just shiver uncontrollably. After that, we’re at the beach and one of us, (thankfully not me) has a hole in a prominent spot in their bathing suit. Another cinch. I fake a shocked expression while the crowd bursts into bawdy howls. But now I feel my whole body tighten because it occurs to me that after this, all us females must become exotic dancers. I scope out my competition and that’s when true despair sets in. I didn’t realize there were so many graceful young girls up here. Is that one even legal, I wonder, knowing that alcohol has been served all night long. I can only hope that afterwards, Dennis will be so ecstatic over my baby announcement that he’ll make generous allowances for clumsy, horselike, foul-smelling stripper rejects. I let myself glance at him momentarily, but he seems to be staring down at his shoes.
Suddenly my shoulder is prodded, and I’m introduced to the audience as “Cherry Jubilee” direct from Paris. I recognize the bump and grind music from some old Broadway production. Great, he has to go and make me a French girl, I lament. I flounce around an elevated platform twirling my sweater, then sashay stage left because I know Dennis sits off to the right. Hips. Get your hips and butt into it, I encourage myself and now I’m swirling and swaying pretty good for someone five weeks along. But the audience starts to taunt, “Take it off Cherry,” and I know Dennis would want to see me loose and carefree so I fling the plaid sweater at some man in the front row and start to undo the top part of my silk blouse. I’m indebted to Hip for stopping me mid-button, but not at all grateful for what he spits out next.
“Why, you big ham! You’re not under at all, are you? But let’s give Sharon a hand for her participation thus far,” he says and gives me a good thrust toward my seat as people hesitatingly clap. As I stare in disbelief wondering what about my dancing could’ve given me away, I hear Hip continue enthusiastically, “But it looks like someone in our audience is highly suggestive and has gone completely under. Let’s bring him up here, shall we? Audience?” Everyone thunders away and I notice Buxomy Blondie next to Dennis wildly waving her hands and pointing fingers at my lethargic husband who appears drunk and perfectly content to be accompanied up by a stunning red-haired assistant.
It could be my imagination but it almost seems like both the blondes stick their feet out in the aisle to trip me as I try to squeeze by and return to my seat with some semblance of elegance.
All eyes are on the newcomer in the spotlight and I watch my husband, seated in the exact chair I previously sat in, gregariously introduce himself as Dennis the Menace. Hip snaps his fingers and in response, Denny instantly slumps forward in a genuine daze.
I look at my watch and realize the show is nearly at it’s conclusion except for the ending performance where everyone makes a single outrageous confession. I’m sad not to be able to blurt out my amazing news but I still feel a few eyes on me so I chortle along with the rest as one girl proclaims her bisexuality. Another man dressed in Walmart garb surprises people by declaring he’s a millionaire. One of the younger girls admits being hot for Hip the Hypnotist and everyone shouts, “go for it!” Dennis snatches the mic out of turn and leans closely in, characteristically clearing his throat before he talks. I almost think Blondie next to me blows him a coy little kiss but maybe she’s swatting at a gnat.
My husband hesitates one suspenseful moment before speaking.
“I don’t love my wife. I’m having an affair and I’m leaving her.” His burning voice seems to come to me from everywhere and nowhere all at once, singeing my ears as the words blaze into my mind’s eye; an inferno of divorce papers and abortions while blonde looks of pity smolder in my direction. I’m going under tonight.