I sat back in the chair opposite the shrink. I didn’t want to look at him anymore.
How about hypnosis? he asked.
I averted my eyes and my mind jumped from thought to thought like a frog on a pond.
What about it? I asked.
The shrink was an older man but not old, bald up top with a neatly trimmed beard dyed brown. His eyes wandered from my face to the tablet in his lap and back to me again. I thought of paradise and tried to picture the idea in my mind.
Have you ever thought of hypnosis to treat some of your … symptoms?
His eyes were gray like his hair would have been or as his beard should have been. But one could hardly see the color of his eyes through the squinty coin slots they’d become, or perhaps always were, since his childhood in the rich neighborhoods of Manhattan or Massachusetts, back when the other kids made fun of him for his briefcase — for simply carrying it with him at all times merited their ridicule, but adding insult to injury, as they say, was the appearance of the briefcase — brown mixed with green or what the kids called puke-green, the worst of all possible colors. Making matters worse yet, the briefcase was several decades old, and thus, beat up and disastrously out of style.
I’m not sure about hypnosis, sir, I said.
Thoughts cascaded down the vined walls of my mind. The shrink’s hands were small and weak — just as one would expect. I’d have challenged him to an arm-wrestling match but I tweaked my wrist earlier that day at baseball practice.
I don’t believe in … histrionics, I said, proud of myself for using the word in a sentence.
The shrink paused with an expression of consternation.
I don’t think that’s the proper use of the term, he said.
He sat back in his chair, uncrossed, then re-crossed his legs. He leaned forward again, toward me.
He said: Hypnosis is highly effective on younger people.
His lips were small and pink and his mouth barely opened when he spoke.
He said: Adolescents are highly susceptible to the power of suggestion.
I was tired of looking at him. The window behind him opened to the vast, sun-swept city.
There’s nothing to be afraid of, he said.
I’ve been hypnotized before, I said proudly, shifting my weight in the seat.
He leaned back. His clothes were bland and ugly and probably cost a lot of money.
Is that so? he asked.
I looked out the window. My friends were out there somewhere, running around aimlessly, breaking things, looking for girls. They were like me in that they did not know the world was theirs.
Yes, I said. My mother had me hypnotized because she thought I was lying about some money that went missing.
I realized I’d been wringing my hands, playing with them. The shrink stared at them as I spoke.
Did you take the money? he asked.
He looked at my face to gauge my reaction. His face was white, pale, bloodless.
No, I said.
He wrote on the tablet with a stylus.
I had been seeing this girl, Elaine. She was short and dark-haired with big, brown eyes. We kissed once and I reached up to touch her chest but she pushed my hands down. I thought maybe I loved her but I didn’t know for sure. I didn’t tell the shrink any of this.
What do you want to do when you grow up? he asked.
Elaine’s mother was also a shrink. I questioned the character of those who chose to listen to other people’s problems for a living. I didn’t tell the shrink that I hadn’t given my future much thought. I’d probably play baseball or run my dad’s print shop when he retired. I’d marry Elaine and she’d write plays and we’d have a baby or two.
I’ll probably fly airplanes, I said, without knowing why I said it.
He leaned toward the small table between us and hefted a cup of steaming tea. He sipped it.
I didn’t know you were into aviation, he said, smacking his lips together and leaning back in the seat.
He wrote on his tablet. His socks had brown diamond patterns and his shoes looked new, like today was the first he’d worn them. He seemed smaller after drinking the tea, as if it had shrunk him.
Why are you smiling? he asked.
I looked down to the animal-hair carpet and out the window to the city. When I looked back at him he appeared even smaller, like a large adult child. He was shrinking rapidly, deflating, losing volume, as Mr. Potter would say.
Nothing, I said, trying and failing to hide my amusement. Nothing.
That’s okay, he said. You don’t have to tell me.
The office was small but the shrink’s desk at the window was large. The wood was reddish-brown and looked heavy.
He cleared his throat and continued to shrink, to biologically regress. His feet no longer touched the ground; they dangled and swung over the animal carpet. His tablet was now the size of his torso. I stifled a laugh. His face reddened.
Okay, now, he said raising his little hand with the oversized stylus.
His voice was higher in pitch, like a child’s, or as if he’d swallowed a balloon of helium. One giant shoe fell off a foot to the animal carpet. Then I laughed — I couldn’t hold it.
All right, that’s enough, he giggled, his voice that of a delighted toddler. The giggling rose to a crescendo of gut-laughter, uncontrollable and tiny.
I lost it, falling onto the animal carpet, laughing, laughing.