'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Hypnotist

I found a map of the garden that my great-grandfather made. He had drawn lines over the map to mark out a stone path he planned to build, but it never got beyond the planning stage. I followed the route shown on the map, and it's a pleasant way to spend an afternoon. I suppose he must have realised that arranging stones isn't such a pleasant way to spend an afternoon and it would have taken many afternoons to complete it. My grandmother once said that the path was meant to be a comment on the pointlessness of life, but he found a better way to do that when he took up hunting.

My uncle Ben had a pen, which he used to write words, and sometimes he arranged those words into sentences, but mostly he left them alone. It seemed a shame to herd a perfectly harmless word into a sentence just for the sake of meaning and order. The word 'the' was fine on its own. He often thought of himself as a 'the'. He was definite about things. He could put his foot down, and he didn't like being herded into sentences by his wife, Greta. But she normally got her way, despite his objections. She made him go to visit a friend of hers in the country. He was perfectly happy at home with his pen, but she put her foot down and he had no choice.

Her friend in the country was called Mabel. Every time they visited her, she spoke at length about her college days in India. Ben often wondered if she meant to say 'day' instead of 'days'. He believed that she had once been 'in' a college in India, but he wasn't convinced that she was actually a student there. He normally switched off his brain when she started telling these stories. They went for a walk down a narrow lane on a hillside, leading down into a valley, and she told them about the dog that followed her around during her college 'days' in India.

Ben ignored her and he tried to enjoy his surroundings. He listened to the birds and the buzzing of flies or bees or wasps. He thought he heard a noise from somewhere. Whatever it was, it couldn't compete with Mabel's voice, but it got louder, and when Mabel finally heard it she stopped talking. Ben could hear the noise clearly then. It sounded like a man's voice, and he was using just one word. Ben liked that. With all the animals confined to fields, and being confined between the ditches himself, it was nice to hear a word set free on its own to wander through the country air, like the birds and all the things with wings.

Within the space of about two seconds he realised that the voice was coming from behind them, the word was 'help', and it was emanating from a man on a bike with no brakes, who went past them at speed. He disappeared around a corner and they ran after him.

They found the bike stuck in a ditch at the next corner. He had nearly made it to the bottom of the hill. The back wheel of the bike was still spinning, but there was no sign of its rider.

He was in a tree nearby. They saw him when he said, "Hello," and waved.

Mabel recognised him. "This is Roger," she said. "He's one of my neighbours."

"How did you get into the tree?" Ben said to him.

"I climbed it. I heard a crashing noise. It sounded a bit like a bike crashing into a ditch, so I came up here hoping to see where the crash was."

"Didn't you just crash into the ditch?"

"Me? I'm in a tree."

"Before you were in a tree. Before you climbed it, were you on this bike that's stuck in the ditch?"

"You might have a point there."

"That was the sound you heard."

"I think you're right. It's happened before. I've hit my head and been dazed, and someone would ask me what happened and I'd say, 'Someone hit his head.' And they'd say, 'Is he okay?' And I'd say, 'He must be -- he's gone away.'"

"Has he ever climbed a tree before?"

"Oh God no! I'm in a tree!"

"You are."

"How did I get into a tree?"

"You climbed it."

"But I hate trees. I keep falling out of them."

"Why do you keep climbing them if you always fall out of them?"

"I never climb trees."

"What about this one?"

"Oh God no! I'm in a tree!"

"Maybe you should just climb down before you fall down."

"I'll fall down if I climb down."

"Your options are fairly limited here."


"You don't have much choice."

"I have virtually no choice when I fall down."

"You'll be stuck there if you don't try to climb down."

"Not necessarily. I have a feeling there's another way out of this."

They left him to ponder the problem.

As they walked away, Mabel thought of Keith, one of her neighbours. He was a hypnotist, and he could help Roger out of the tree by hypnotising him into thinking that he wasn't afraid of falling. Keith owned a small farm nearby. It had been in his family for generations. He had never married, despite a brilliant seduction technique that had worked on a dog. Before using it on a woman, he had tested it on a dog to make sure it wasn't too powerful, and the test was limited to making the dog walk into a wall. Some of his friends suggested that if a seduction technique designed for use on women could make dogs walk into walls, then that technique was too powerful. Others suggested that there was no such thing as too powerful when it came to seduction.

It didn't work on real women. Some of his friends suggested that it wasn't powerful enough. Others suggested that it wasn't a seduction technique at all -- it was just a way of hypnotising dogs. He often used his seduction technique in the pub when they got bored and they had access to two dogs. They'd take bets on which one would reach the wall first. It once worked as a seduction technique for the dogs, and it nearly worked for Keith when he met a woman in the pub who was interested in what he did. He'd never seen the film 'The Horse Whisperer', but he'd seen ads for it, and the image he'd formed of Robert Redford's character was the one he tried to fit into when he told her about his 'work'. This image was strongly influenced by 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid'. He'd never seen that either. But sadly, the image she perceived was strongly influenced by one of the dogs, who successfully seduced a bar stool. Keith said, "I didn't tell him to do that." But she suddenly remembered that she had to be somewhere else and she left.

They went to see Keith and they asked him if he'd hypnotise Roger. He said he'd have a go at it, and they took him to the tree. When they got there, Roger had climbed higher. He said, "I discovered another way, but it doesn't seem to be helping me out of the tree. If anything, it's hindering me."

Keith climbed the tree. Roger was sitting on a branch and clinging to the trunk. Keith sat on a branch at the other side of the trunk. He said, "Look into my eyes." Roger got ready to jump, but Keith said, "No, wait. This isn't a seduction technique. I'm just trying to help you out of the tree. Look into my eyes..."

It took a lot of convincing, but Roger finally looked into his eyes. Keith hypnotised him. He said, "When I click my fingers, you will no longer be afraid of falling."

Keith clicked his fingers, and within seconds, Roger had made his way to the ground. Unfortunately, without a fear of falling he put little effort into preventing his fall. The branches of the tree did their best to protect him, apart from the final branch, which turned him upside down and sent him head first into the ground, but he didn't have far to go, and the moss cushioned his fall. When he got to his feet he looked a bit unsteady for a while. He looked up into the tree and thanked Keith.

Keith was just about to make his way down when he suddenly moved further out on the branch.

"What's wrong?" Mabel said.

"There's a spider on the trunk."

"Are you afraid of spiders?"


"I actually like spiders," she said, and she climbed the tree. She sat on the branch next to Keith. She picked up the spider. It moved around on her left hand, and then onto her right hand and up her arm, and then back to her left hand. Keith held his breath until the spider came to a halt. "I'll take it down with me," she said.

"That's the last time I climb a tree," he said.

"In many ways you're safer on a tree. Spiders aren't going to hurt you. Dogs can't climb trees and they can hurt you. Even the ones who are friendly. They can be too friendly. When I was in college in India I met a man from Switzerland. He went to India to study Switzerland. He thought that by being away from the country he'd have a clearer impression of it. He chose India because it was so different to Switzerland. Many dogs used to follow him around the place. Sometimes you'd see over ten of them behind him. It worried him. He thought there was a sort of a curse on him. One of the few things he learnt about Switzerland was that dogs don't follow him there, and that wasn't of much practical value. He eventually came to the conclusion that India was the wrong place to go to learn about his home country. There's so much to learn about India in India that it seems a waste to learn about Switzerland there."

"I was in Switzerland once," Keith said. "I didn't realise I was there until after I'd left, and I wasn't there then. So I can't say I learnt anything about Switzerland when I was there, and the only thing I learnt about Switzerland when I was in Germany was that I wasn't in Switzerland. I could have learnt that anywhere. I could climb a tree to learn that, as long as the tree wasn't in Switzerland. And you could just as easily say that that's something I learnt about Germany."

"That you were in Germany?"


"If it's something you learnt about Switzerland, then it's something you learnt about India too."

"That I wasn't in India?"


"I never thought of that."

"There are lots of things you could learn about the ground while you're stuck in a tree. This could make you appreciate the ground much more."

"I can see the drawbacks to being on the ground too. You don't get as good a view. Well, that's one drawback anyway. You don't get trapped by spiders on the ground."

"There's no need to be afraid of spiders. If you were in Australia you should be afraid of spiders. I don't know about India -- I wasn't there for long enough. I don't know about Switzerland either."

"Neither do I. That's one of the things I didn't learn when I was there."

"But surely you've learnt enough about Ireland to know that you shouldn't fear spiders. Some of them can be friendly."

"I've learnt enough about my cousin Seamus to know that I shouldn't give him a loan of a shovel every time he sees a hedgehog, but I do."

Ben was getting bored of this. Not only did he have to listen to Mabel, but he also had a pain in his neck from looking up into the tree. He said to Keith, "Have you ever tried hypnotising yourself into liking spiders?"

"I heard of a hypnotist who tried to hypnotise himself by video taping his hypnosis routine and then watching it on TV. He was hoping to erase an unpleasant memory. I think it had something to do with public nudity. I don't know if it was himself or someone else. It could be more unpleasant if it was someone else, depending on who that other person was. There are some images you wouldn't want in your head if you wanted to hold onto the hat of your sanity. But anyway, he wanted to get rid of something from his head, so he filmed himself and watched it on TV, but all he achieved was to convince himself that he had his own TV show. He thought he was a star. Everywhere he went, he was convinced that people recognised him."

"Did he erase what he wanted to erase?" Mabel said.

"No. Because he was paranoid about the press finding out about that. It must have been himself who had lost his clothes, because the press wouldn't be interested in the story if he'd just seen someone else. Unless it was a case of private nudity, and he was somewhere he shouldn't have been. I know people who've been in those places. Although, they'd have no intention of erasing those scenes. The only reason they were in those places was to record them."

"Didn't anyone try to hypnotise him out of his belief that he was a star?"

"Not at all. That was the best thing that ever happened to him. A lot of people believed that he really was a TV star. He found that fame was the greatest aphrodisiac of all. He has countless mental scenes of beautiful women that would more than make up for any unpleasant scenes he's stuck with."

"And all that came about just because he hypnotised himself from his own TV?"

"Yeah. I tried it myself, but it didn't work."

"What if you taught me how to hypnotise people," Mabel said, "and then I hypnotised you not to fear spiders."

"It's worth trying, I suppose. Just follow these simple instructions. Firstly, look into my eyes..."

She didn't notice that by demonstrating his hypnosis technique he was actually hypnotising her. But she was prevented from slipping into a trance, and also reminded of another technique, when she noticed a dog walking into the ditch below. She said, "You're just trying to seduce me!"

"I'm not," he said. "There's no way I'd ever try to seduce you..."

He didn't get to the end of that sentence. The end was meant to be 'in a tree'. He'd never try to seduce anyone in a tree because so many attempts on the ground had ended in failure, and that failure would be deeply uncomfortable if they were alone together in a tree. And it'd be ten times worse with an audience on the ground below. But when she heard 'I'd never try to seduce you' she immediately assumed that he believed she wasn't good enough for him, that he saw her as someone he'd have to erase from his mind if he saw too much of her, and would rather not see her at all. So she slapped him across the face before he finished his sentence. He lost his balance and he fell.

It was a similar fall to Roger's, but Keith didn't get up straightaway. Mabel put the spider down and descended to the ground. "I'm sorry," she said to Keith. "I didn't mean for you to fall."

"I meant 'in a tree'," he said. "I was going to say 'in a tree'."

"I'm really sorry."

She took him to her house and she poured him a glass of whiskey. Ben had a glass too, and Greta had a cup of tea. She gave them all a slice of cake. Keith edited most of these details when he told the story later. He focussed on the fact that she took him back to her place and gave him whiskey. He left out the bit about her slapping him across the face too. He tried to use the story to prove that his seduction technique had worked, in a roundabout sort of way, or with lots of roundabouts and by-roads and dead-ends.

Ben didn't leave out any details when he told the story later. He was happy with the outcome. It was as if the words had organised themselves into a script, something that cows could never do.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoys the sound of the tennis on TV, as long as they don't start grunting too loudly. The look on his face suggests his mind his far away. My mind tends to head for the nearest exit when the tennis is on. It was on when the wife's uncle called around on Monday evening. After about ten seconds of watching it he started talking about what would happen if all of the little green and red men in traffic lights escaped. There's be millions of them, and they'd form two groups according to their colour. They'd never have seen each other before. The sight of these alien people would fill them with fear and suspicion, and war would be inevitable. Even if they didn't fear each other they'd still start fighting just to pass the time in a world without women. The green men would be more mobile in a war, but the red men would be more likely to stand their ground. And it would be difficult to take the green men seriously when they start flashing and then disappear, probably into the bushes from which they came, which may have something to do with their world without women. I don't know if any of that has anything to do with tennis.