Let it unravel.
That was how he thought of it: an unraveling, like spooled ribbon being unfurled into a long silky string. The mind was easy to conquer if you knew how to work it. It could be trained, treated. Taught new tricks. It could establish form and later break it. And there was never anything more interesting than the ability to stay structured, and the sudden lack of will for it to snap.
She was letting her mind unravel like he had told her to. She gave the same look that all his patients gave when they finally slipped into the comatose state of hypnotization, the eyes moving gently behind the lids, breath steady, feet and hands still against the couch. The faintest smile started at the edge of her lips as if she knew this was a silly thing, but that she felt it working.
The mild yellow light of his office made her skin glow. The clock ticked rhythmically on the wall, setting the time. A metronomic sound was always best to get them to lapse, to relax. Almost like it programs the brain to listen, to focus. She wanted to break her habit of smoking, she said. And my anxiety. I can’t help but chain smoke when I’m nervous. I’m always nervous. And it doesn’t help. There was an ex-boyfriend who was stalking her, she thought. Sometimes I find my door unlocked. The welcome mat moved to the side, like someone slipped. I keep having to move my extra key.
Always at the beginning of their sessions, he gave her time to talk it out. It helped when he’d have to coax her subconscious later, telling her that a second cigarette would cause her to feel worse, not better. That the strike of a lighter won’t help the anxiety, but instead sparks the anxiety and signals the brain that her nerves have the green light to start the same downward-spiral again.
Let it unravel.
She’d empty her mind as he’d say the words, soft enough to almost not be heard, as if the voice saying the words was in her own head. If his patients ever needed a visual, there was no happy place he’d instruct them to go to, just a dark room. Pitch dark. A room where you can’t even see your own hand outstretched in front of you. It worked for most people to get them to a still place where you’d see them disappear: the twitching REM eyelids, the mouth always either agape, lax, or smiling. The rest of the body was still enough to move and be moved without them feeling a thing.
First he’d check by blowing lightly on their fingers, fixed on the arm of the couch. Then he’d lift one as he spoke to them. He’d tell them to nod, and their chin would stay where it was. He’d ask if they were nodding and they’d let out an exhale through barely-parted lips. Sometimes a whistle or wheeze would sound, as if they were a dormant harmonica being played by a passing wind. But he’d have to keep talking to them, or else they’d find their way out of that room and open the door back to the real world, blinking their eyes open, hands moving to scratch their head, or back to their lap, asking if the session was over already.
So he continued to speak to her. He told her that her doors were secure. The only person going in and out of her house was herself.
Let it unravel.
That smile tugged once more at her lips. He moved her hands to her sides and slipped her body further down the couch, so as to make her look more comfortable. He posed her on her side, placing a pillow beneath her; let her left arm drape down over the curve of her hip, fingertips grazing the couch cushion.
Let it unravel.
Her eyelids trembled. He ran a finger along them as he told her how sound her mind was, that she didn’t need to over-check herself and worry. His fingers went now over her lips, tracing them before he laid his hand over her mouth and latched her nostrils closed with his thumb and forefinger. She stayed just as still a few more seconds until the oxygen ran out and she came alive, thrashing beneath him. He had to support her with his other hand behind her head as it moved wildly. How the body comes alive when threatened. He couldn’t help but admire it. Her hair flying into his face, legs kicking now, hands flexing at her sides. She convulsed once, twice more, then pitched forward into him, before finally relaxing into the couch, the pillow perfectly cupping her soft cheek soon to grow cold as he slipped his hands from her. He had positioned her perfectly, and let himself take a mental note. He moved to sit back in his own desk chair to watch her for another moment. A slow blink and he saved the image.
The incessant itch he always felt, coming and going every now and then in waves was always soothed and stifled by things like this. A crescendo. A release. And he had saved her. He had cured her.
The yellow light in his office now turned green, grey; tinged blue, orange, red. A kaleidoscope of colors his broken, happy, glassy eyes distorted further into colored shards. A stained glass window. It felt like church, or some other place with warm tones and lively spaces gone quiet. It was home, something like that. He was home.
Thalia Geiger is a poet and fiction writer with a BFA in Creative Writing from the University of the Arts. She is an editorial assistant at American Poetry Review and her fiction has been published in Pamplemousse. Her poetry has been published by Santa Ana River Review, and was recognized by the Hurston/Wright Foundation. She lives in Philadelphia where she happily burns too many candles and impulsively buys more books than she can fit on her shelves.