Copyright© 2003 by Carlos Malenkov
"who pays any attention to the syntax of things
will never wholly kiss you"
-- ee cummings
Don't laugh, Joe. Fifty dollars can ruin a man's life. That's what this whole fucking mess is about.
We had dropped in at the Millers' party. I don't have much occasion to go back to the neighborhood where I grew up, but Jack and Ellen Miller were old friends. It happened to be one of Joanie's sleepover nights and the two of us had decided to indulge in a bit of nostalgia. Some of our old schoolmates were going to be there.
The snacks were pretty good, actually, and the party hadn't yet gotten to the point that everyone was either bored out of their skull or sloppy drunk.
The Millers had pulled out all the stops. There were even professional entertainers. The blues singer sure knew her stuff, though the jugglers were only fair, but the hypnotist... oh, man, that fucking hypnotist.
Posthynotic suggestion can make people do very strange things, Jack Miller was telling me. Sometimes even things completely out of character. A Bright Idea hit me just then.
I had noticed Tara Jameson sitting among a group of people watching the juggling. Tara. She was an old flame of mine from high school. Unfortunately, it had been a rather one-sided flame. I had been a grind, an ultra-geek, a complete social zero -- about as far outside as it was possible for an outsider to be. Meanwhile, Tara was playing Little Miss Cheerleader and bucking for Homecoming Queen. The couple of times she had condescended to notice me had been for purposes of taunting and bashing my fragile ego. Just good clean fun, I guess. My dented self-esteem had mostly recovered after twenty years, but the memories still hurt.
Tara... and the hypnotist. Bingo!
I sashayed over to that hynotist. He was a assistant psych instructor from the state college, Jack had told me. And a little down on his luck, by the looks of him. His suit was a bit shiny in the seat and showing a little wear at the elbows and knees. In fact, he had the unmistakeable aura of desperation about him. No wonder he was moonlighting in this hypnotist gig. This guy could be bought. Probably cheap, too.
"Professor, I was wondering whether I might request a minor favor." He looked up from his drink. "There's a certain woman here... and well, I was wondering if..." A fifty-dollar bill was all it took.
"As we have seen, ladies and gentlemen, our two volunteers from the audience have demonstrated the dark mysteries that lie hidden -- unseen and unsuspected -- within the uncharted depths of the human mind. This stalwart young man on my left held several ice cubes in the open palm of each hand until they melted, and with no discomfort or aftereffects. This lovely lady here on my right lay stretched rigid between chairs several feet apart and supported the weight of two men standing on her midsection, with no apparent strain. Yes, my good people, the borderlands of the mind are an unexplored frontier.
"And now, to conclude this evening's performance, I will administer to each of the volunteers what is known as a posthypnotic suggestion. Triggered by the correct verbal cue, they will involuntarily execute an action I will implant in their subconscious, an action completely out of character for them.
"Bill, when you hear the word 'kangaroo, ' you will begin hopping on your left leg and be unable to stop until you hear me whistle.
"And as for you, my dear Tara... when you hear the word 'kiss' from an old acquaintance, someone you haven't seen in years, you will immediately throw your arms around him, embrace and passionately kiss him. Yes, an intimate kiss, thrusting your tongue deep into his mouth.
"Now, when I clap my hands three times, you will both awaken, though you will not remember the commands I have just given you."
With a ceremonial flourish, he clapped three times. The man and woman seated on the "stage," really just a makeshift platform in the middle of the Millers' patio, opened their eyes, and with a dazed look hesitantly rejoined the applauding audience.
The festivities resumed. People began congregating in groups and the background party sound effects -- chatter and laughter and tinkling of ice in glasses -- once more filled the air. Finally, someone called out, "Kangaroo." There was a minor commotion as a man began hopping around uncontrollably. He was laughing and crying at the same time, but seemed unable to stop hopping. Finally, the hypnotist ended his agony by whistling. There were a few cheers and some nervous laughter, but almost everyone was too absorbed in conversation to notice.
It was my turn. I casually strolled over toward Tara. Revenge is sweet, I was thinking. Payback for all the times she had made me miserable in my formative years.
"Hi, Tara," I said.
She turned around. "Do I know you from somewhere?" she asked.
"Calvin Coolidge High. Think back twenty years. I had a bad case of puppy love for you, but..."
"Jarvis!" she squealed. "The class nerd! None of our crowd would have been caught dead with you."
"Certainly you wouldn't have, Tara." I paused. "Kiss."
A dozen different varieties of bewilderment crawled over her face before her mouth went slack and her features settled into a blank mask. Then her eyes got as big as saucers and... she had me in a bearhug and was grinding her lips against mine. I opened my mouth to let her tongue enter.
There was dead silence around us. A few people snickered and someone nearby hooted. Tara let go of me and blushed scarlet.
So, I had my petty revenge. I had humiliated her in public. For a brief moment in time, I had been the bigshot and she the patsy. Somehow, though, it left a bitter taste in my mouth. Tara turned and fled.
As Joanie and I were getting our coats on to leave, the hypnotist approached us.
"I should perhaps have warned you, sir. In some subjects, a posthypnotic suggestion may precipitate strange behavior. Sometimes they feel a need to justify in their minds the actions that were implanted. For example, that woman who kissed you might convince herself that she'd fallen in love with you. I don't know. I'm starting to have second thoughts about having agreed to your special request."
"It's a bit late for regrets," I said. "And you didn't seem at all reluctant to accept my gratuity, Professor Mesmer."
I was wiggling my way into the passenger's side of Joanie's low-slung hotrod. She's a classic sports car freak and had spent years and tens of thousands of dollars restoring a vintage 1959 MG. There were shouts from back of the house. Tara was running toward us, waving her arm. "Wait, Jarvis, don't go! We have so much to talk about!"
In fact, we had nothing whatsoever to talk about. "Drive," I said to Joanie.
"Now what was that all about, hmm?" Joanie asked me a few minutes later. We were rolling up the Route 340 entrance ramp. It was only a half hour farther to my house.
"Someone I had the hots for, way back when I was a sophomore in high school. She wouldn't give me the time of day back then. I happened to spot her tonight at the party, and then with the hypnotist and all, I got one of my Bright Ideas. I slipped the hypnotist a few bucks to choose her as one of his guinea pigs and feed her the posthynotic suggestion to French kiss me when I said 'kiss' to her. And the rest, as they say, is history."
.... There is more of this story ...