Fiction / Rebecca Gonshak


:: Hypnosis ::

First we eat the can­dies, then I ask Mark to hyp­no­tize me. Mak­ing it up on the spot, he tells me to sit fac­ing him and focus on his fin­ger, which he waves slow­ly back and forth. I’m imme­di­ate­ly aroused and want to show him how well I can focus, how obe­di­ent I can be. He tells me to close my eyes and imag­ine the time I was most afraid. 

So I go to the mem­o­ry I always go to. I’m eight, maybe nine, crouched on the floor of my par­ents’ base­ment. Did I real­ly crouch? The car­pet was hor­ri­ble: red and black astro­turf-like fibers. We threw dirty laun­dry down there but hard­ly ever washed it; it made soft, musty piles I jumped into from the stairs. 

I’m crouch­ing, try­ing to become a pile of laun­dry, while upstairs my par­ents and sis­ter stomp and scream. My sis­ter, I imag­ine, is run­ning at my par­ents like a bull, or a stam­pede. She is non­ver­bal and in pain; we’ll nev­er know if the pain was from headaches or despair. She died too young. 

That night she might have bit­ten my par­ents or pinched or choked them. I was afraid she might kill them, then come down­stairs and kill me, but she was just a girl, thir­teen or four­teen. In the mem­o­ry I am pros­trate, the child’s pose in yoga, my fists clutch­ing the plas­tic car­pet. Was I pray­ing? I was prob­a­bly praying. 

Mark asks, “How scary is it, on a scale of one to ten?” 

I say seven. 

Now remem­ber a time when you felt com­plete­ly safe. Go to that place.” 

My safe place is a couch, my ex-boyfriend Jack’s. We’re cud­dling and binge-watch­ing the first sea­son of Stranger Things, which might seem too mun­dane for per­fect con­tent­ment, but that’s the kind of ani­mal we are. Humans, I mean. My friend real­ized he was in love with his girl­friend while they were on a couch watch­ing It’s Always Sun­ny in Philadel­phia. TV plus touch is a nar­cot­ic, like you could do this for­ev­er, keep watch­ing episodes until you die in each other’s arms. It’s the hap­pi­est I’ve ever been except high. Jack was old­er and ex-mil­i­tary and would take charge with­out real­iz­ing it. I felt safe with him. Safe to push back against his pushi­ness. Push­ing back made me feel like a real person. 

Mean­while Mark is still hyp­no­tiz­ing me. “Go back to the scary place, but take the feel­ing of the safe place with you. Take who­ev­er is with you in the safe place down to the scary place.” Jack and I go down to the base­ment and crouch with the lit­tle girl. We com­fort her like we’re the par­ents. There’s still vio­lence hap­pen­ing above us, peo­ple in pain, but we can hard­ly hear it. “Blan­ket your­self in love” is what the online yoga teacher I fol­low always says. Jack and the child and I are under the love blan­ket. It feels abstract and tingly. 

How scary is the scary place now?” Mark asks. 


He tells me to go back to the safe place and imag­ine it’s now a hot spring. 

Feel the hot water embrace you. You see thou­sands of stars in the black sky.” 

I imag­ine the heat and the stars, adding a few fire­flies and a ring of trees. My mouth spreads in an expres­sion of delight, and I hope Mark is impressed by how good I am at imag­in­ing things. Or that he’ll think his words real­ly have that pow­er, to drop me into a hot spring under thou­sands of stars. 

My face has always been embar­rass­ing­ly expres­sive, like a car­toon. Some­times the expres­sions are affect­ed, some­times they’re gen­uine. Some­times a lit­tle of both. This time it’s both. I want him to look at my closed eyes and con­tent­ed grin and think I’m as pli­able as hot met­al, as open as a riv­er. I’m not actu­al­ly hyp­no­ti­z­able, prob­a­bly. There was a hyp­no­tist at my senior class grad­u­a­tion par­ty who picked me as a vol­un­teer, and I went along with what he said but didn’t real­ly lose control. 

He tells me to go back to the scary place, except now the scary place has a hot spring and stars. Jack is still there, and we’re all warm and com­fort­able and safe. The lit­tle girl is still hud­dled on her knees in prayer. She hasn’t acknowl­edged me or Jack. She just keeps hud­dling, hid­ing. Now she’s sink­ing into the red car­pet, start­ing to dis­solve. Jack and I try to hold her up, each tak­ing an arm, but she melts in our hands, becom­ing part of the hot water. Jack and I start to fuck in the hot spring. I strad­dle him, and the steam wraps around us. The pipes rat­tle like some­one above us is flush­ing a toi­let. I hear my sis­ter grap­pling with one of my par­ents. She’s say­ing over and over her one word: joo-beesh. A social work­er was try­ing to teach her “Please,” and she used it in every con­text, includ­ing violence. 

Joo-beesh! Joo-beesh!  

Please! Please!  

How scary is the scary place now?” 

Four,” I say. Is the fear real­ly reduc­ing, or am I just reduc­ing the num­ber because I’m so obe­di­ent? Because I’m thrilled that someone’s telling me what to do? 

Now go back to the safe place. Rest in the safe place. You are safe. You are loved. When I snap my fin­gers, you will wake up.” 

Mark snaps his fin­gers. I open my eyes and kiss him. I’m still just begin­ning to know him. 




From the writer


:: Account ::

This piece began as an assign­ment for a sur­re­al­ist poet­ry class, to write a poem in a state of hyp­no­sis. Since I was pur­su­ing an MFA in cre­ative non­fic­tion, I most­ly wrote lyric essays in the class and tried (unsuc­cess­ful­ly) to pass them off as prose poetry. 

For the assign­ment, I bought pot can­dy and shared it with a guy I was dat­ing. I asked him to hyp­no­tize me, and lat­er, while I was high, did some auto­mat­ic writ­ing, which was real­ly just sil­ly images and phras­es. Lat­er, not high, I incor­po­rat­ed these phras­es into an essay describ­ing the expe­ri­ence of being “hyp­no­tized.” I includ­ed that ver­sion in my the­sis as a lyric essay, but I knew it wasn’t yet finished. 

A year lat­er, I went back to the piece, cut out the auto­mat­ic writ­ing por­tions, which were quite obnox­ious, and real­ized it worked bet­ter as a short short sto­ry than a lyric essay. The dis­tance allowed me to describe the mem­o­ries more direct­ly and hon­est­ly. Trans­form­ing it into fic­tion allowed me to dis­tort real­i­ty at the end when the “safe place” and the “scary place” blend togeth­er in my narrator’s mind. 

Some writ­ers who got me inter­est­ed in lyric essays and hybrid prose/poetry are Mag­gie Nel­son and Anne Car­son, espe­cial­ly “The Glass Essay.” Car­men Maria Machado’s short chap­ters in In the Dream House, with their sur­re­al imagery and the fuzzi­ness between mem­o­ry and imag­i­na­tion, gave me a mod­el for imag­in­ing a new form for this piece. 


Rebec­ca Gon­shak is cur­rent­ly a laid-off book­seller liv­ing in Spokane, WA. She has an MFA in cre­ative non­fic­tion from East­ern Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­si­ty. Her work has been pub­lished in Alien Mag­a­zine and The Swamp.