The Boiler

Georgette Eva

CASSANDRA DUNN NOW

Cassandra Dunn sat in the hypnotist’s waiting room, filling out a clipboard of pastel-colored forms, wondering what it would be like to be a different person.

Cassandra Dunn had no kids and was terrified of heights. She enjoyed baking and had an entry-level position in a firm. She was allergic to cats. She loved her mother and father. She lived in a fifth-floor walk-up next to a man named Jason Hardegree, who worked in a microchip factory during the day and played disc jockey by night. On his days off, Jason Hardegree went fly-fishing and would ask Cassandra Dunn now to collect his mail for the weekend. This happened often.

Cassandra Dunn now never had so many days off for someone to collect the mail, but she certainly didn’t like the idea of someone assessing her senders, bills, or trashy celebrity magazine subscriptions to cast judgment. Cassandra Dunn later would go somewhere one day, perhaps Italy, maybe Minneapolis, but Cassandra Dunn now was the type to stay at home and relish the weekend watching movies edited for television, being a good neighbor by keeping the volume at medium to low, and keeping personal dance time to a minimum. Jason Hardegree was the type to ask if he could run a long orange extension cord from Cassandra Dunn’s apartment to his own, because his electricity was shut off for reasons unexplained to Cassandra Dunn. Though billing was the natural assumption. Water was free for tenants. Electricity was not.

Cassandra Dunn now filled out her name in small, acute print at the bottom of the pastel doctor’s application below her signature. She debated whether two hours from now, after the appointment, before she got home, if she would have new handwriting, perhaps cursive with excessive curlicues and bold strokes that dipped below the line salaciously. Cassandra Dunn now was stuck with small print, which looked childish on checks. No one, however, as the cashier at Cassandra Dunn’s bodega pointed out, wrote checks anymore.

“Ms. Dunn?” the receptionist asked from behind the white counter, jolting Cassandra Dunn back into the office. Cassandra Dunn got up to return the completed forms with a small smile, teeth hidden. Her family called this a “Frog Face” because of the way her lips disappeared when she stretched them into a smile. In photos over Christmas and Thanksgiving, the Frog Face can be seen right dead center, because, along with this unattractive smile, Cassandra Dunn was also the shortest member of her family and the most unwilling to fight for a spot in the back. Perhaps Cassandra Dunn later would be more vocal about it, demand it even, and Cassandra Dunn now wondered what sort of speech she would later make, what food she could later hold ransom in exchange for a proper position. Perhaps her famous baked apple braid would convince her family that she meant it.

The receptionist broke into her thoughts, informing her that the doctor would be in shortly, and Cassandra Dunn, had Cassandra Dunn been a different person, would’ve attempted small talk with her, something about the weather or the line of work or the type of people who came into a hypnotist’s office, which she was actually interested in hearing more about. But as she ruminated over an opening, she realized that it was taking her too long to summon a possible topic, missing the opportunity completely. Instead, there was just silence.

So Cassandra Dunn now dejectedly followed the receptionist through a sturdy oak door and into an office to sit. Right when she came in, she spotted the framed diploma on the wall. The gold seal looked immensely important and respectable, and she felt impressed, mainly because she didn’t realize that hypnotism was an occupation requiring some sort of degree.

Frankly, she always believed that it was a gift one had naturally, possibly earned through meditation, hereditary, or simply chocked up to gullible, disillusioned victims like Cassandra Dunn now. She didn’t like to dwell on the money this session would cost. She decided to view it as supporting a local business. Two weeks ago, she had discovered Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome as a guest on a morning radio show. Perhaps Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome wanted to be a radio personality and needed capital.

“No, this is as real as it gets, Cassandra,” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome said when she posed this theory aloud. “I’m sorry if you think that, but I have been practicing for over twelve years and helping people is what I wanted to do. I’m prepared to help you as well, if you’re willing.”

Cassandra Dunn now blushingly apologized for the attempted joke, regretting the bold behavior, and agreed readily to being helped. Perhaps, the Cassandra Dunn in two hours would be able to laugh this off. Perhaps Cassandra Dunn later won’t dwell on it over dinner like Cassandra Dunn now surely felt like doing.

“So you’re having trouble with anxiety?” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome asked, peaking at her above the clipboard. “Could you describe what you’re anxious about? Or what gives you so much stress?”

Cassandra Dunn thought about work. How she waited three days to hear back from Harold Morris about a pitch, how she spent that time contriving how much Harold Morris disliked it and wondered if Harold Morris wanted to let her go. Perhaps she made a typo or the color scheme was off. She didn’t want to hear any of it then, and the safest place in the office to get away from the e-mails and ringing phones was the supply closet. Even so, she got in the way of the afternoon assignation for the Mailroom Clerk and the Temp.

Cassandra Dunn now heard their high-pitched laughter at her hasty escape.

“Hypnotism, as you know,” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome went on, “is a great way to combat anxiety. I bypass your conscious mind to speak to your subconscious mind, to those emotions.”

Cassandra Dunn felt dubious about this. Cassandra Dunn later might be the type of person hypnotism would work for, but Cassandra Dunn now certainly had reservations, despite filling out the forms. “Now, Cassandra, you have to be open to my methods if this is ever going to work,” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome said calmly, and she felt egged on by the professionalism. Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome’s twelve years of experience loomed over her smugly. “You really have to open your mind,” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome stressed.

She sat back on the leather lounge, gathered her hands above her stomach, and exhaled. She shut her eyes and thought about what an opened brain would look like.
A part of Cassandra Dunn wanted to tell Jason Hardegree that no, that despite being cool about Jason Hardegree’s mail, she didn’t see the point of the orange cord running through the hallway. He promised that it would be only a couple of days tops, but the orange extension cord was really in the way in her apartment. She tripped on it twice when going to the kitchen for middle of the night water. Cassandra Dunn now wondered how much use Jason Hardegree got out of one little extension cord, anyway.

“Are you opening your mind?” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome asked patiently.

Once, on a plane, she pulled out her laptop to work. Feeling luxurious, she pulled out some headphones to listen to music, only to have her secret disco mix blast to the entire tail end where she sat. It took two songs before she realized that the headphones were defective, and everyone around her was too polite to say anything. Though, their amused, tight smirks and sideways glances said it all. She continued to cringe about that incident.

“What are you thinking about, Cassandra?” Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome asked calmly, sounding as if she should’ve made a revelation by now.

Cassandra Dunn admitted to the airplane incident and Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome advised her to focus on the backs of her eyelids, on the darkness, on Professional Hypnotist Jacob Newsome’s calming voice. Cassandra Dunn wondered what it would be like to be a new person.

                                                                                   *

Cassandra Dunn now walked past Jason Hardegree’s door towards her own, following the exposed orange cable. A rather bright light beamed from under Jason Hardegree’s door into the hallway, and when she entered her apartment, she could make out the lyrics to a club song thumping hit through her walls.

She shook her head, closed her eyes, and focused on the back of her eyelids as she turned the key in the lock and entered the apartment. Taking that first step over the threshold, she felt a tight jerk above her toe, and she stumbled inside. She opened her eyes in shock.

That club thumping was gone, as if the record’s needle was jerkily pulled back. She sagged with relief. She didn’t like the music Jason Hardegree blasted into her apartment, using her electricity.
Who was Cassandra Dunn kidding? Clearly, Jason Hardegree wasn’t preparing for a grand disc jockeying show. She knew Jason Hardegree spent nights at home, using her electricity. She could hear Jason Hardegree mucking about next door.

Cassandra Dunn now pulled out the orange line from her apartment and tossed it into the hallway. A loud crash and a sharp yell resounded through the shared wall as she decided to go sit and watch television. Maybe something with action. Maybe something with a car chase. Cassandra Dunn felt like something fast. Something thrilling. Something loud.

Cassandra Dunn went to plug in the television, bending down and unsettling weeks’ worth of dust behind the set, before she stepped back and sank into the couch across the room. She made herself comfortable, luxuriating in the spare throw pillows, stretching out her limbs way past the confines of her couch, smiling as she relished the gratifying silence she hadn’t had for a month. There was no pounding bass. There were no dropped beats. There was only much-needed peace. And with feet propped up and arms spread out, Cassandra Dunn dug into her pocket, popped a stick of gum into her mouth, and wondered what Cassandra Dunn now would do later.

______________________________

Georgette Eva is a freelancer and a shop girl living in New York. She’s contributed for sites like Bustle and Nerve. She graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in journalism.