Friday, January 05, 2007

Deciduous (1.)



The dentist was built like a tanker. Not only was he large, he leaked oil. I felt it smearing from his fat knuckles to my chin while he adjusted the suction. I imagined aquatic life dying in his wake, imagined ducks and pelicans choking in his residue as he lumbered down the sidewalk on his way to work.

“So how’s every little thing?” he asked, knowing that I could not answer with anything but a grunt, and what were the odds of a grunt ever being the correct answer to anything?

I grunted. He told me again that I really should be flossing. I grunted apologetically and he began his epic battle with one of my back molars. The one on the right. One of my favorite molars. I loved that molar—we had been through a lot together—but now it had to go. He tugged, banged at the sides with metal things, poked at the area around it with something sharp and I tasted blood.

“It’s a stubborn one,” the dentist said. “Would you like to rinse?”

I grunted that I would, then rinsed and spat out about a kilo of blood and water and saliva into his little white swirling sink. It looked like pieces of red string swirling around the drain. I kept rinsing and spitting until the water was almost clear, but there where still little bits of tissue coming out, little bits of myself that the dentist had knocked or torn or scraped loose. I wiped my chin and rinsed and spit some more. It seemed like I would never be done.

“Sure is a lot, eh?” he said.

I grunted, forgetting that I could have actually answered him with words now. Then I was done spitting and he resumed the battle.

On the drive home, with the right half of my face feeling as if it no longer belonged to me, I felt at the gap with the tip of my tongue. My missing tooth. The gap seemed infinite. A void in my being. I felt less than I was before.

And that night, when I was almost asleep, I felt a hand slipping beneath my pillow. I opened my eyes. There was a man standing there, in a brown suit, a brown hat, and thick, black rimmed glasses. I could see the stubble of a five O’clock shadow on his impressive chin, and smell black coffee on his breath.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, trying to control my voice, because really, what is the use of panicking, and perhaps the man had a reasonable explanation.

“I was checking to see if you left me anything.”

“Why would I leave you something?” I asked him. “Why would I leave you something under my pillow?” I was so thrown by this that the fear of a strange man in my bed room was replaced with curiosity. Or mostly replaced—there was still and aftertaste of fear.

He smiled and adjusted his glasses, and I guess I figured it out then, but he handed me his business card anyway. Then he showed me his official license. Everything seemed to be in order.

“But no tooth, eh?” he said.

“No,” I said. “I haven’t left a tooth under my pillow since I was a kid. Frankly, I’m surprised you’re still checking.”

“Yeah, well that’s the job, isn’t it?”

“I guess.”

“I mean, I’m not here to hide eggs, am I?”

“I guess not.”

He sat down in the chair by the bed. He had not been invited too, but you could tell he was exhausted. I was probably his last stop of the night. He took off his hat, fanned it toward his face for a moment and then rested it carefully on the point of his knee.

“Let me just catch my breath for a moment,” he said.

“Sure,” I told him. He sat there, began panting—as if the act of sitting down had only exhausted him further.

“Phew,” he said. “It’s been a long night…”

“I can imagine.”

He closed his eyes and in less than a minute he was softly snoring. I got up. Who could sleep with a strange man sitting in the chair by their bed? Some people can, I imagine, but not me.

At dawn, I brought him a cup of coffee, nudged him gently on the shoulder. He opened his eyes, straightened himself in the chair, straightened his glasses on his face, took the cup of coffee gratefully from my hand.

“That’s never happened before,” he said after his first sip. Then he checked his watch and said: “Shit. Can I use your phone?”

I showed him to the phone and got ready for work while he made his call. I could not hear the words from the other room, but I recognized the pleading tone in his voice. When I was dressed and ready to leave, he was still there, sitting on my couch now, staring at a blank TV.

“Well that’s that,” I guess. “I lost my job. And you didn’t even leave a tooth.”

“Sorry,” I told him, though I wasn’t really. I mean, it wasn’t my fault, was it? Of course it wasn’t, and he didn’t really seem to be blaming me either, but he also wasn’t getting off my couch.

“Can I drop you off anywhere?” I asked, hoping he would take the hint. But he only shrugged, checked his watch, then shrugged again.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“To work,” I said.

“I’ll go with you,” he said.

He drove with me to work and insisted on paying for gas. But he paid with a bag of quarters, which the clerk had to count, making me late for work.

“I’ll meet you back here when you’re done,” he said in the parking lot. “I’ve got some things I need to take care of.” I just shrugged and said OK. At least he’d helped out with the gas. And really, what else could I do? I felt like I owed the guy something. I had lost a lot of teeth when I was younger.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

There you go.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

Three. Three. Three.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Erin O'Brien said...

I guess my previous comment begs an explaination.

7:34 AM  
Blogger Hope Dangling said...

hey grantie...sending the love.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Nin Andrews said...

And I thought I was the only one who had dentist-related nightmares. I love this!

12:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good job grant!

Are you still at Tower city? This is Josh, we worked together a few years ago before I started a store. no links or adds to post, just checking up on you.

See you around!

4:10 PM  

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