Geoffrey was sitting not two chairs left of the receptionist’s desk when it suddenly occurred to him that the magazine he was pretending to read was intended for crochet enthusiasts ages sixty to sixty-five. Behind the recycled plywood desk, a pair of spectacles jerked forwards in an unrestrained snort.
Geoffrey glanced towards the desk and wet his lips, ashamed. He was parched—or at least he thought he was. The receptionist was practically invisible behind the manila paperwork and stacked insurance forms, but what really made him hard to spot were the spectacles, which reflected the glare from the recently installed fluorescents overhead. Geoffrey tried to muster an apologetic look, a look that would somehow explain his situation to the twin suns staring back at him down the Olympian summit of dental insurance. He even tried to say something, but could only croak due to the lack of moisture on his palate. He was probably parched.
It had been five weeks since he had last visited the dentist. They send a postcard after six, but Geoffrey loathed reminders. Also postcards. The last time Geoffrey received a postcard was when his parents travelled to the North African Republic. He was ten. “Dearest Geof,” it read. “Hello from Cairo! Yesterday we saw the pyramids at Giza and a camel spit on your father! Now we’re about to walk into a ninth century mosque. I’m taking loads of pictures to show you upon our return. Are you having fun with Phillipa? I told her that you were going to be on your best behavior and I look forward to hearing it from you. Anyway, I have to go now. Be good.”
Love, Mummy. Yet despite his hatred for the medium, every year around the holidays Geoffrey’s friends and neighbors would each receive a Christmas card from his address. Each card was unique—he never reused a photo—but the concept never changed. Geoffrey to the left, blue sweater, unlit fireplace, and a caption reading Happy Christmas! Your pal, Geof in an elaborate cursive typeface. Most of his cards remained unseen in their envelopes, discarded by their recipients at the first opportunity and shipped halfway around the world to a landfill in Australia.
Geoffrey’s name crawled through the speaker above the waiting room door and emerged in an anticlimactic crackle. Geoffrey, with a newfound interest in crochet, was nose deep in his magazine and completely unaware that his name had been called.
Again. He heard it this time around, and with a frantic gesture to restore the magazine to its home on the wall, he marched through the enormous waiting room door and into the lair of Dr. Geppetto.
The walls and ceiling were a perfect pink: bright but not an eyesore, inviting but not sexual. Geoffrey was greeted by an assistant he had never seen before. She escorted him down a long, wide hallway with short doors flanking both sides.
“Don’t worry. This is just a checkup. It shouldn’t be too painful and there will be plenty of distraction.”
“I’m telling you not to worry. It won’t hurt.”
“I’m not worried.”
“Pretty confident for a first-timer.”
“I said that you’re pretty confident for a first-timer. You know there’s a great ENT office just next door.”
“No, my hearing’s fine. I’m just not a—”
“Here we are. 84D.”
The assistant held the door open as a confused Geoffrey stepped inside. Dr. Geppetto, his back to the entrance, was sterilizing his hands in the sink and humming something bouncy. In the center of the room sat a reclining purple dentist’s chair.
“Geoffrey! Good to see you again. Please take a seat, I’ll be right with you.”
Geoffrey sat down and stared at the pink ceiling. As soon as Geoffrey’s head hit the cushion, Dr. Geppetto wheeled around with his instruments and began to explore with his sickle probe. Geoffrey was now effectively mute on account of the cheek retractor.
“So you’re here for a regular checkup. I’ll be looking for cavities, examining your teeth, and doing a procedural cleaning. Remind me, have you gotten your wisdom teeth removed yet? Okay, your incisors have been getting loads of attention. Canines look fine. Oh, we loved your Christmas card! Very much appreciated, thank you. Okay, first bicuspid looking great. Molars are great. Your gum tissue looks a little damaged. You should be brushing more gently. And are you using a soft toothbrush? Only ever buy soft. Don’t buy medium or hard. How often are you flossing these days? And you should be pleased to hear you have no cavities…”
Dr. Geppetto kept talking and Geoffrey contentedly didn’t say a word. He was never very competent at small talk with his barber, so he was grateful for the excuse not to converse. Dr. Geppetto was a fairly old man of perhaps fifty-five. Unwrinkled. Bald. Handsome. Although they never made eye contact that day, Geoffrey could see his eyes were of a hue eerily similar to that of his scrubs.
“…and of course I said ‘I’m sorry ma’am, but ferrets just don’t qualify for dental care.’ Poor thing died the next day. Tragic story. Anyway, we’re about to move onto the routine cleaning. Just taking off some plaque is all. Could be a little painful. Would you like a cat?”
Geoffrey nodded, his mouth still pried open. Dr. Geppetto pressed a black button next to the chair.
“Judith? Could you bring in the box please?”
He released the button and moved back to the sink, where he prepared the polisher, testing it a few times. Geoffrey heard a feline chorus processing down the hallway, a cacophony of meow. Then the assistant he spoke with earlier stepped into the room pushing a metal cart, which carried a cardboard box with holes cut in the top. She turned to face him.
“And what color would you like today, Geoffrey?”
Geoffrey just shifted in his chair, his mouth still pried open. Dr. Geppetto took notice of the silence.
“Oh sorry! Let me get that for you.”
He loosened the cheek retractor. Geoffrey would like mint today, thank you. The assistant opened the top of the box and selected amongst many kittens and cats, all colors of the rainbow, a single green shorthair and handed it to him by its paw. He took it and clutched it to his stomach. The assistant closed the box and pushed the cart back out of the room. The meowing faded as she walked back down the hallway. The door closed and Dr. Geppetto turned around, tightened the cheek retractor and applied a paste to the polisher. Geoffrey wrapped his fingers around the cat’s neck.
“Are we ready?”
He mumbled a yes. Dr. Geppetto leaned in and the polisher began to shrill.
The pain was immense, as the cleanings usually were. Geoffrey’s eyes squinted as his vision went blurry. His fingers tightened. He curled his toes as far as his shoes would allow. Hold the hook in the right hand. He thought of Egypt. The postcard his mother sent, still kept by itself on an empty corkboard above his desk. His fingers tightened. Make a slipknot on the hook. Phillipa, sweet Phillipa, who had long locks of golden hair that could never decide which side of her neck to fall on. The cat began scratching at his chest. Bring the yarn over the hook from back to front. Christmas as a child, his mother warning him that fires are dangerous. The fireplace is just for show anyway. His fingers tightened. Draw the yarn through the slipknot and onto the hook. Mother, in her blue woolen sweater, pilling in the back. Hold the hook. His fingers tightened. He broke into a sweat. Make a slipknot. Phillipa, bringing over her lovers in the night when she thought Geoffrey was asleep. Bring the yarn. Little Geoffrey watching them fuck from his room. Draw the yarn. The cat grew limp. Hold. As did Geoffrey. Make. Rinse. Bring. Spit. Draw.
Later that evening, Geoffrey stepped into his shower to wash up before bed. He sat on the shower floor and leaned back against the wall. Thomas scratched at the bathroom door. Brown irises rolled under his eyelids as he lay in the bosom of a warm rain. He stroked his teeth with a pale tongue. They felt clean.
Image Source: dentist 牙医的黑暗魔法 by 星 荒野