This afternoon it’s back to the dentist for me, so I thought I’d share this short piece of fiction I wrote 6 years ago. Originally posted as “One Man’s Trajectory, Another Man’s Tragedy,” February 21st, 2008.
She would have guessed the Novocaine would be the worst part of her day: that deft little needle in her cheek and the roof of her mouth, and the dead sensation that followed. But pain, she realized, discomfort even, was not the worst part of going to the dentist. The smell of burning enamel, the terrible squealing sound as they drilled her tooth away, the vibrations that rattled her jaws and every vertebrae, none of those things were the worst part of going to the dentist, or at least they weren’t on this day.
“If it sounds like someone is working on the roof, it’s because they are,” said the dentist from his perch. She could hear them walking around above her, pushing large chunks of ice and snow off of the building in order to remedy damage inflicted by a cruel winter. All the while during her procedure, she could see ice falling past the window from the corner of her eye. How was she to know? She simply needed to have her tooth repaired.
Paying a modest fortune to have that tooth repaired wasn’t the worst part of going to the dentist, but she wasn’t aware of that either. Rather, when she crossed the lobby to exit, her thoughts were consumed with the promise of future dental work, more invasive, more expensive. “You may need a root canal,” her dentist had said with equal parts regret and hope. “We’ll see you soon to finish this up.” She did not want ever to return to the dentist.
Another patient was exiting with her. They descended the stairs together and listened as the noise of the men on the roof grew louder, their scraping of snow and ice becoming much closer. She and this other patient were both numb in the face, and they joked halfheartedly together with drooping mouths and stupid tongues. “Do you think they’ll know to stop when we step outside?” The two of them looked nervously up at the overhang from whence blocks of ice and hearty tufts of snow fell at irregular intervals.
Of course they would know to stop–they were professionals, right? They would surely know when to stop, wouldn’t they?
Perhaps they weren’t professionals, who knows. But it is safe to say that on this day, for this woman, the worst part of going to the dentist was when she stepped outside just as a particularly dense chunk of ice was pushed from the roof. It struck her in the back of her skull, and that was it. It killed her instantly, while the other patient managed to skitter away untouched. “Hey, look out!” came a cry from the roof of the dentist office, but it was moments too late, the damage was done. The other patient, although unharmed, turned around and yelled up at the workers, “Are you crazy?” They didn’t have much to say to that. But secretly, in the furthest corners of her mind, this other patient was a little bit envious because she, though still alive and with a future full of promise, would continue to make these visits to the dentist, while the other woman would never have to.