Fearful, with open mouth and on the brink of financial ruin – where could things feel worse than in the dentist’s chair?
My mouth: an automobile. Not a new one, no, not this one, but certainly a used Jaguar, well looked after, third hand, with 130 000 kilometers on the clock and white leather seats, when you consider all that has gone into my mouth so far and how cheaply you can buy a Jaguar that’s covered 130 000 kilometers. All the amalgam. All the hours of dental work. All the injections. All the X-rays. All the drill bits used. All the wisdom teeth extracted. These are the many reasons my dentist should rejoice when I shake his hand in greeting. Yes, he should whoop and dance for joy because when I turn up, work turns up. I am his income on two legs. And he does give me a smile when we see each other, but a mild one, and then with a nod invites me to take a seat in the chair and sets to work straight away.
The machinery gurgles, hisses, screeches. I dig my fingertips deep into the synthetic-soft arms of the chair when he sets to with his hard metal instrument in my mouth, scratching here, scraping there and soon muttering something worrying that comes out muffled from beneath his surgical face mask. He nods and has his assistant hand him an injection. Quickly and energetically, the fine needle penetrates my gums, here, there, tiny pinpricks, and again here, and again there. Brief pause.
The dentist straightens up, pulls down his face mask, says it won’t be long before the anesthetic takes effect and stands up from his stool. Mouth open, I lie prostrate on the chair. My dentist walks over to the window in his starched white gown. From his office, you have a magnificent view over the roofs of the city. Thick smoke oozes from the tall chimney of a district heating plant. Close by, a flock of pigeons swoops through the air. All of the dentists I have ever consulted in my dental cavity-filled life had their offices on the upper stories of the building. Never have I stopped to wondered why that was.
My dentist stands at the window, hands behind his back, looking out. I can see him on the edge of my field of vision. He’s humming a tune. Is it “Flight of the Bumblebee”? A jet cuts across the immaculate pale blue of the sky leaving a vapor trail that soon disappears again. Away in the distance, filigree construction cranes do their heavy work. All the while, the machine sucking the saliva out of my mouth snarls and gurgles.
Turning my head as well as I am able, I see my dentist touch the windowpane with his nose, just lightly, exhale through his wide-open mouth, then take a step back to study the shape of his condensed breath on the glass from a certain distance. It resembles a skull. I swiftly pull my head back to stare straight into the dazzling light of the operation lamp. Then my dentist says calmly, as though to no one in particular: “Sometimes I’d like to throw in the towel. Take a year off. Travel the world. Just drop everything and go. Get right away.” Then he falls silent. I nod and attempt to say something because, yes, that would certainly be a great idea, fantastic, grandiose even, but please not right this minute, not now! That’s what I would like to say, but the suction device lies rattling in my mouth and all I can get out are strange, gurgling sounds. “Just drop everything and go,” he says once more, now facing in my direction, “circumnavigate the world, once all the way around.”
Then he strides soundlessly over the carpet and back to the treatment chair. He smiles, pulls his face mask back up, bends over me, and sticks his fingers and a cold metal instrument with a bizarrely intricate hook at the end into my gullet, which is now almost as wide open as my eyes. “Okay,” he says in a quiet, friendly voice, “things could perhaps get a big unpleasant now.”