Boxing Day Story

Posted on Thursday, December 26, 2013, under

Fluster before Christmas

For several weeks now when not teaching I have spent my time lying around either consciously dreaming or unconsciously waking and in both cases irresponsibly irritable to the last degree.
              Robert Frost, Selected Letters

I had not been to see a dentist for some half-dozen years. If it weren’t for K., who would occasionally complain about my wafer-thin, shark-jagged central incisors, it would most likely be a further six years. So I found this dentist through a student of mine, who works there as a part-time assistant. Highly recommended. Doc went to Harvard apparently. Whatever ‘went’ meant.

I rang the clinic on Friday. A woman’s voice on the phone gave curt answers (in English) which to me suggested she belonged to that subspecies of youngish, despondent, don’t-talk-to-me-you-see-I-am-busy types. Slotted me in for the following Friday, 5.30 pm.

As expected, I went in with some trepidation. Six years is a long time. All sorts of nasty bacteria could have accumulated in my gob, by now gnawing happily at the gum. Well, the reception area was as small as they come. I almost knocked over a Christmas tree as soon as I swapped my shoes for the onsite slippers and stepped onto the lobby floor. And some tree it was, clearly lots of work went into decorating.

She was middle-aged and smiling, wearing a thick layer of black eye shadow. Ah, I know who you are, her dark eyes said as I approached the desk. Formalities ensued, including a form to fill in. The usual stuff: the history of my ailments, my past and present allergies, and where in the mouth it hurts. Not unlike the customs declaration paper: tick each NO to be on the safe side. ‘Just a check-up, see. I haven’t been to a dentist for years’.

She sat me down to wait for my turn. No mags in English. Eyes free to roam the room. Framed certificates all over the walls – you couldn’t drive a single nail between them. On closer inspection most turned out to be certificates of participation to various conferences and seminars. Bit of a letdown. Then there were these porcelain figurines inside the white glass cabinet depicting various scenes from a dental room (one had a patient spread horizontally surrounded by a doctor, an assistant, an old man carrying a lantern, and a couple of sheep).
And there was her, making herself busy, standing up and sitting down thousands of times, shuffling papers, checking files, typing, popping in behind the Operatory door. Once the room emptied of other patients it was our cue to strike a small talk. She led the way. Told how she and doc had been married for aeons, how the two of them had been regular globetrotters, how they just got back from Germany where they bought those figurines, how it took her the best part of a day to decorate the tree (it was the early days – first week of December – but there you go, the tree pregnant with bluish baubles to match the tinsel and dangling toy bears), how there were two more trees inside the Operatory, how the hubby was unbelievably busy (he was to catch shinkansen bound for Tokyo in couple of hours’ time).

I followed her to the Operatory. We walked past the other two Christmas trees, each more fetching than the other. ‘Yes, this one is my favourite, definitely’, I said for each. I was looking forward to exchanging words with the boss. The chief globetrotter being a man of the world and all. Spoke good English too, according to wife. Alas, the very man behind the surgical mask who treated me that evening was to remain just that – a man behind the surgical mask. Not only did I not speak to him, I never got to see his face either. When he saw me his mask slightly rose around the cheeks. I bet it was a smile.

For a routine check-up the whole thing took longer than anticipated. Or did it? Did it only seem long? Could I have dozed off? Hard to imagine, what with my mouth open and dribbling, a pretty assistant vacuuming the dribble, the noise, the instruments all over my mouth, the light in my eyes. They put a cloth over my eyes. The world went dim for a minute, perhaps several minutes.

Perhaps I did not dream a proper, fully fledged dream. But I did see images, of that I am sure. Images random, desultory, erratic, airborne, suspended by wires like marionettes: a Montgolfier balloon on fire; a giant dragonfly by a volcanic river; a Noh mask whispering garbled admonishments; the sun disc; someone pulling a dead fish out of water. Then a voice, ‘Rinse your mouth please’. Blood into basin.

The dark-eyed missus escorted me out. ‘So, anything I should be worried about?’ ‘No, not really.’ I leaned toward her. ‘Say, is there anything in that room that might make people have… visions?’ She stared. I tried to clarify: ‘I mean, is it possible that a person might fall asleep on that chair? You know, doze off?’ Her face relaxed. ‘Oh. I guess so. Did you?’ ‘I could have. I am not sure though’. ‘Well’, she chirped, ‘it must be difficult to sleep while your tooth is being pulled out.’ God! I frantically started tonguing about the mouth, feeling for gaps. Nothing. Everything seemed in place. Then it struck me: I did not feel any pain. No pain, no discomfort. In fact no sensation of any kind, no matter how hard my tongue pressed.

© Branko Manojlovic, 2013

image: Robert Sudlow, Dental Chair in the Woods (

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