At the top of the granite stairs is a glass door that opens automatically, a list of the buildings occupants hangs on the lobby wall directing visitors down long carpeted halls and more glass doors. Roger couldn't remember the first name of his doctor, only that he was Doctor Cohen, the directory showed five with that name. Only two were dentist and one was female, his doctor's first name must be Samuel; corridor to the left, last door on right. By now the whole side of his face hurt making identification of the offending tooth almost impossible. The last time Roger Yost was in a dentist chair he was gored with a needle the size of a ball point pen, it took three nurses and a patient from the waiting area to hold his eleven year old body down while Doctor Evil yanked his tooth out; at least that's how he remembers it.
There was a bright light at the end of the hall opposite Dr. Cohen's office publicizing an emergency exit; Roger wondered if he should walk towards it. The corridor felt like a pulsating artery thrusting him toward the glass door and the suffering that awaited him beyond it. There was time to turn around, a flat tire perhaps--or an emergency at work--his mother hasn't been well lately, he could use that; no, it's too late to cancel. By now his palms were hemorrhaging cold sweat and his knees buckled like rotted timber--the pain in his mouth became a close second to terror.
An old woman appeared in the hall with a man who could have been her son or her husband, she is ancient but looked to be enjoying the extra time God had allotted her. He didn't remember seeing a door open in front of him--goddamn dentist appointments gotten into his head. As they pass she looks up, her eyes shouldn't be that blue and her teeth shouldn't be that white, he wondered if she was older than her years or younger. She wore what looked like a bonnet; it was black and had a yellowish orange feather to one side that reminded Roger of a fisherman's fly. Her hair was thick as hay and in need of a wash and trim. Cat hair spotted the navy skirt that rested on her heavy heeled brown shoes.
The hall was wide enough to cross paths but she grazed Roger the way boys do when they want to get a girl to notice them. "Excuse me young man", she turned to her escort, "Alfred apologize to the nice gentleman." The man made eye contact but said nothing-his lips were sucked in as if he had just eaten a lemon, Roger could see dried blood on the corners of his mouth. He felt pity for the man but at the same time he resented him and he resented his mother or sister or whatever the hell she was for detaining him.
"No don't apologize please, its fine, really."
They stood there silent, three broken structures each waiting to see who would speak first; Roger sensed he and the old woman's poor escort were the only ones who felt uncomfortable. It didn't seem to matter that his tooth was throbbing and the fact that his face was developing a tic from wearing an obligatory smile. It felt as if she was enjoying his uneasiness--like she knew he'd stand there suffering for a goddamn hour before making the first move.
"Oh dearie me," she reached into her hand bag, rooting deep into the shiny sack, her eyes staring off into the unknown. Roger could hear tiny plastic and metal effects colliding as she rummaged. 'Ah-Ha, there you are." "Would you mind young man, my arthritis; it's hard getting old." She held a wad of what looked to be pieces of gauze, their clear protective wrappers absent. "Alfred's seemed to have misplaced his packing, would you mind?"
The forced smile Roger wore grew large with disbelief. He tried to swallow as saliva drowned his throat, she can't be asking him to put his fingers in this guy's mouth? The old bitty was testing his compelling nature to please everyone as if she had known him his whole life. What amazed him was he hadn't said no yet, even more astonishing; he found himself rolling the long strips of tattered cloth between his palms as though he had agreed to her request.
"Ma'am, I can't do this." He drew a relieved breath as if he had been given approval to stop. "I'm sorry but I'm late as it is; you know how doctors can be"
She took the balled up packing and stuffed it back in her black vinyl purse. "It was sweet of you to consider." Roger couldn't help but feel he'd just been tested.
If the old lady was messing with him it was neither welcomed nor funny. He was never comfortable with people who were too friendly, like the salesman on the other end of the phone who says "ya'll" with too much conviction and calls you by your first name and asks if "ya'll have any snow up air in Connecticut." With no siblings one could diagnose Roger as an introvert or an extrovert depending on the expert one sees. Roger thought of himself as a middle of the roader--he had his small circle of friends, he was a momma's boy and a chip off the old block--outside of that he could take it or leave it when it came to meeting new people. And girls; well he'll be introduced someday. He was sure of it.
The platinum blond hair he wore in a small pony tail was a gift from his mother's side of the family while his father threw in the pointed nose, tall forehead and the Mick Jagger lips. Six years out of high school weren't enough to fill his slim frame even with his and Hector's commitment to pot and late night fast food. The end of freshman year saw his height level off at five foot-nine, a figure that is remarkable only in that it is extraordinarily commonplace; he had the guise only rock stars could pull off. Radiating from every pore was a desire to go unnoticed and unless he killed someone or had a kid who ended up being a senator his historic significance in this world would amount to records stored in the Winchester Town Clerk's vault.
Flight from this unsolicited conversation seemed imminent when suddenly he felt the woman's hand fill his. It was cold and seamless, almost glossy as if all the years she endured had been buffed smooth; his clammy palm gave him the sensation of holding his beagles tongue. Her grip was surprisingly firm, as if she were closing a business deal. "You'll love Doctor Cohen and the nurses are just wonderful." With her free hand she pulled herself closer to Roger; her wool coat had the essence of his great grandparent's living room couch and knots that looked like knitted dreadlocks. She whispered as though he was the only one who should hear what she was about to say; "you'll feel a pinch is all, he's really quite brilliant." How does she know he's here for Dr. Cohen, there's got to be thirty offices on these walls?
He has always been to polite for his own good and right now a woman who smelled like old cushions possessed his hand and it was making him feel very awkward and he wanted it back. If he were his best friend Hector he would have no problem retrieving it--in fact Hector wouldn't have given it up in the first place. Unfortunately he was Roger Yost and Roger Yost always let people walk all over him because Roger fucking Yost was just too fucking polite.
Finally, after what seemed like minutes, with a pat on the face she set his hand free--he hated himself for not being the one to let go. Wiping on his jacket whatever bacteria the old woman may have been carrying he thanked her for the heads up on the dentist then nodded to the man with the puckered face.
"Smile Alfred, we don't want this nice young man to think we're a couple of boorish old coots; I think he's shy around new people"
The man labored for a moment before separating his bloodied lips, his gums were bloated and empty--a sight that made every muscle in Roger's body cringe. He pointed at Rogers's mouth then at his own; the sound of a hungry coyote uttered out from the dim opening.
"That's enough Alfred, now let the young man get to his appointment. The nurses are simply delightful; you'll be in good hands." Without so much as a "nice to have met you" the woman grabbed her companion and with a last look over her shoulder she gave Roger a wink and disappeared down the long corridor.
It was getting more and more evident that on a Tuesday afternoon when the February sun was finally making a difference there were better and certainly less stressful places Roger could be. A road trip to Boston with Hector he had just found out about yesterday would have been nice; didn't matter, with the pain he was dealing with he would have had to out drink his best friend, something he'd never done. He glanced back and saw only the faint light from a wasted day coming through the lobby doors. Weird doesn't come close to describing the two he encountered, showing off that disgusting mouth and what was up with the commercials for this Cohen. It looked like he butchered that poor bastard and what difference did it make how nice his nurses were, the guy's a fucking dentist for Christ sake, end of story.
He thought about the old woman, how she seemed to be in charge of whatever relationship was theirs. She could have been a volunteer for some nursing home for all he knew, although in her apparent advanced years she could also have been a resident. Still, why would someone who just left Dr. Wonderful have a mouth full of empty gums and no gauze? It's been awhile since his last visit to a dentist's chamber but as far as he knew there was still only one way to mop up the bleeding when a tooth was pulled, let alone a whole mouthful. Maybe he was making a mountain out of a mole hill, could it be the Vicaden he got from Hector? The bastard better not have given him something stronger, this day was starting to resemble a night they had a few years back after a high school basketball game.
Fear was normally preserved for plane crashes and being mauled by a pit-bull--it's been so long since Roger last saw a dentist he hasn't given them even a glancing thought. Emulate dad is how he tried to handle phobias. The old man limited his anxiety to worrying if he was going to run out of Sam Adams which meant drinking the shitty light beer he saved for company. Cops handled life's crap differently and though he hasn't worn the uniform in twelve years that mentality was still ingrained. When this day was done Roger will relax on the couch with his dad sitting opposite him drinking his Sam Adams and he will recount the days experience just the way his father would tell of the day he put a bullet into his captain's wall.
It was innocent enough he would say; he pulled his gun from the holster and made sure the chamber was empty. This time the gun went off--the bullet weaved its way past five cops, punched a hole right through the captain's wall and landed right between JFK's eyes. Now as father would tell, when everyone rushed in Captain Malloy's office he was cradling the picture President Kennedy signed when he was an Eagle Scout, his head resting on the frame like a love struck girl hugging an autographed Leif Garrott album. He wasn't mad or shocked--there was no crazy outburst like you see captains do on TV. He had a friendly face for a cop but that was now replaced with the blank stare of a playing card. When his gaze finally did meet the filled room, all he said was "President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. Why the fuck would someone from Winchester want to shoot him again." He stood for another minute in total silence, then in a tone more fitting a captain: "And by the way; who's ever slug is buried in my wall can take the rest of his life off without pay." He tucked the framed picture under his arm, walked outside to his cruiser and drove off.
To this day, contrary to the investigation, dad still says it was the guns fault; he resigned a month later. The story would change depending upon present company and how many beers he had and mother would always remind her husband that he wasn't laughing at the time. Maybe so he would say, but what good is a good story if you can't tell it.
Roger was hoping the extent of his embellishments would be confined to the creepy couple in the hall; he'll sacrifice entertaining his father for a quick and painless visit to the dentist any day. As he stepped closer to Dr. Cohen's office he could hear what sounded like rock music, the song is muffled by the heavy glass door; still he is sure it must be quite loud.
A woman appeared from the office next to where the music was blaring; she was alone and was every bit as old as the strange lady he just left. When she turned her long hair moved in slow motion taking what seemed like minutes before catching up to a face it shouldn't be with. To say it was brown would be like saying the waters surrounding Guadalupe are blue. It was the color of Sophie Bennett's hair--reddish brown with an innate luster that only Winchester High's star quarterback had a right to. Unlike his previous encounter, this woman had no intention of rubbing up against Roger just to start a conversation. The coat she wore wasn't matted and didn't fill the hall with traces of great grand ma's couch; her flawless wardrobe reminded him of Merrill Streep, his mother's favorite actress, minus the long flowing hair. He was surprised by the woman's lack of interest in him given the meeting he just went through. She hurried down the hall towards the lobby with the scent of fresh shampoo trailing close behind.
Tuesday was a shit day to have off but it did have its advantages when it came to getting weekday errands done. No lost pay when a trip to motor vehicle was needed and appointments of any variety were easily had the day after Monday. Getting his cherished Saturdays off took the sting out of having split weekends and Hector always had a way of making the best of it. Work was a four letter word for both of them, something that hadn't changed since their stoner days at Winchester High. It wasn't that they couldn't or wouldn't hold a job--their ambition was fostered by the idea of no pot and a Saturday night without money. If there were a category in their high school yearbook for 'most likely to not matter' it would have been a tossup between Hector and himself; that was fine with Roger. There'll be a day when he's dragging the ball and chain down Valley View Mall with a couple rug rats in tow and they'll be proud to have a husband and dad such as him; until that bridge is in front of him its Roger's world to do as he pleases.
Only doctors make appointments that land on the quarter hour. Roger was eight minutes late; it was 1:23. Led Zeppelin's "When the Levy Breaks", the song he heard a minute ago filled the hallway.
He stood alone with only the rhythmic pounding of his favorite rock song resonating through the office wall and for that one glorious moment he felt strong. Music gave him temporary permission to be somebody else, right now; "The Levy" was the spinach he needed.
The heavy door seemed weightless, almost opening itself, when he pushed it. There was a man in the waiting area that looked to be in his thirty's; he seemed nice enough, acknowledging Roger's entrance with a friendly smile before going back to the Sports Illustrated he was thumbing through. Roger couldn't help notice that he looked methodically calm for someone who was about to have his mouth violated with steel pokers and slow jackhammering drills. He studied the framed watercolors and pictures of neglected teeth that hung perfectly spaced on the three and a half walls. There were twelve cushioned chairs with chrome frames and veneered tables laden with magazines and glossy colored pamphlets meant for taking home. This scene was getting all too recognizable.
A tremor of panic engulfed him at the sudden realazation of where he was. Florescent lighting suppressed under translucent sheets of plastic and the undeniable odor of sterile air made the memory of his last visit to a dentist become fresh; his heart started pounding. The sweat that was confined to his palms was now encompassing his whole upper torso. Around that wall he was sure hid a tall counter with woman wearing matching white outfits and reassuring smiles and behind them the dreadful sound of metal bits boring through teeth as the smell of burnt flesh filled the small rooms like some sacrificial animal being incinerated. He looked over his shoulder at the man reading the Sports Illustrated; his eyes were staring up to where Roger stood his welcoming mien replaced with contempt.
"Mr. Yost, is that you?" He spun around to the wall that separated him from what lie ahead. "We don't bite Roger; come around the corner so we can see about getting that tooth taken care of." Her voice was soft and comforting-as if she rehearsed it each morning. The Led Zeppelin tune, the one that gave him the courage to walk into the waiting area, was replaced with slow meandering music sung by men with long vibrato and woman who wore lengthy sequenced gowns when they sang. Roger froze where he stood, he could feel the blood that was pumping wildly through his body spiral down his skeletal frame. Dr. Cohen's nurse came around the corner to see her patient limp and pale like an overused paperback. He was three quarters to the floor; too late to rescue him now.
Noises begin to penetrate his sleep; the hum of something precise, a machine that never changes its cadence, and voices, different from one another yet harmonizing. The bed underneath Roger couldn't have been much more then plywood with only a thin blanket for a mattress. The pillow was too soft offering no support and the pillow case felt like the handy wipes his mother uses a couple times then throws away. Clarity came in small waves: the long hallway, the throbbing pain on the left side of his face, the guy thumbing through the Sports Illustrated. His eyelids continued to hide his whereabouts until his brain could catch up. He prayed it was still Tuesday and his parents weren't standing over him when he opened his eyes--his mother looking much older, her trembling lips thanking God for this miracle and Dad trying with all his man-hood glory not to cry at the sight of his son finally waking.
There is music, it's sluggish and familiar. He remembers now; nurses wearing white, as white as angel paintings, there were at least five and they helped him off the floor. Dr. Cohen and the man in the waiting room were there too, they carried him to a dentist chair and reclined it as far as it could go. There was concern at first then laughter. Nurses gathered around him, calming hands caressed while Dr. Cohen with his steady reassuring style found the pain in his mouth. He talked of wisdom teeth and abscesses in a most sympathetic manner then joked about going under for the second time today. There would be some discomfort for a day or so he forewarned and no steaks or smoking of any kind for at least twenty-four hours.
Roger swung his feet off the plywood bed making certain his legs wouldn't crumble when he stood up. He walked through a thin flowered curtain that separated his small cubby from the four dental offices and was met by Dr. Cohen's nurses. "Well well, look who's among the living" The faces staring back at him sparkled like mothers seeing their boy all grown up. "You gave us quite a scare when you went down in a heap." His eyes squinted in a vain attempt to smile. "We can't blame you--with a tooth is bad as yours was I think I would have fainted a lot sooner." He was handed packets of fresh gauze, a prescription for pain along with Dr. Cohen's orders which he was to follow to a tee otherwise he would find himself right back in that dentist chair.
"Roger, this is our volunteer Mrs. Parsons; she's been with us forever. When our patients have gone under anesthesia she helps get them home safely--the insurance company does require it and we don't think it's a bad idea either."
A hand squeezed his shoulder the way his mother did as he sat watching television. It was the end of a long day, his aching tooth was gone and he was going home after what seemed like a week in this retched building. A stale odor affected Rogers's nostrils the way Hector's farts besieged him without warning. The thick heals that earlier were muffled by the carpeted hall chortled their way around the shiny tile finally resting an arm's length away.
The strange woman he had met in the hall studied him with those conspicuous blue eyes for a moment, her head tilting to one side then the other. Roger stood like a tin soldier as she surveyed him, glancing only for a second at the feathered hat and wool coat. His panicked mind raced in all directions—he imagined himself in a tiny cart stuck on top of the world's tallest rollercoaster with no way off; a wave of nausea engulfed him.
"Well mercy me, it's the nice young man I met a while back. Do you remember me, the lady in the corridor?"
His stunned nod is unmistakable--the way it was when he was four and his mother asked if he'd like to lick the beater. His instinct for politeness is muzzled by the blood soaked gauze producing only the muffled grunts of a gaged prisoner.
"Now don't you try to talk, we don't want all that gauze spilling out and mess'in up Dr. Cohen's clean floor."
He thought of the man with the swollen empty mouth, his tongue pushed through the thick gauze looking for the hole left by his tooth. Doctor Cohen's five nurses stood like birch trees, their arms at their sides watching as Mrs. Parsons prepared her charge for the trip back.
"Do tell Dr. Cohen hello for me; such a delightful man. You're all so very kind." The old woman raised her smooth palm at the ladies in white before giving her full attention to Roger. "Come now young man, there are people anxious to see you."
He wanted to object but couldn't; he wasn't sure if it was the drugs or the fact that he was Roger Yost. As they turned towards the waiting area she could see his legs start to give way. "You must be careful; you're going to be unsteady for a little while. Here, take my hand." The recurring dread he'd been battling since walking through the automatic glass doors washed over him, sweat began to coat his body. She must have sensed his dampness against her velvety palm, "don't you fret young man, I won't let you go.' She tapped him lightly on his cheek then tightening her grip she pulled Roger's arm to her side then led him down the long narrow hallway.