Issue 14
Dentist Chair

I imagine I’m on a chaise lounge beside the pool, with my Mai Tai and my Ray-Bans and my belly that will not soon again be flat, ankles crossed in debonair repose. I like 4 pm, the way it smoothes itself over the wallpaper, its sheen of affable complacency like a captionless New Yorker cartoon.

The paper pillow, the blue bib clipped about my neck, are terribly reassuring. Mr. Insouciance, that’s me! Turn a knob and it’s Guantanamo, but here in temperature-controlled Room Number Two there is not permitted the least crumb of pain. Here is only cosseting; cosseting and concern for every twinge. ”Did that hurt? No?” I reply in a telepathic vowel-only language, the Esperanto of dentistry.

Novocaine has turned two gums to girders and the nitrous has begun to sing. The slave trade, I read this morning, is booming. I open the hood of my face. What was it I was supposed to pick up at the store? Dr. Bloom and the hygienist peer in as at an old jalopy. Milk. …And what else? “Turn your head just a bit.” What a great patient. So compliant. And such a dedicated flosser.

The mirror’s pole has pulled back the slick sidewall of my cheek, and shoved the rumpled tongue down and to the side. Carnage everywhere. That earthquake in China was horrible, horrible to think about. But hey, no tsunamis for me! The puddle of saliva at the back of my throat makes a popping, staticky sound snorkeling up the suction tube, something like: shchshchshchsh, through which their shop talk-all mesial-this and buccal-that-dials in and out behind the modulated keening of the drill.

Sometimes it feels like I’ve spent half my life in this chair; here where there is always and only: Mouth. Mouth. Mouth. Mouth. My little mocker of the sky, little firmament in reverse. Sinkhole. Cul de sac. Old kit bag. Gob of my charmed days. I mumble something through the hardware and the cotton logs; something pithy, miraculous, oracular. “Spit,” he says. And I spit.