by Daniel Gardina
Seamus, already sporting his fishing vest and wading pants, sat alone in the dentist’s office. He was dressed and ready for his weekend excursion immediately following his final pit stop where cavities came to be punished. Once at the lake, this preparation would save him the ten extra minutes that would be spent fly-fishing. But first things first, he told himself. The dentist was simply one of those necessary chores. After all, he’d already postponed the appointment twice.
The recessed ceiling speakers chimed with Muzak ditties intended to soothe patrons waiting to have their plaque, tartar, and dignity picked clean. He thought he could make out the tune “Girl From Ipanema.” If he were waiting for Miss Ipanema to clean his teeth — that tall and tan and lovely Miss Ipanema, who walked like a samba — maybe he wouldn’t mind his rendezvous with the drill. The visit might even be worthwhile so long as he had a pretty face to admire while she burrowed away at his molars.
No, that’s just crazy. She could be massaging him and whispering sweet nothings in his ear and still he’d prefer to be elsewhere. As if these trials of mental and physical fortitude weren’t enough for one man to endure, the hygienist who experimented on his mouth exhibited the care and precision of a three-year-old given knives to play with. Grizelda always worked on him despite his requests for a different tormentor.
Forget it. He couldn’t handle this today.
He stood just as the waiting room door creaked open like a rusted dungeon hatch and Grizelda entered — all two hundred and thirty pounds of her. Her musk distantly resembled baby powder but lacked that Johnson-and-Johnson freshness.
“Next,” she said with a smoker’s croak.
Seamus froze mid-step. After taking one final look at the exit, he obediently crossed the ragged carpet and marched down the hall. He passed open rooms where fellow inmates gripped their armrests and kicked their feet in tune with the whine of the drill. He grimaced as he entered his own torture cell. The chair reclined, and he squirmed as the headrest cut into the back of his neck, the overhead lamp rattling as he shifted. He leaned over to note the loose bolts barely securing it to the chair. He wondered how long it would take the lamp to fall like a guillotine. At least then he wouldn’t have to deal with Grizelda. On the other hand, he wouldn’t get to go fishing either.
She unwrapped the sterilized tools and displayed the rudimentary devices on the steel tray under Seamus’ nose. He could’ve sworn he saw her smirk.
“Lean forward,” she said.
She rested the paper bib on his chest and swung the chain around his neck.
“Ooo,” he said. “Chain’s cold.”
She raised and dropped her eyebrows as quickly as she probably considered the chain’s temperature, let alone how he felt about it. She went ahead and attached the alligator clips to the paper.
“Oh,” she said, looking over his chart. “Looks like I saw you last time.”
He didn’t care to dignify her astuteness with a response. Changing the subject sounded better.
“So… How long have you been a hygienist?”
She coughed three times without covering her mouth. “Twenty years.”
He remembered the last time he saw her, when she sliced open his gums with her chisel. He wondered why she hadn’t improved during her career. Who knows? Maybe she had. If so, he wondered where her first patients’ grave markers were located.
She released the chair’s lever without warning. Seamus’ body dropped a good two feet, practically giving him whiplash. She turned on the blinding interrogation lamp as the words “last chance” flashed through his mind.
“Open up,” she said.
He braced himself and waited for the games to begin.
First came the captain’s hook, scraping between his teeth and along his sensitive gum line. If this tool worked so well for the dentist, Seamus wondered if he could use it to catch fish — two, three, four at a time. The only more effective method would be dynamite. Then again, he disliked his dinner seasoned with nitroglycerin.
“Oh my,” Grizelda said.
Seamus’ eyes widened. “What?”
“How often do you floss?”
She moved the hook farther down his throat. His response escaped as a string of vowels, making “twice a day” sound like “ike a ay.”
Of course she doesn’t believe me, Seamus thought. She and her cigarette breath must know more about maintaining a healthy smile.
“Turn your head to left,” she said. “No. Too far. Back a little. Too far. Okay, don’t move. Don’t move.”
With that, Grizelda dug her pickax into his gums, attempting to exhume an imaginary piece of popcorn or Jujube or treasure chest. The X that marked the spot she must’ve been focusing on was just the scar from his last visit.
He protested with a moan, which had little effect. In fact, Grizelda dug deeper. When she tried to remove her mechanical grip, the stainless steel hooked Seamus’ tongue like a wide-mouth bass. His taster flapped as if splashing out of water, playing tug-of-war with the fishing line. He arched his back, trying to break free, but each squirm only worsened his situation.
“Hold still,” she said, at last tearing the dental handshake from its catch.
She set the weapon down. She sat back as if Seamus had inconvenienced her, as if an action of his own volition had stopped her from completing her work, as if patient after patient had been sabotaging her good will and charity and his dissatisfaction was the straw that broke the hygienist’s back.
“Your gums are bleeding,” she said.
“Et’s naw ma gums, et’s ma tong.”
He choked back tears as he leaned over and downed the paper cup of tap water. He spat into the sink and watched the red swirl down the drain.
He knew a pastrami sandwich would never taste the same again. He knew he’d have to subsist on ice cream until the wound had healed. He wanted a vanilla soft serve from Fosters Freeze right then.
Seamus peered over his shoulder at his persecutor, who loudly exhaled as she checked the clock on the wall. He wasn’t a violent person, but at that moment, he knew he could justify strangling her. No, too many witnesses. There were the staff members and the other patients to consider.
The other patients!
He wanted to launch from his chair and run down the halls, warning the other patients to turn back to save their teeth, tongues, and co-pays. These hygienists were out for blood with devices intended for mining and medieval warfare.
He’d run down the stairs, out the building, and up the street, fishing vest and dental bib flapping in the wind, to the next dentist’s office and the next dentist’s office to spread the news. Droves would follow Seamus on his quest. In time, he’d become the leader of the Global Dental Revolution. He’d blow the whistle on the likes of Grizelda and her fascist regime that supported cruel and unusual escapades in the name of preventing gingivitis.
Masochists would keep the old system afloat, but only for so long. Sadists like Grizelda soon would be out of a job and forced to resort to fetish clubs in Amsterdam, where the unassuming cotton scrubs would be replaced by the appropriate attire of leather, chains, and spikes.
That’s when Seamus would instill a new dental procedure — one done with pillows and fairy dust. If a hygienist accidentally hurt their patient at any time, they would apologize, sincerely, and amend their transgression with a tarter-control lollipop. People would leave happy and say, “Thank you, Seamus.” Yes. They’d say this to his smiling picture on the wall in every dental office.
Bronze monuments would be erected to honor the hero Seamus and his Crusade for Better Dental Care. He’d tour universities and visit with heads of state as a touted problem-solving guru. Then, with his free time, he’d fish the streams, lakes, and oceans of the world. He’d mount marlins and sharks on the walls of his Victorian estate as trophies of his mastery as an outdoorsman. Libraries and medical schools would be named in his honor. Parents would name their children after Seamus — Seamus the Great. Yes! And when those children would grow up, they’d tell others of their birth-name blessing and those people would say, “Wooww.”
Yes, he could change the world one mouth at a time. Yet, he couldn’t budge from his recliner. The pain was too great to move faster than slow motion.
He set down the paper cup and leaned back again. Grizelda, still waiting to continue, instructed him to open up. He obliged in fear of what would happen if he refused.
Seamus’ tongue retreated to the recesses of his mouth every time the cold instrument brushed against it. After a few more close encounters with the hook of death, the poking and prodding ceased. It was finally time to clean those pearly whites and reds.
“What flavor do you want?” she asked.
He thought for a moment.
“Do you have a lollipop flavor?”
“Your choices are spearmint and peppermint.”
He sighed and made his selection. Grizelda gorged the brushing bristles in the paste tin and went back to work. Seamus tasted steel, copper, and peppermint. He hoped she’d be done soon and avoided eye contact until the Almighty had answered his prayers.
“You need to brush and floss more,” Grizelda said. “We’ll see you in six months.”
“Any chance you won’t be here in six months?”
She didn’t seem to hear him. Maybe it was for the best.
He limped to the door and stopped. He didn’t want to, but from force of habit and his general air of kindness, he said, “Have a nice day.”
She smiled. Her face took a moment to figure out how to do it, but she smiled. He didn’t know she was capable of such a feat.
The receptionist scheduled his next appointment, then slid him the colorful reminder card. Next to the penned date stood a happy tooth holding an oversized toothbrush. Seamus smothered the arrogant bastard in his vest pocket.
He turned the door handle and left the office. Finally, he was free to go fishing.
By the time he reached his car, his tongue had swollen to the size of a trout. He couldn’t help but think of the fish he intended to catch an hour’s drive from here. He thought of them swimming, doing what they had to do to get from point A to point B. He thought of Grizelda. And the chair. And the hook. And he sighed. Instead of heading north, he started his truck, drove to Fosters Freeze, and ordered a vanilla soft serve.