Our fear of tooth decay is functional; of saber-tooth tigers is not; of decay—or for that matter decadence—as a destination, can’t keep us from turning into soup bones and stew. It might save us some pain if being afraid kept us from visiting the dentist, but once we’re in the chair, it only makes things worse. We’re friends, this dentist and I; our wives are friends; I’m friends with his wife; she’s friends with me. He knows to turn the music up. He knows the jazz distracts me. I open wide and try to follow the saxophone. I never put my fingers in his mouth. This seems a fundamental imbalance. He scowls behind his glasses and peers into a deep recess and angles his interrogator’s lamp. I wonder what questions he would ask me, or her for that matter. He turns for the drill. A crack in the padding of the armrest pinches my finger. I test the tooth he’s working on with my tongue—there’s nothing left!—it will snap if he goes in again. I try to catch his eye. A tiny spider emerges from his hairline, shiny and bright, and makes a break for the cover of his eyebrow. Don’t move, he tells me, while the drill whines and stings that tooth. I choose a photo on the wall and stare recklessly at the two of them in bathing suits, her shoulders tan and lovely. When I look back, the spider is a drop of sweat and there are others riding the waves of his forehead. In his eyes I see the riskiness of the procedure. His glasses reflect my concern. I wonder if they also tell him what I’m most concerned about. Is he trying not to hurt me, or trying to decide?

Copyright © August 15, 2007 David Hodges