The Pain | Robert Madden

Tell the doctor where it hurts


The Pain

Robert Madden

Black Tooth of Destiny Award


She was close by. Brian was sure of it. From where he sat in the waiting room, he could feel it. That flutter up his spine. The shakiness in his limbs. His heavy chest. He pressed his hands down into his lap and took a deep breath, then exhaled long and slow.

Beyond the closed door, in the dental surgery, there was an electronic whirr. Then, a shuffle of feet. And finally, voices. He could make out hers from the rest. That distinctive blend of delicate sweet. Like the joyful chirp of a lovebird.

The door swung open. A woman – her hand to her jaw – gave the receptionist a weak gesture. Somewhere between a smile and a grimace.

‘Goodbye, Mrs Violet. Thank you. We will send you the invoice.’

‘Goorbye, Barrbarara,’ said Mrs Violet, her voice muffled. She got her coat and left.

Barbara said, ‘Mr Coats, Dr Spencer will see you now. Please go in.’

This was it. It was time. Brian climbed out of the plastic chair and stepped through into the dental surgery.

‘Oh good morning, Brian. It’s good to see you again.’

Dr Spencer held out her right hand. Brian had to remind himself not to raise it up to his lips and kiss it. He held it for a moment. Her warmth surged through him like a static jolt. Her brown-green eyes. Her scent. Her skin. Her.

‘It’s good to see you again, Doctor,’ said Brian.

He let her get him comfortable in the dental chair and lay a protection apron across his chest. It was only when she was fixing the ear loops of her face-mask that he realised the significance of how she had greeted him.

She said “Brian”, he thought, and not “Mr Coats.” It was only their second rendezvous and already, this familiarity.

He swallowed the last mint from the packet he had opened earlier that morning. Discrete, so she wouldn’t notice. An imperceptible scratch of squeaks when he ran his tongue over his teeth. Three times he had went over them with his sonic brush. Mouthwash followed. Then the mints.

‘Now, Brian,’ she said, through her green face-mask. ‘Last week you said you felt pain everywhere, but we couldn’t isolate the cause of it. Tell me, how is the pain now?’

‘Now I don’t feel it, Dr Spencer. But, maybe it’ll come back again?’ said Brian.

‘Hmm, ok,’ she said. ‘Please open your mouth so I can take another look.’

The pain. He’d never felt anything like it. It was an assault by a thousand red-tipped hornets. Gripped by an endless seizure. A universe full of words couldn’t fully describe how it felt. With any luck, he’d feel it again.

‘I still don’t see any inflammation,’ she said. Dental mirror in one hand, pick in the other. ‘Is there any place where it hurts the most?’

His heart? The bottom of his soul?

He shrugged.

She wiped the dental mirror with her latex gloved hand. When she adjusted the overhead mirror she squinted.

‘I think I see something. A cavity. Small, mind you. Quite small. I didn’t see it last time.’

With mirror and pick she went back in. She leaned forward. Her face close to his, he felt her breast brush up against his shoulder.

‘Oohhh Thawrt’ss irth,’ he said, his tongue competing with metal and latex. He reached from underneath the protective apron and squeezed her knee.

‘Really?’ she said, taking a closer look. ‘It doesn’t look infected. No swelling. No discoloration. But you can feel pain?’

She let him speak.

‘I feel it, Doctor. I really feel it.’ He let go of her knee.

Apart from his first encounter with Dr Spencer, he thought, when was the last time he’d experienced intimacy? Human contact of any kind? Anything? He drew a blank.

She adjusted the chair to the fully upright position.

‘The tooth must come out so,’ she said, taking off her face-mask. ‘I can offer you an implant. Please, make an appointment with Barbara.’

She helped him off the chair. For a moment she held his gaze.

‘You look tired, Brian,’ she said. ‘Barbara will give you some pain killers. Go home and get some rest. We’ll see you each other soon.’

She reached for his shoulders. A quick hug.

Brian floated on a bed of thistles out of the dental surgery. He felt it. He really felt it.

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