The punk didn’t so much as fake his dentistry credentials as merely opened an office with a pneumatic chair and an assortment of stainless steel tools. The only other dentist in town had the unfortunate last name of Pullum and was feared. Novacaine was difficult to buy on eBay, but whole canisters of nitrous were easy enough to find, so he could be painless. I knew all of this to be true.
Let’s be honest, I had never checked the transcripts of anyone I had let into my mouth before, and the pain was getting unbearable. I figured after a month of practice he had some sense of what he was doing. I had the $35 flat fee reserved in my budget in a line marked “teeth/feet.” I mean, I had been sleeping in an Old Navy dressing room.
The aquarium in the lobby was filled with a small vicious school of tiger barbs, not a community fish, but they nipped in packs. The tank was clean and well-lighted. There was no receptionist but a digital sign that suggested I enjoy a small cup of mouthwash from the dispenser below. The waiting room was sinkless, so I swished and swallowed.
No other patients arrived or left, but finally it was my turn. He wore a plexiglass face shield which miniaturized his eyes and exaggerated his closed mouth. He seemed sober and dentally
knowledgeable. I explained the problem.
“Typical,” was all he said.
Somewhat loud The Germs music was playing in the examination room. I sat back but could not keep from bobbing my feet to the beat. I was not more or less nervous than might be expected.
I’ve regarded my body with different types of apathy and disdain in the past, but he seemed relatively pleased by my teeth. He began his work by counting them up, and making a note in my virgin chart.
One works in order to learn, and one becomes an expert by pretending to be one for long enough. So I was patient. A gaping, model patient. The nitrous was applied and out came the hooks, clamps and a drill. After two hours, he showed me the bloody, offending molar, it’s clutching roots huge.
Punk rockers give no credence to the American dental association and the diy aesthetic goes beyond screen printing T-shirts. I had been a punk myself long enough myself to have stopped listening to the music. Still, I was suspicious of authority and dyed my hair black because it was going grey.
Relieved of mouth pain, I felt buoyant, happier, though perhaps it was the gas. I returned to Old Navy, pulled some jeans off the shelf and unlocked my dressing room. In the mirror, my jaw was swollen and blood had caked in the corner of my mouth. I reexamined my life situation, $35 poorer, but pleased about an eventual pain-free future.
When the hole in my gums became infected, I briefly considered the sterility and licensure of Dr. Pullum, but would this not be an ethos-betrayal? A sell-out, which is the greatest punk crime? I had a line in my budget labeled “or else loss of something vital” and returned to the punk’s office, gripping my face.
Sean Ennis is the author of CHASE US: Stories (Little A) and his flash fiction has recently appeared in Passages North, Hobart, Tiny Molecules, No Contact, and (mac)ro(mic). More of his work can be found at seanenni.net