Luc and the Cave Workers

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One man's experience at the dentist's

Just last week I was unshaven, which you will note is a fair sight more horrible on me than the average man.

Unshaven and unwashed, but clean on the inside and I'll tell you why in a minute.

Now here I am in the dentist's chair and my mouth wide open and the smell of latex and the white masks with eyes above them. Their sense to give me nitrous instills confidence beyond reason.

My dirt expands into the clean all around me and I'm sure it works this way: I can feel it. Molecules need room. They are more like what's around them than they are like themselves. Now don't argue, you know I'm right. If you are all fresh from the bath and the dressing room and you descend to the street where bums retch down the basement stairs do you not struggle against the urge to bathe again? Pull your coat twice hard around the front and keep your chin yanked up so your eyes are above this mess? Focus on the goal and not the evidence? Quick, I need a dry martini?

That's what I thought. And right you are to do so, for you were wise to choose a life instead of a dental practice.

Not like this dentist, whose eyes burn into my mouth, whose mind is trained to go deep into my disturbance, who knew at a glance what lived inside me. And courageous he enters the fray, with two or four more hands at the ready, trained and eager for his call.

I blink, relaxing half-lidded into his studying eyes. He is wrapped in the dance of the drill and the gauze, but his white-sheeted armor throws open the door. My street dirt disseminates into sterile atoms waltzing up to the cushioned tiles in the ceiling, escaping through the ribboned holes. 

His helpers lean in but never enter the cave. They live in the bright, like you, they have a nightlife. Shoes not for running and skirts not for filing but they don't wear those to the cave. They wear the team colors and sport the team smile.

I blink and slide my eyes westward to the pink vee at the neck of her shiny standard, government-issue Assistant wear. By the time my eyes make it up to hers, she is looking at my eyes too, and her two hands rise, so I see the stretchy gloves and the silvery sharp implements she offers. She looks at him even though we both know he is not looking at her. I feel sure she is smiling under her mask. It's part of her job.

I close my eyes and breathe deep the undulation of my heartbeat and the nitrous. Breathe deep again. Each heartbeat radiates my grime out through the thin viscosity of sterile molecules. I am cleaner by the minute.

I am glad I wore my blue plaid shirt. It never fails to draw compliments. When I am done and I walk out to the waiting room, those thumbing through magazines and staring at the shiny-leafed plants will be dazzled at my cleanness.

I will be a walking damn halo.

They have not known the continuum of molecules from the filth to the sparkle. They live in the middle, never that dirty, never that clean. They have small children, so their minds are clouded with the idea of clean that is impossible to touch and that's good. Small children need dirt to grow and thrive. Minerals, you know. Bugs and protozoa. Inside and out.

The man with the drill enters new territory and I reflexively paw at his arm. I actually cringe. I feel silly because it doesn't hurt that much but they ask if I need more nitrous and I give a strong affirmative using a combination of a moan-grunt and a down-pulling of my chin. She leans out of sight. I know she is turning a knob.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me, in two breaths, I am one with the tiles above and he is deep in the cave again, doing his fine mining, rhythmic, gentle, then again, how would I know. I have left the building.

It is then I realize I am where I must be, barely tapping the earth as I walk, suspended between man and god on the sidewalk, between his buildings and the other forces governing not my soul but my cells, which are mostly space, which is neither clean nor dirty. Celestial voices sing their reedy spinning song as I am stripped of my past. What I've done and what has been done to me.

You may spit. And I do, and more. In my retching I hear the voices, too much nitrous, get him on oxygen, and I am laughing in the sink as it flushes and flows what is left of me into the gleam of stainless steel and curving, rushing water. I nearly follow myself into that bowl.

Instead, four hands settle me now, pat me into the chair, mold me back to a less surprising creature. Then my feet swing and touch the ground and I see the green stripes on the clean tile, and her white cave shoes.

Are you all right?

I remember my brother when I see the soft new leather on my own feet. I remember that I scrubbed between my toes. I remember the molecules who turned me into light. I look at the cave girl and smile with half my face.

Suzanna Stinnett

May 2013

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