By Annabelle Baptista
I clutched my jaw as if I’d been sucker punched. Genevieve looked up from my case file, her piercing grey eyes like pressed pickleloaf from some kindergartener’s soggy lunch sack. Over the past year, she’d written adjectives like lazy, bored, depressed and demoralized in my file summing up my personality without ever using a highlighter. For five years, I’d had a social working advising me to pick myself up as if I had a third arm, I wasn’t using folded behind my back. For myself, I had learned to read upside down. I was my own worst enemy she’d say like maybe I needed to get over myself. Okay, but how? We were attached, me myself and I.
“This time it’s for real, Genevieve,” I spat out. I had a known addiction to pain killers. I’d sat through five years in therapy talking about it to a Japanese psychiatrist who was married to a star of Kabuki theater. I knew when I was making up pain and when it was real. She looked up at me and began throttling her neck -of Italian descent, she was drawn to drama.
“Really, Rochelle?” She picked up her pen, five gold bracelets clinked in unison punctuating the alarm in her voice. She shook her head, causing pearly curls to fall in front of her eyes.
“I am in pain, and I should know; I’ve broken my femur, fractured my hip, broken my sesamoid bone, broken my nose twice and once had to rip off a toenail because of an embedded splinter. I’m not faking it.” I adjusted the bra beneath my t-shirt.
She stared with piercing eyes. Her red lacquered nails tapped her silver pen, her name, Pyro, printed along the side caught the light. She added the word dysfunctional in my file, fancifully drawing the “y” like a noose. I hissed and cursed her under my breath. She was passed seventy. She should have retired, but according to her, she had nothing to retire on; therefore, she kept working. Another American dreamer suffering from sleep disorder.
“I’m going to have to work until I’m eighty.” She said in protest, her vocal chords raw.
“If you live that long,” I said, trying to cheer her up.
“Yeah, thanks, if you don’t start taking care of yourself, you won’t live half as long as I have,” Genevieve said her voice rattled.
“If I don’t get this tooth fixed. I fucking won’t want to either.” I dug my tongue inside my impacted molar. My whole body throbbed down to my nether regions. I pulled a tight curl out to its full length from my fro. Pulling my hair out gave me brief relief.
Genevieve handed me the paperwork to apply for dentistry.
“Thanks, Genevieve. I know the drill.” I said, winked and smiled.
“You’re awful, Rocky,” she’d said, using my nickname from the boxing ring.
I signed a dozen forms then, finally I was finished. I felt like I’d just given blood.
“I could kiss you, Genevieve.”
“Don’t.” She said sweeping floppy gray curls out of her eyes.
I laid the forms and her pen face up on her desk.
I was one of her oldest clients. I could tell because my file, the size of the Guttenberg bible, wasn’t computerized. The office definitely was not state-of-the-art social services. I walked past bamboo cubicles fit like a maze made by a mad basket weaver. When I got to the door, I yelled, down the dimly lit corridor.
“Ok all you fruitcakes, get back in your baskets.” Everyone on the floor remained silent.
“Rochelle Banks!” Genevieve yelled. I ran as fast as I could down five flights of stairs and out the municipality door into sunshine. Full of myself, I grinned.
The dentist, who was doing this piece of charity work, held office in a pristine building in midtown Chicago. When I stepped off the elevator on the 20th floor, the air rushed the hall like a vacuum left by a speeding train. This floor held several offices without doors. I was surprised to see the building was still under construction. “Do not Cross This Line” yellow hornet tape, stretched across the hall blocking passage to the polyurethane covered floor to ceiling window at the end of the corridor. Conference tables sat, stacked against the wall, unused price tags intact. I pulled up my black sweats and tied my trainers.
In waves, depression would come, and I would recount the black hole I’d been thrown into. I had coveted a belt, the UFC flyweight title belt, but I’d lost and been forced through poverty to take up residence on public assistance when it was offered by Genevieve Pyro and the Department of welfare. Still, on my knees, I looked down the long hall, the windows gaping hole covered only by a thin diaphragm of plastic which whistled, catching the air as if the building were breathing. I wondered how far I’d fall before I’d lose consciousness. I was in my trainer, which meant I could get a great running start, but I felt underdressed for the occasion. I felt someone behind me. I turned and nearly jumped out of my skin. Wearing a white jumper and air sole shoes, the dentist’s assistant stood at the opened door. “Coming?” she asked.
I studied her shocking white skin, pink plastic lips, thick with wet gloss and big blue eyes. Those weird big-wet eyes you see on bobbing dog dashboard ornaments. Her hair burst from a rubber band into a strawberry cotton candy puff. Her name shield said, Toffy.
“Come with me.” She beckoned.
I followed like a lapdog suddenly with renewed focus. Toffy led me into a state-of-the-art operating room and left. We’d chatted on the way, and she told me she was Transylvanian as was Dr. Malselvicbourn. He sauntered into the arena on six-inch steel-heel stilettoes. He may have been three feet tall, the size of a bar stool, without the extension shoes. He wore a black hair helmet that came over his forehead into a widow’s peak. He rolled a ladder towards the chair. His syrupy brown eyes fixed on me as his angular nose twitched. He looked like an angry black bird.
I squirmed in the chair. Leaving came to mind. Unfortunately, my options were limited due to pain. The next dentist appointment for sure wouldn’t be tomorrow, as Genevieve would see me as having a diminished need if I could ditch a doctor.
His slight Romanian accent was matter-of-fact as he eulogized his grandfather, who had been born in Transylvania.
“My grandfather did all the dentistry on his animals as well as the family. When we moved to America, he opened a practice here. My mother was his nurse.” As he jabbered on, I rolled my eyes and grabbed my jaw, the universal sign for tooth pain.
He accepted my passive reproach, elevated the dental chair, and switched on a monitor. I moaned and rolled my eyes, dreading I’d be forced to watch his home movies. Instead, the screen showed a saliva stream that ran beneath a worn tooth, a cracked filling, a hole filled with detritus.
“Thanks to fluoride in the water, or you’dth have no teeth at all.” He laughed.
I grunted considering the joke was not funny at all.
“Today, you will be fitted for a crown.” He snapped a powdered latex glove above his Rolex and the other against his pale right wrist. His bushy eyebrows travelled like centipedes across his face while he gazed into my gaping mouth using a jeweler’s loupe. Looking through it from the opposite end, I could make out the spidery veins in his skin. Then, he pulled my jaw wide and stabbed a hypodermic filled with Novocain between my back molars.
Fifteen years in the flyweight ring – teeth were a luxury. I was a punch-drunk forty-something with twenty knockdowns and seven knockouts. I got up more times than I got knocked down, not bad.
His assistant stuffed gauze between the neck of my t-shirt and damp skin. It took all my strength not to smear my ashy thumb in her lip-gloss. She bent over me and attached a metal cape; the smell of sunflowers overwhelmed my senses.
“It’d protect you from radiation. In case you vant children,” She spoke with a thick Transylvanian accent that I could tell she put on or took off at will. The lead cape hung to the floor, pinning me to the chair.
“Children, I thought they were a myth you heard about when you started your period.”
She smiled, and I felt my lips slip around my numbed gums.
Lying motionless, my afro matted, and chin up- the tooth no longer screamed with pain. From my vantage point in the chair, Toffy refilled my water cup and provided suction to my flowing saliva. I snatched glances of the tan stretch marks between her breasts.
When the dentist began, again, I winced, and he pauses, holding the drill mid-air to let me catch my breath. I spit metallic blood, from the cracked filling into a porcelain bowl. Toffy smiled, patted my hand, raking my skin a little with her three-inch pink nails. I started having heart palpitations when I caught a glimpse of her out of the corner of my eye. After the procedure, Toffy gave me my next appointment, placing a folded piece of paper in my palm after Dr. Malselvicbourn shook my hand. I had tried to make eye contact even though I was looking at the top of his sonic hair helmet.
Back on the street, I waited for the next bus. I would get a crown. I had another date with Toffy, okay an appointment. I closed my eyes and constructed a vision of the future. The first time I had seen a future with myself in it without the title belt. It was a future where I would be flossing.
About the Author:
Annabelle Baptista is a poet and short story writer born in Indianapolis, Indiana. She currently teaches English as a second language and lives near Heidelberg, Germany with her husband. She has been published in Coloring Book: An Eclectic Collection of Fiction and Poetry, Andwerve magazine and Families: The Front Line of Pluralism.