Leonardo Teja / One Fine Day At The Dental Office

Polygon Kioskson is a natural candidate for turning thirty years old at some point or other, assuming nothing happens to impede it. And a fine day to reach his third decade might well begin in his own bed; around the first ten rotations of his wristwatch; with a fan that sounds just like the suburbs of a hornet’s nest. When, an instant after he opens his eyelids and takes a swallow saliva, he recognizes the nape of the neck from which he’s been the sipping gorgeous grime that has collected there, primarily, in the previous hours he’s spent with the owner of its skin: a mulatta woman accustomed to the streets of Rio de Janeiro, boasting a pyramidally designed trunk that had powerfully attracted Polygon’s attention at the Christmas party, where they were introduced in the line for the bathroom.

That morning, tangled in the sheets, he would face the first dilemma of his thirties: how to extricate his right arm, which, during the nocturnal tumult, had been trapped between his a.m.-p.m. companion’s back and the mattress. Hence the quandary: if his movements are brusque, not only will the woman be jolted awake; so, too, will the tiger tattooed on her hips.

Proferring a kiss synchronized with his retreat, the captive limb will be released. The kiss, though lightning-fast, will taste like a tea bag after steeping, and the woman’s mouth will be suffused with it for a long while, but it won’t wake her. The quiver of the tiger’s tail beside her ribs will make her arch her back; still, her beastly tenant will sleep with its claws retracted across her hips and its stripes will remain in repose, melded with its owner’s stretch marks. Its menacing yellow eyes will stay blinded beneath its eyelids. And Polygon will gaze down at the spectacle, relieved, before leaving the room.

He’ll grope about the clutter of clothing in search of something to cover himself, and he’ll plan breakfast in the kitchen. Finishing his tea, when only the spent tea bag remains, stuck to the porcelain wall of the cup, and drinking the last of it, he’ll smile with a single hemisphere of his mouth, because he’ll hear the water turn on in the shower – the Rio de Janeiro dirt melting down – and the tiger’s crazed pacing around the bedroom.

However, Polygon Kioskson is still ignorant of such matters. After all, a pen-manufacturer can’t know whether one of his creations will possibly be used in scribbling the first sentences of a story about tigers, or something equally absurd: today marks Polygon’s seven years on this earth, and he doesn’t even know exactly where Brazil is located on the world map. He’s awakened by his father, a widower and by the name of Kiosk Torrentson, and since he hasn’t woken up a millionaire, either, he’ll be taking Polygon to the dentist instead of to Disneyland. His son’s vacation week has overlapped with his own and he has to take advantage of the fact that his company will pay the dental bill.

Polygon has never been to the dentist, nor has he ever heard a story, good or bad, that would justify his terror. He would rather go fly a kite in the park, or thin out a scoop of chocolate ice cream through the insistence of his tongue, but it’s not to be. He’s not even dimly aware of the fact that such wishes, often rendered reality, have brought him closer to the small clinic with picture windows – twenty-two minutes from his home, if the relevant traffic lights have any say in the matter.

In the car, Polygon watches his beloved park pass by, and his friends the trees, beseiged by ants and other children; it must be magnificent weather out there, not hot at all, without bogged-down clouds. Inside the car, the air conditioning, object of his father’s fanaticism, corrupts the atmosphere with a smell of humidity retained over years of use. Polygon breaks with habit and doesn’t wave to the other drivers progressing alongisde them. His father drives without paying any particular attention to anything, his seat back reclined: he knows every single corner of the city. Polygon crosses his arms after a minor victory over his seatbelt. Seeing the ice cream shop with its doors open, he hopes the dental office will be closed, hopes the dentist has been overcome by an attack of vertigo, gripping the bed with all twenty fingernails at this very moment, her eyes catatonic in the buffeting of nystagmus. His father appears to have read these thoughts, and as he adjusts the gear shift to put the engine in neutral, he says it’s not good to wish bad things on anyone, not even on dentists; Polygon agrees with this sentiment and steers his wish around. He imagines that the dentist has discovered an adventurous vein in the depths of her soul, and that she’s currently astride a mule, crossing Kilimanjaro (where could it be, this place that seems so far away in the information offered by the cereal box-makers?). With two meticulous maneuvers, Polygon’s father parks the car a street from the dental office.

Turning the corner, facing the clinic’s imminent entrance, Polygon feels feather-light. Diminished by terror, he thinks about how his steps would leave no trace on the softest surface. He closes his eyes, squeezes hard. Harder. On the other side of his eyelids, a dentist’s apprentice appears, flapping a booklet of orange tickets in the air; when the window slides open, the smell of cloves filters out, entering Polygon’s nose like a meddlesome relative. His father ceremoniously greets the apprentice and, as he studies her legs, holds out a moderately sized bill that the young woman exchanges for a ticket she has detached from the staple joining it to the rest. They all move into the waiting room, though not at the same time.

A constant buzzing reigns over the place. Polygon attributes it to a hellish drill located on the other side of the door, where the dentist, a lady with uncommonly strong wrists, is diligently executing a gymnastics routine to get warmed up. There are four people incubating the thermal print of their buttocks on the foam armchairs, and their eight hands strangle orange tickets identical to the one Polygon’s father bought from the apprentice. The chairs and the paintings on the walls don’t appear to exert any effort to alter the tedium of the waiting room. At the back, a fishtank shares table surface with a pile of twenty-year-old finance magazines. Polygon tries to take in the entirety of the scene so that no detail escapes him. That being said, nothing and no one in this place could possibly compete with the smell of freshly mowed grass that presides over the territories of the park, printing itself into the pant-knees of whomever rolls across it.

A little boy faces the fish tank, captivated by the golden fishes’ flight in the water, and holds a nylon hairnet in the air. Beneath his left sleeve, something resembling a tattoo of a prune peeks out: a respectably sized mole that will someday become the birthplace of hairs, the uterus of carcinomas. Exactly twelve minutes pass and the apprentice reappears in the waiting room. She smiles with her congenitally aligned set of teeth. For a moment, the buzzing that Polygon attributes to a hellish drill intensifies, but when the door shuts, the sound returns to its previous volume. By then, a small crowd has filled the waiting room, including several foreign faces disfigured by excitement. Inserting her voice into a megaphone, the young woman informs those present that the moment has arrived to enter the office, and that they must have their ticket in hand so that no misunderstandings transpire when it comes to the distribution of seats.

Seeing that his father has risen from his armchair and moves toward the door, Polygon copies his movements; he doesn’t want to stray too far from his protection. But the apprentice cuts in front of him just before he passes through the door separating patients from future patients. Without altering her gestures, the young woman indicates that what follows is only for adults, which means his attendance of the event is prohibited, at least until it’s his turn to go in – or, should this not occur, until he ceases to be a minor. You can play with the doctor’s son in the meantime, cutie. After collecting and tearing the last ticket offered up for her to document, she disappears behind the door. The buzzing intensifies again, lasting only as long as it takes for the apprentice’s humanity to vanish. The waiting room is left semi-deserted and seems larger than it did at the beginning. Polygon sits down on the armrest of a chair near the fish tank, necessarily close to the finance magazines and to the other boy, who hasn’t stopped watching the fishes’ movement for even a moment.

On the other side of the door, the show begins. The cameras’ rude approach shows how the elastic bands of the face mask divide the dentist’s cheeks into little sections, looking like the plastic skin of a half-inflated balloon. She leans over a leather-bound reclinable chair. She tries not to think of the spectators surrounding her, seated in their numbered seats. She is a professional. Beginning with a pre-rehearsed pantomime, she gestures to her apprentice for the forceps molten in dull metal. The apprentice hands them over to her. In the afternoon, she’ll try to remove a supernumerary molar that, nestled in its elastic gum hideout, thwarts the desirable tooth-distribution of the miserable creature that currently finds itself anesthetized and at the mercy of the instruments. Much to the audience’s delight, she gestures affectedly for her apprentice to absorb the sweat that has pearled across her forehead; the apprentice obeys, passing a tongue to collect the juice on her mistress’s temples – it strikes one woman in the audience as excessively tender and she grips her thighs beneath her skirt. The enormous screens display the dentist’s expertise as she moves in on the molar located at the back of a massive Bengal tiger’s lower jaw.

A poignant contrast is at work between the white of the gloves, the matte gray of the forceps, and the pristine gum housing its own evil deep within. The battle stuns the people in their seats. Kiosko Torrentson rubs his hands together; it feels like his fingers will come disassembled at any moment; he lifts a thumb to his mouth and sucks it rabidly.

The dentist’s tecnique is perfectly correct as she seizes the molar; the judges recognize this deftness and grade her generously on their tickets. Nonetheless, the gum won’t yield to the lever she’s using to maneuver from left to right, counterclockwise, as theorized, in four thick tomes as yet untranslated into English, by a famous Russian maxillofacial surgeon. In a crucial instant, the forceps slip, the moisture is exorbitant, and the ejector doesn’t manage to drain the tiger’s jaws of saliva. This heightens the drama and yanks an Oh! from the spectators’ throats – a barely audible sound, but still comforting to the dentist. The tooth emerges with a ruthless tug: “Lord in heaven, those roots are enormous!” Where the fang had slept is now a red spot from which blood flows profusely, deep and russet as the navel of a beet.

The crowd bursts into applause and cheers, which are drowned when the tiger’s tail suddenly twitches in a subtle curl. No one makes a false move: the feline resumes the inert state that requires him to exhibit his jaws, now incomplete. He’s barely stirred, but it’s not a good sign. Anesthesia is so generic these days that it’s basically junk. The Olympic lap, trophy in hand, will have to be curtailed, or maybe the celebration scratched altogether. The people understand; even under these circumstances, some wish they’d been closer to the dentist so they could have offered their esteem.

From the other side of the door, Polygon has hit it off with the birthmark boy, shaking him out of his fish-trance with questions about the adults’ disappearance. In turn, the boy has reassured Polygon by informing him that the hellish buzz isn’t caused by a tooth drill; in fact, the tool operated by his mother is silent, lightweight, and German. He has confessed that his mother uses instrument on him to practice endless amalgams, as perfect as they are unnecessary: she just wanted to practice on something alive. The true source of the buzz is the money box he uses for stockpiling the wasps that, one day, when he’s old and has collected enough of them, he will present at the city’s busiest bank, hurling the box against the floor so that his savings will afford him some kind of gratification.

The spectators file out into the waiting room: some satisfied, others still trembling at the scene they’ve just witnessed. When they’re just about to entirely reconquer the waiting room, an ambulence siren overcomes the noise in the dental office as it rounds the corner, bringing everyone to a state of outright alarm. A paramedic shouts for someone to open the door, it’s urgent, goddammit. He’s followed by a young man who seems afflicted by no problem other than the lack of certainties in his own diminutive world. The paramedic remarks that his companion has been involved in one of the most atrocious car accidents he’s ever encountered. He’s a veteran; he’s snatched over two dozen poor wretches from the grip of death. Those nearest the scene scrutinize the young man from head to toe: he moves around on his own two feet, he scratches his head, he seems a little scattered, sure, a little oblivious and taciturn, perhaps, but there’s no sign implying that his life is hanging by a thread. It’s then, in the face of this overall indiference, that the paramedic takes his companion by the jaws and, straining so hard that the veins in his temples swell, pries open his mouth.

Everyone present is instantly transfixed by the man’s misfortune: the impact of the collision has been concentrated in the young man’s thirty-two teeth, provoking utter chaos in a mouth presumably healthy prior to the accident. Not missing a beat, the apprentice rushes into the clinic to inform her mistress of the situation. She asks the crowd for help in removing the tiger so that the new patient may be brought before the dentist. Three hardy men, and Kiosk Torrentson, come to her aid. Four minutes later, they stumble with the massive cat’s body slung across their backs. They settle it into one of the now-empty armchairs and go back in to see how the dentist will possibly amend the reckless young man’s catastrophe; almost no one can remember his own seat number. Seeing the beast in the armchair, completely still, Polygon smiles with a single hemisphere of his mouth. It’s the first time he’s found himself in the company of a tiger, and the possibility of watching it awaken – today or twenty-three years from now – unsettles him.

(Translated by Robin Myers)