Endgame: Blank check up
Laurie Taylor can't keep his mouth shut
Sitting around in my dentist’s waiting room the other afternoon waiting to have a cheque extracted I found myself being offered a large glass of liquid which Janet, the kindly dental assistant, assured me would help me forget what was going to happen in the next hour and a half.
“Look,” I said, “I don’t want to make any sort of trouble, but to tell the honest truth I’m not all that concerned about forgetting what happens to me in the next half-an-hour. Forgetting is neither here nor there. I’d simply like not to know what is happening to me while it is happening.”
I could tell from the way Janet looked at me that she knew she had another loser on her hands. “That’s what I’m trying to tell you,” she explained with all the extended patience of a mother pointing out to a three-year-old that it was dangerous to turn somersaults on a three-lane highway. “Although you will actually be in real pain, this Tamazepam solution will make you forget that you’re actually having the pain.”
It occurred to me to question her flawed phenomenology but at that moment the dentist appeared, rubbing his hands together in anticipation of some imminent bloodletting, and ushered me to the chair.
As I settled back and once again fixed my eyes on the octopus-shaped damp patch on the ceiling that I’d come to know so well during previous visits, I summoned up my courage and, with the slight turn of the eyes allowed by the head rest, asked if there was any chance that I might have a proper anaesthetic, one which allowed me to pass out completely, become utterly comatose, totally dead to the world.
“That’s just not possible,” he said, rattling through the assortment of heavy metallic tools in the drawer behind my head. “We need to keep you half awake so that we can still get you to open and shut your mouth and move your tongue and head around and indicate when we’re going into a particularly sensitive area. Now then, just a little wider. Very good. Very good.”
I wanted to tell him that the solution hadn’t yet started to work but he’d already spotted the most tender gum in my mouth and was busy attacking it with something sharp and pointed.
“Very good,” he said. “Very good.” Why, I wondered as my raised knees made contact with the bottom of the cherryade swill bowl, were dentists the only occupational group who repeatedly congratulated themselves on their own performance? What did he mean “very good”? Wasn’t it me who should provide the ratings after the whole ruthless business was over?
It was then that the solution really kicked in. Nothing seemed to have happened to my sensory consciousness. I could still see the damp patch on the ceiling, watch the dentist as he chose an even broader bit for his Black and Decker, feel Janet’s reassuring touch on my the arm, but I was simultaneously overcome by the sense that nothing in the world, not my present predicament, not the world outside the window, not the duplicity of Nick Clegg or the latest events in Libya or the recent news that my sister’s dog had been run over in France by a tractor, was of any consequence whatsoever. I was, for the first time in my life, completely carefree.
“Where are you going on your holidays this year?” said Janet. I realised I could hear each of the individual words – “where”, “going”, “holiday”, “year” – but somehow their syntactical connection escaped me. This was truly disturbing. I had to summon all my intellectual resources to fight back against this predicament. “What do you mean, ‘holiday’?” I murmured as the dentist rummaged in his armoury for a larger pair of pliers. “What is a holiday? A holiday from what? A holiday for what? After I have a holiday I always want a holiday. A holiday from holidays.” “Course you do,” she said topping, up the cherryade.
It appears that I went on in very similar style for the next hour, ruthlessly examining the content of every piece of small talk she tossed my way. What did she mean by “nice day”? Nice for whom? Nice in the sense of “nice” or “nice” in the sense of “nice”?
When they finally levered me out of the chair and led my stumbling legs towards the cheque writing desk, I suddenly realised that I’d experienced no real pain, or I suppose to put it more accurately I suddenly realised that I’d forgotten any real pain that I’d experienced.
“Gosh,” I said as I tried again to spell “April” on the cheque stub. “That really was pain free.”
“Unfortunately not for all of us,” said Janet, gently wiping away some congealed blood from my forehead.