It’s very unusual in life for me to feel surprised. The feeling of surprise, to me, is a form of failure. If you live life thoughtfully and with a bit of imagination, there are very, very few things that won’t have occurred to you. It’s not that I go about my days permanently braced for all outcomes. Actually, I do. Not content to be merely on the safe side, I prefer the safest of all possible sides. It’s, perhaps, not the most dashing way to live but its comforts are legion.
My dentist was talking to me as I lay prone in his chair. The conversation was soothing, if a little one-sided. It was strangely restful, as there are few occasions in life where you can lie down in the daytime and feel not the least bit like a disaster but, in fact, rather heroic.
Occasionally, despite a mouthful of implements, I slipped in a knowing remark such as, “Any signs of attrition on my lower buccal molars today?” just to show I am nobody’s fool.
Of course, sometimes I take it too far and ask a chiropodist if he ever suffers from counter-transference, receiving looks of extreme bafflement.
I amuse my dentist, whom I believe considers me rather prideful. For some reason I really don’t want him to think of me principally as somebody’s mother and somebody’s wife. I don’t mean for one second that I wish to transmit waves of availability in his hygienic direction; more that I want him to consider me as a person of some standing.
How do you keep your sense of self-buoyant when the setting is so undignified? Can you muster a bit of status or create some intrigue about yourself with another human’s hands in your cake-hole?
Before my tonsillectomy, when I was seven, I had some cachet in dental circles because my tonsils were of almost record-breaking dimensions. Dentists would take a look at them, call their assistants over and say, “Jeez, would you take a look at those babies!” The whole practice would crowd round my mouth to marvel and exclaim and coo. I felt such a success!
The more philosophical of the supermodels sometimes refer to beauty as being a form of unearned respect, and when I think of the power of those tonsils, I know just how they feel. But, sadly, no more.
An ingenious filling I have was once photographed and set as a university exam question, but that was years ago, and has been talked into extinction over the past two decades. So, with my dentist, I often hear myself trying a little too hard to be impressive. I refer, very, very obliquely, to amazing things I have witnessed, extraordinary people I have known.
I allow small personal triumphs to slip from my lips. So subtle and covert are these references that the only person who could possibly grasp their meaning is me. I don’t want to impress the dentist so much as try to give him the impression that if I really tried, I easily could. It’s all very, very delicate.
So I was just thinking of dropping some slightly stunning allusion that would catch his interest and make him lay down his tools in downright amazement, perhaps for ever, when a very surprising thing happened. It seemed to come from nowhere.
“I am telling all my patients to make one day a week their ‘pamper my teeth day’,” the dentist said.
“You think I don’t have enough people to keep happy in my life already?” I wanted to yell at him. “I count 22 on my fingers straight away. Why is the world intent on tormenting women? Do you lie awake at night worrying about ... I mean, you try living my week. It literally cannot be done! Have you any idea how many hours there actually are in each day? And now my teeth are screaming out for my attention? My teeth are feeling hard done by and left out? I don’t think so.
“What about, I don’t know, what about my teeth making a commitment once a week to doing something special for me!”
My dentist was still talking.
“Yes, so on this day you make a commitment to floss for 20 minutes, with the toothpaste still in your mouth, and really get to grips with your gums and show them some tender loving care ...”
I shut my mouth firmly. My teeth are in disgrace. I am not speaking to any of them for at least a week.