Fish and Dentists

While wandering the streets of Coolum Beach, looking for the dentist, my phone rang. It was the receptionist.

“We’re running early so if you’d like to come in now, that would be great.”

It was ten minutes before my appointment.

“Yep, no worries. Just on my way now.”

I kept walking and found it: Coolum Beach Dental. True to the theme implied by the name, the glass door was decorated by those plastic stick-on pictures of octopi and cheery-looking fish.

Inside, the reception desk was very very red and the walls were very very yellow – primary colours in all their glory. “Dentist” was spelled out on a panel to the right of the desk, vertically against the red in shiny gold cursive. The chairs were the type you get in dodgy train stations. The place looked more like a Chinese take-away than a dentist’s office.

“Hello Zoe!” the receptionist nearly yelled as I walked in. I flinched, hesitated, arranged my face into a polite smile. Mentally prepared to let these people into my mouth with power tools.

I was directed straight in. The dentist and nurse were both grey-haired with mad-scientist sort of European accents. They bantered as they drilled.

“She’s giving him all of her love,” the dentist said, commenting on a song playing on the radio.

“That’s what she does,” the nurse replied.

“Still, you have to admire that sort of commitment.”

The nurse nodded. “You do.”

A wide-screen television was fasted to the ceiling with what looked like bungie cords. On it, fish were swimming passively around a reef. The camera never stuck with one fish for very long and there was no narration or storyline or action of any kind. It was the sort of stock footage made for museums or tourist centres to create a more colourful atmosphere. It was not supposed to be watched closely for any period of time, and it wasn’t too helpful in distracting me from the dentist drilling into my face.

“Please try to relax,” he said, grinding away at a molar. “Please, try to relax your bottom lip. It will make it much easier for us if you do this. Relax, watch the fish.”

I watched the fish. I tried to relax. But I didn’t want pretty, passive things. I wanted something to eat something else – violently, with lots of blood. I wanted there to be as much horror and devastation on the screen as there was in my mouth. But the fish just kept nonchalantly twirling their little fins around, softly knocking against each other, looking at nothing with their dumb, gaping eyes. A shark casually cruised past, probably swinging them a neighbourly wave as he went, while the hot fumes of something smelling strongly like superglue rose from what was left of my poor molar.

– Zoe Barron


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