An anaemic, abstract painting. The words trailed through it, almost cutting it in half: If it wasn’t for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all. And the shark mobile above her head, dangling from the ceiling, its mouth crammed with huge, sharp teeth. When he’d cranked back the chair the last time, she was horizontal. This time, she was only cranked back half way, which she thought must be some new dental discovery, or more likely easier for him.

It was the two things together that had made it feel particularly strange, that day. The painting and its portents of doom and the shark that had trembled in the breeze from the open window.

He had seemed ten years older – it had only been two years since her last appointment. Hardly any preliminaries, he’d loomed above her after she had explained the tenderness on the left side of her mouth. Up close he looked like another person, another dentist had set up shop and passed himself off as Philip Scott.

The shark, leering as his assistant sucked the extra juice out of her mouth, lazily trolling the vacuum pipe over her tongue. Her eyes, heavily mascaraed above the pink, surgical mask.

She would have liked more preliminaries: How are you? How’s it been going? But she realised it was just her need to feel special – a state that had been getting away from her of late – the way you felt as a child, that you were important, and the midlife realisation that you only meant something to a small number of people, which kept shrinking.

That kind of unquestioned certainty was fading, and perhaps that was the way it should be. It would be hard, that wrench from life, better to fade, day by day. The slow letting go of a rope, then your own small boat is cast adrift, after the large one has honked its last foghorn, puffed its lone puff of smoke then gone.

She thought about David Bowie, an interview she’d read in the waiting room. For years they had described him as a chameleon, but he said he’d always felt bemused at being called ‘the chameleon of rock’. Doesn’t a chameleon exert tremendous energy to become indistinguishable from its environment?

He had also said: Trust nothing but your own experience.

And she thought the trip to the dentist had seemed so psychedelic because her world was so small now. The arc she scribed. Chemo. Radiation therapy. The jellied, bouncy walls of the castle I live in.

“It’s a baby tooth, so it could feel sensitive. I’ve put some gel in to protect it… You have three baby teeth. Perhaps you are some new evolutionary marvel,” he’d laughed.

Or did she just hold onto things too long?

A velvet shark, with yellow teeth made out of felt. It could have been nasty or nice, his reasons for having it hanging there. She supposed it swung from one to the other each day.

CategoryFlash Fiction

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