Katie was terrified of the dentist. Whenever she’d gone there in the past, she’d had to drink half a bottle of gin and have someone take her by the hand until she was sitting in the chair. Her dentist, a man called Mr Saltings, had always indulged her semi-drunken state with a tight-lipped smile and never given her anaesthetic. Injecting only water into her gums instead of novocaine had a placebo effect, it seemed. He’d told her this one day, when he’d come into her shop and she’d blurted out a question about drug-drug interations and the dangers of overdose. Katie was a pharmacist. She knew about these things.
Shortly after this revelation, Katie was eating a corn on the cob when she found blood on her napkin and a felt that familiar wobbling at the back of her mouth. Knowing what she now knew – that the old coot, Saltings would give her nothing more for the pain – she decided to deal with the matter herself. A piece of string tied to a door handle, a few glugs from a bottle of Gordons’ (no tonic), and a kick to the door. She’d seen it on TV. How hard could it be? Better than the leering, sneering face of Saltings, too close to hers as he poked about inside her mouth with all manner of metal prongs and prodders.
The pain was far, far worse than she expected. The blood too. Oh god – the blood! She was relieved when she saw the furniture start to slither and swim in front of her; when she felt her legs turn to jelly, before everything went dark. Before strong arms took her.
She wasn’t sure if it was the gin or the shock, but when she woke, she was no longer inside her own body. She could see herself, lying back in that cracked leather chair. The trays on swivel arms around her, laden with implements. Knives and sticks and fat cotton tubes. The bright light was tipped over to the side, giving her a clear view of her own face – her eyes, tight shut. Strips of white tape keeping them that way. Her mouth was held open with sharp metal clamps. Her hands, balled into fists, by her sides – buckled fast to the chair with leather straps; two similar ones round her ankles.
No! No! She tried to scream, tried to move – but the Katie in the chair was oblivious; bottle of gin lying empty in the waste bin beneath her feet. The Katie in the air wasn’t real. She was just a dream – a hallucinatory dream… what was it Saltings had said that day? Next time I’ll give you the drug, Katie. Gin or not. You’ll see. You’ll see then. She did see then – saw the hulking shadow of him as he came into view, pliers in hand. Grin on his face. The plink plink sound, as he dropped two more teeth into the little metal dish next to sleeping Katie’s head.