The dentist is a cheerful man who likes wearing bow ties and has a collection of teddy bears. This makes me feel better about what he is doing with the strip of sandpapery stuff against one of my molars. I have always had a great dislike of abrasive surfaces, a stomach-clenching horror of things like emery boards (ensuring I could never get a manicure). I squint down so I can see what, exactly, the substance is: a strip of grey sandpaper, as I suspected, like sandpaper dental floss. I hope he will be done with it quickly.
It’s a cold but sunny day, my favourite kind of weather, despite my persistently frozen hands. I have enjoyed walking around and seeing things: a fluffy white Samoyed sleeping in the entrance to a rug shop, a grown man with a lollipop stick poking out of his mouth, an ad for Slovenia “the beauty spot on Europe’s exquisite face”. What on earth does that mean?
The dentist finishes with the sandpaper and I look out through the door into the other consulting room. A large teddy bear sits in the chair in there. There are plants with wide, fleshy leaves on the windowsill.
I used to go to a dentist where everything had the sterile, white look of an operating theatre crossed with a space station. The only magazine in the waiting room was one about cosmetic surgery. There was a team of dental nurses, all young and impeccably clean, one of which always came in and did a live ad for the $700 teeth whitening system. “Vanessa, are you happy about the colour of your teeth?” she would say, flashing a paint sample card of different tooth colours in front of me. I lay in the chair, trapped, wearing a paper bib and a pair of goggles, with an unpleasant feeling of submission.
It was a fine day when I realised I didn’t have to put up with that anymore. For every space station dentist there is a teddy bear one, like for every bad thought there is a good one waiting somewhere for when I’m ready to let it in.