Coughing and spluttering I wake from a dream. I had been dreaming that, I was chewing walnuts. ‘Oh God, there is something in my mouth. Those urban myths about the average human swallowing eight flies in their life time are true!’ I rapidly spit the offending object into my hand and with the other reach out and turn the bedside light on. I look into my hand, and realise that it’s a tooth. My tongue has already located a gap in my upper, front jaw. Again with my free hand, I pull the small mirror from the bedside cabinet, and with the hand that, still grasps the tooth, pull my top lip up with one finger. Turning my head this way and that, I examine the hole where my front incisor used to be. It’s a clean hole, no blood or gore. I can feel my heart rapidly beating. ‘How can a tooth just drop out? How can I face the world looking like a toothless crone?!’ Carefully, I replace the mirror, followed by the tooth on the bedside table. ‘Mustn’t lose it’. I have some vague idea that Ms Patel, my dentist, will be able to stick it back in. Again, I reach out beside me and this time grab my mobile ‘phone, pressing the button on the side, I squint at the time on the illuminated screen. ‘04.36. May as well go back to sleep.’
After a restless, sleepless couple of hours, tossing and turning in my tangled bedclothes, I get up, wash and dress. This way, when I ring Patel’s surgery as soon as they open, for an appointment, I’ll be ready to go straight there. At 8.30 am, I telephone and receive a recorded message, which thanks me for my call, and asks me to ring back after 9.00, when they will be open. Frustrated, I end the call, and try to distract myself by watching the news on TV. At exactly 9.00 am, I try again, only to receive the engaged signal. ‘What the fuck!’. I repeatedly try every five minutes, until at last at 9.45.am. my call is answered.
‘Good morning, dental surgery.’
‘Good morning, I’d like to make an appointment with Ms Patel, please.’
‘When would you like to come?’
‘As soon as possible, please.’
‘Her next available appointment is Thursday, 5 July at 2.40.’ Next week, I can’t wait that long!
‘No, I’m sorry. This is an emergency, I can’t wait until then.’
‘Do you have toothache?’
‘No, but one of my teeth has randomly fallen out.’
‘Oh, I see and you’re a patient of ours?’
‘Yes, I come every six months.’
‘Well, as I said Ms Patel is fully booked until 5th July.’
‘Aren’t there any emergency appointments?’
‘Yes, but they’ve all gone. The best I can do is take your details and ring you if we get a cancellation.’ So that’s what I had to agree to. Needless to say, no call about a cancellation was received, and I had to spend a week skulking around the house, trying to talk with my mouth closed whenever I answered the front door. Meanwhile, another two teeth fell out, one top back molar, and one small tooth from my lower jaw. Each time I rang the dentist’s again, only to receive the same reply.
Eventually, on the 5th July, I sat back on the dental chair. Within seconds my perspiration began to stick the backs of my legs on to the chair’s shiny covering. Ms Patel reclined it backwards, so that I now lay back with my mouth wide open, and a spotlight shining directly into my eyes. If I braved the glare and opened them, all I could see was Ms Patel’s beautiful cow like brown eyes above her mask, peering into my mouth, whilst she held a tiny mirror on a handle to look into it, and poked my gums with a miniscule, hook like instrument. Her hands were gloved in beige, powdered latex, and I could smell the distinctive aroma of rubber along with the surgical scent of mouthwash. Along the corridor, I could hear muffled voices, and the scream of a drill from another consulting room. Ms Patel had taken the small, lidded cardboard box, containing my three teeth and a piece of cotton wool, and laid it on the work top behind her. She spoke to her assistant.
‘When was Maria’s last appointment?’
‘Just over five months ago.’
She removed her instruments from my mouth, and precisely laid them side by side on the tray beside her. Now she addressed me, speaking tentatively, as if selecting her words with care.
‘I am going to write to your GP, and ask him to investigate why this is happening to you.’
‘What do you mean?’
‘Well, normally I only see this type of damage when people are affected by an eating disorder.’ Eating disorder! Me, who keeps herself slim by healthy eating and regular exercise. How dare she?’
‘In the meantime, can’t you cement the teeth back in or something?’
‘Implants may be a possibility, but not whilst your gums are in this state. I’ll do the letter today.’ So that’s it, I’ll be reduced to social isolation until the medical system got its lofty arse into gear.’
I woke suddenly, having slept awkwardly, on my side, curled in the foetal position, one arm on the pillow, cradling my head, the other curved over the top of my face, my hand touching my skull. I dreamt that I was about to pick up a red, marbled bowling ball, my fingers caressing its smooth, hard surface, searching for the three finger holes. ‘That’s what’s woke me, my finger nails digging into my head!’ Slowly, I come to, my stiff knee joints unfurling themselves and straightening my legs, my arms stretching upwards. As consciousness returns, I feel my scalp, to check whether I really did gouge it in my sleep. ‘Fuck! Where’s all my hair?’ I can feel the fringe at the front, and a few, long strands on my shoulders, but at the back of my head there is an unfamiliar smoothness. I must have slept in late, because it’s already light. I open my eyes properly and look at my reflection in the sliding mirrored door of the built in wardrobe. The head on the pillow is mine, and there is some hair, but not the tousled bird nest mass that, I usually see. Apprehensively, I slide up the bed and push myself up to a sitting position, then turn ninety degrees, putting my legs over the bedside, so that I’m facing the mirror. Groping, I pick up the small mirror from its place on the bedside table, and by various contortions manage to use one mirror to reflect into the other and look at the back of my skull. Sure enough, there is a large, bald patch on the back of my head. So now, I look like a toothless, monk! When I turn my attentions to the pillow, I see great hanks of my glossy hair covering it, almost like a moulting cat has spent several nights sleeping there. Checking the time, I see that it’s gone 9.am. Not too early to ring Tracy.
Since, losing my teeth I’ve found a hairdresser who comes to my home. She’s pretty good and we’ve become friendly. Effervescent and funny, she fills me in on the local gossip with her Estuary accent.
‘Hello Hun, what’s up?’
‘I need you to come, my hair’s fallen out.’ My toothless mouth has resulted in my speech having a new, lisping quality.
‘It’s natural to get a bit of hair loss now and again.’
‘No, not a bit of hair on a brush, I mean like complete bald patch.’
‘Bloody hell. I’ve got a 9.30, but I’ll come over after that, be there about elevenish. Alright?’
Tracy arrives, spray on orange tan, false eyelashes and long, neon pink painted finger nails, inflated lips and fake boobs. Today, her hair is long, and straight with blonde highlights. She wears a crop top, exposing her tanned midriff, cut-off jeans and thick soled trainers. As I open the door her mouth drops open, revealing a well masticated piece of gum. An involuntary exclamation of ‘Christ!’ escapes her, before she follows me into the living room. I’ve already placed a dining chair ready in the centre of the room. She drops her leopard skin holdall beside it, and extracts a spiky bristled brush. Gently, she runs her hand over my scalp, and then pulls the brush down one of the wispy, remaining strands of my hair. She’s quiet, quieter than I’ve ever known her.
‘I think that you’d better go to the doc’s, Hun.’
‘What’s wrong? Can’t you recommend a hair restoring shampoo?’
‘It’s alopecia. All sorts of things can cause it, stress, illness, anorexia.’ And then, as if a light’s just been switched on, she asks ‘Have you been making yourself sick, to try and get your weight down a bit?’ Cheeky cow, who does she think she is?
‘Me? No, you know what I’m like, always down the gym and into my fruit and salads.’ Like a wisp of smoke on a windy day, a doubtful expression briefly flits across her face.
Another dream. This time, I’m walking along a sandy beach with grey waves crashing to one side of me and grassy sand dunes to the other. The sky is blue, and the brisk breeze moves scattered cotton wool clouds across it, buffeting the rough grass on the dunes, and blowing what is left of my hair across my face. I am wearing a lemon yellow swim suit, but I am big, bigger than any of the other people dotted along the shoreline, reminiscent of the Stay Puft marshmallow man from the Ghostbusters film. My giant, blue veined thighs rub together, causing me to walk with a swaggering gait, swinging my arms back and forth to maintain the momentum of my oversized body. As I do so the pale fat of my upper arms chafes against my torso. My heavy breasts, the size of large melons, but with the consistency of water inflated balloons, droop down and swing onto my dome like stomach. In turn, my gargantuan gut swells out sideways towards my arms, and downwards towards my knees, straining against the constraints of my lycra swimsuit. My head is small in proportion, but I have momentous rounded cheeks, which reduce my eyes to piggy like slits, and rather than numerous chins I have a single bib of fat, which descends onto my chest. As I walk, I am conscious that, the ground beneath my feet shakes with every step I take, and yet no-one on the beach gives me a second glance.
Suddenly, the tension of my constraining swimsuit is released; it splits vertically from top to bottom. Like an overcooked sausage in the frying pan bursting its skin, it allows my pale, purple stretch marked stomach to escape outwards into the fresh air. Worse follows, my stomach then begins to rip along the stretch marks, revealing buttery, blood streaked fat, which peeks outwards into the open air. I wake, opening my eyes in the semi darkness, and reach down to my abdomen. Rather than the taught, toned muscles of my belly, they find a damp soft mound, as if several feather pillows have been piled on top of me. Fearfully, I reach up and feel for the light switch. Looking downwards, I can see a small hill where my body once was. Struggling, with great difficulty, I swing my tree trunk legs over the side of the bed, and regard my reflection in the wardrobe door. The Stay Puft person looks back at me. Thankfully, the damp that I can feel is sweat, not blood from my torso splitting open. Breathlessly, I flop back onto the mattress. So, this is reality and the dream was the slim, healthy young woman, who I believed I was.
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Critique Circle, hope I make myself useful. Overall, the story is easy to follow, and the use of different fonts allows a reader to distinguish the important thoughts from the rest of the paragraph. One critique I have is the use of the sleep and dream portions. Their nightmares are an important part of the progression of the story, but having a sleep sequence after the line "may as well go back to sleep" that is somewhat less important, and having it so early on disrupts the motif and makes it more difficult to establish.
Thank you Lanz for taking the time to read my story. It's really helpful to receive your critique, because the honest view of a reader gives a whole new perspective. Hopefully it will help me to grow as a writer.