I paid a visit to my dentist, an eighty-four year old man practicing on Irving and Washington, an immigrant and dog owner. Shortly after greeting each other, he told me his dog bit a little girl last month and, as it unfortunately turned out, she died in her sleep just the other night. They're saying undiagnosed rabies.
Dear Lord, I had stopped in for just an ordinary checkup, a routine—I’ve been having sharp pains in my gums—so I didn't expect to hear this, but I became so curious.
I spoke to my dentist for a little while.
Several times he said he would not allow them to examine his dog. No way, Mr. Rundt, the matter is already settled. The matter is already settled, he repeated in his thick accent, And besides, I don’t want someone with latex gloves and a telescope around my dog's mouth, which housed many untreated cavities. So his reputation was at stake. I completely understood, nodding as he wedged two fingers inside my mouth. I built my empire from nothing, he said, From some country (the name always escapes me) where birds with oily, purple feathers peck at conifer fruit… a refugee who built his empire from nothing…!
It’s true. My dentist’s accomplishments are quite impressive.
And after I had some very minor but emergency root canal treatment, he handed me a paper cup. Thanks Doc, I said and gargled something that wasn’t water, rinsed my mouth out, and as I held out the empty cup he revealed a very small, black flask from the cabinet. Cheers! he said, in a language that wasn’t English, and together we threw back paper cup shots of some very smooth, warm and unidentifiable drink.
I had been feeling woozy since the anesthetic shot, but here I entered a different state entirely. I was so off that I can, only now, recall sending my dentist messages telepathically, communicating to him in silence… and I sent him a message telling him that I would help him with his problem.
What problem, he says, and I tell him, The dog problem, the little girl problem.
I told you, the matter is settled.
I tried to open my mouth, but couldn't contain my saliva. Everything was really coming unglued here—I was drooling on my wax paper bib, the overhead light, that thing screwed to the ceiling, was slowly getting closer to my face, and I could feel my eyes getting warmer, and warmer, burning up, and there was a rumbling, a beating, in my chest, in my heart, I think, pounding away, I mean really pounding, I was about to erupt hot blood. I thought I died and saw my families, past and future, but only for a second or two because very abruptly my dentist shook me awake, and advised to return in about a week for follow-up surgery. He wiped my mouth, and then lifted me over his shoulder. It was during this moment when I learned how strong my dentist was. He carried me through a series of rooms, rooms that got progressively darker the further we walked—or he walked—at one point reaching almost-total darkness until—oh, Dear Lord—one of the brightest white lights turned on. I had to keep my eyes closed, but I could hear my dentist saying, Mr. Rundt, do you have someone to drive you home? You are not well. I’ll be all right, I said, I'll be A-OK. Then a sharp pain, in fact many sharp pains, surged through my backside, and I discovered that I was leaning against a rose bush as we—me, and my dentist—observed a total evacuation from my bowel system, a system of organs that I never took for granted, especially in that moment. And my dentist, who always knows the right thing the say, said in return some words from a poem by one of his country’s most revered poets:
Wine comes in at the mouth / And love comes in at the eye…!
I recall liking the way he pronounced “mouth” before entering an unconscious fog. This time total darkness. Seconds later, or at least what felt like seconds later, I opened my eyes in a hospital triage covered in sweat. I thought again about those lines of poetry, about wine and love, and how I had no idea what country my dentist was from.
Later, in an epilogue of sorts, I was questioned by three officers in uniform to assist them with filling in the missing pieces of those dark seconds that were, in fact, several hours. To fill in the missing pieces, these policemen said they had been driving down Irving when they observed me drinking from a gasoline nozzle in front of the Exxon. At this same time, a dog came charging toward me, accelerating to attack. But seconds before making contact with my flesh, the animal was shot seventeen times by the three officers standing before me, who began speaking in complicated, circular language, I don’t recall the specific reason, or words. They weren't making much sense.
We understand this was your dog, Dr. Rundt, they said, but I did not understand. They weren't speaking English, as far as I was concerned. And I suppose they were confused when they found me at a gas station, with bacon and dog treats stuffed inside my pockets. This lead me to believe there was a conspiracy threading my entire relationship with my dentist, and why these police officers shot my—my dentist’s dog, I mean, in such an orchestrated, public display. I explained to them, bleary-eyed, why I believed my dentist planted the bacon and dog treats inside my pockets: This dog was once owned by my dentist, you see, the dentist whose rabid dog killed a little girl. Yes, that little girl, Therefore, my dentist may have engineered a scenario in which I—at some point in time—took legal, pen-to-paper ownership of this killer, rabid dog (And now that I'm thinking about it, I do recall signing documents ahead of my emergency root canal treatment) and… especially with a lawsuit by the parents of this dead girl an inevitable…inevitability!… that means I—I mean he—engineered a scenario in which my "very own dog" would tear me to pieces in an act of vengeance, my public act of contrition, my earned karma, for the public, the world, and—just as everyone would realize it—the officers of justice blow seventeen bullets into my rabid dog’s heart to settle the matter.
But nothing ever goes as planned, so please, imagine my situation, handcuffed to a hospital bed, having to look for another dentist during a time like this.