The dentist's waiting room is unusually dim for waiting rooms. I get there a half hour early because I remember that they had current issues of fashion magazines that I like flipping through but would never buy, since there's nothing in them to read. I appreciate the architectural application of light and space in her office. While in the chair, I face a big window overlooking a garden with big orange and pink flowers. I brace myself for the needles, but she was much gentler than my childhood dentist. She wiggled my lip while it was going in so that I barely felt anything. It has been years since I'd been able to afford dental work, and a few things have changed in the process, but I can still relate a lot of it to the auto body repair I see at work. Drill out the rust, sand, spackle, weld, and paint. One of the things I learn this time is that the most important thing for you to do while getting fillings, besides staying still, breathing, and relaxing, is to keep your tongue down and your lips out of the way. I'm sure dentists wish that these parts of our mouths were detachable; they get in the way and are just asking to get hurt in the crossfire of all those hoses, gauze pads, rubber gloved fingers, mirrors, picks, and drills. After she is through getting at a cavity all the way back and in the hardest-to-reach place, I'm sure that aside from wishing we would just heed the brushing instructions we're given at every cleaning, she's wishing we had flip-top heads. During a break, I feel with my tongue the hole she's drilled into my tooth, the rough cut like the edge of tape dispenser. The needle numbs the nerves so that my teeth are nothing more than white stones bending to her will. During the whole visit, her stomach is grumbling. Her assistant noted that hers does all the time, even right after she's eaten. I remember that I only had a bagel so far today.

We decided to do two of a yet unknown number of fillings I will need instead of the crown we had initially scheduled for. I cannot afford $370 right now, so it's been put off for another month unless it, in her words, gives me trouble. As if it could give me more than it has already,I think. On the ride home, I'm calculating what today cost me. I should still have enough to book the flight for Grand Rapids in June, make this month's loan payment, and have some grub money until I get paid at the end of this month. Then, as usual, it starts all over again. Stuffing money into little holes and keeping everyone happy, being responsible, is the impetus of my life these days.

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