Fifty-two, 53, 54 . . . If I can make it to Dr. Deeley’s office in 72 steps I won’t have a cavity. Sixty-eight, 69, 70. Crap! I’ll go around the block again. I’ll take smaller steps. What’s the time? 2:15. Good. My appointment’s not until 3. I leave early because it takes me so long to do stuff. I have to make sure I do everything in the correct order and I had to brush my teeth really well this morning — 250 times up and down and then 250 times across front and back — until I see the blood.
Last month, one of my molars started bothering me just enough to break my longstanding dental moratorium. My old dentist had wanted my wisdom teeth out, but I didn’t want to, and since I was soon to be off my mother’s dental plan, I just never did, but I did try to brush well.
Then, I had my own dental plan, and still stayed away.
Then, my tooth hurt.
My new dentist also thinks I should have my wisdom teeth out, but he’s not so insistent. And besides, he says he’ll send me to a specialist who offers intravenous Valium.
Early on I lost my sweet tooth. A gem of family lore, retold endlessly at holiday get-togethers, suggests how. As a tyke I found myself alone one day, exploring the bathroom. There was nothing interesting in the closet, only a pack of serviettes beneath the sink. Disappointed, I climbed onto the counter to crack the medicine cabinet. Ah, the marvels there, the colours and shapes! A bottle of white Smarties. A roll of mints, half-finished, smelling un-minty. A pack of chocolate—I made quick work of it. Call that two-sided luck, for by eschewing the Aspirin I’d gobbled the Ex-Lax.
Our dad gave Karen and me each a quarter to buy a candy bar. By ourselves. We were little enough that it was a big deal to go through the Dominion check-out on our own. I picked a Coffee Crisp: they were good those days, thicker, their hit of real coffee like a hint about being grown-up. The bigger deal was what happened at the cash. The lady said we had to pay 52 cents. We were shocked. “A candy bar’s a quarter!” we argued. “Taxes,” she said. “If it’s over 50 cents, there’s taxes.” Suddenly grown-up was looking bad.
During the 1950s, Frank and Alice lived simply on their combined spoils of professional wrestling and moose hunting. But after Le Diable hung up his red cape, money became tight, so Alice went to work at Lowney’s. It put her off chocolate for the rest of her life. She’d tell us how after a run of higher quality chocolates the leavings were swept up by French-Canadian Oompa Loompas and reused in other, cheaper confections. This was a woman who could gut a muskie with her eyeteeth, but shake a box of Bridge Mixture within earshot and she’d go gippy.
For years, our friend Tim used to assign political affiliations to each of the colours in a box of Smarties: Tory Blues, Grit Reds, NDP Oranges, Commie Pinkos, Enviro Greens, Brown-shirted Fascists, fanatical Monarchist Purples, and Libertarian Yellows. Every box a mini election. Creating a seating plan for his own House of Commons, he would group the colours and line them up on a table, formulating coalition governments. After tallying up, sometimes the Tories would win, sometimes the fascists, occasionally the NDP, once the Greens, but never the Grits. No matter, he'd devoured each and every politician with relish.
As if working in a box downtown weren’t punishment enough, someone has decided our team might function more efficiently if we all just moved to shared cubicles, putting me back-to-back with a man who enjoys regular baby-talk calls with his new wife, whose nails apparently grow so fast he must clip them first thing every morning, who squeezes past my chair every hour for his cigarette breaks, and yet still finds the time every day to entirely fill his wastebasket with the cans and wrappings from an apparently non-stop intake of soda pop, chocolate bars, and economy-sized bags of candy.
Our choir mistress, Madame Catherine, was a Consecrated Virgin. I kid you not. She was a secular person who didn’t marry, but devoted her life to the Catholic Church. In her youth she’d fallen for a man who had a beautiful voice, but he left her for a Greek girl. One Christmas he returned to sing Oh Holy Night with her at midnight mass. Standing behind her in the choir loft, I remember how her tiny shoulders tightened when they sang the passage fall on your knees. I now know why we French celebrate Saint Catherine’s day by pulling taffy.
The signs of a stroke include denial
That you’re having a stroke. That’s a little wild
Cuz all of the time you’re not having a stroke
You’re denying the stroke you’re so signfully having
So it seems until you can’t see the right side of
Anything and decide to order a gingerale.
You can’t be having a stroke if you’re at the Bad Dog
Theatre, Bloor and Oz, having a gingerale.
All signs from what you taste on the left
Are you’re having a Vernor’s, too warm
And too sweet, too watery like
The grave on the right.
A slim line of white beneath the door Around me the old women snore Voices up and down the corridor
Try to sleep if only the machine that goes beep WOULD STOP
Now our door bangs open, Flood of light too bright “Whatcha want Mary?” “I’m wet,” my neighbour whispers. The nurse sighs (Where do you think you are? A hospital?) Thundering out the door, the angel in white goes. The light still floods, but out the window glows the moon — amid the night a treasure I squeeze my eyes tight Soon they’ll wake me to take my blood pressure.