Mouth Like a Hotel

Dear Dr Fraser,

I don’t think I’ve ever written you a letter before. In fact I know I haven’t. I don’t suppose anyone has much call to write an 812 word letter to their dentist unless the dentist is really bad and a lawsuit is on the cards. Don’t worry. It’s not one of those.

You’ve been my dentist since I was 6, but you’ve not had your fingers in my mouth for years. It’s not you, it’s me. Life just changes, doesn’t it. I might not come see you anymore but I still think of you as my dentist. I could uproot to Australia tomorrow, sign up to the surgery of Jed Picklebot of Boomerang Street, Alice Springs, and on my deathbed aged 89 I could drift out during the final oral examination of my life, and Jed Picklebot could be the last person I look in the eye as I die, and as I have a near-death-montage of all the eyes I’ve ever looked into, you would still be my dentist. Not Jed, the Pretender. Who I bet insists on not wearing deodorant even though he lives in Alice Springs and thinks air conditioning is for poofs. All other dentists have got a bit of thankless task to be honest. You staked the early claim. Which will really rile Jed; he’s very territorial. I imagine.

When I saw you in the bookshop the other day, I had a little warm glow afterwards. I think because of the following reasons:

1) I feel shy when I haven’t seen someone for a while.
2) You said you liked my columns and I felt 10 again, and proud
3) You made my teeth straight when I thought no boy would ever love me.
4) You’re kind of cute.

Whenever I see you, I always feel a pang of guilt. I am ashamed to say I did not go to the dentist (i.e. you) for years. I think it was down to a few reasons. Firstly when I moved out of home, my mum stopped making my appointments. I am not really a natural maker of appointments, so things lapsed there a little. Then sad things happened and I think I almost forgot I had teeth. Then I started teaching your daughter and I was too shy to contact you in case you judged me unworthy of influencing your offspring because of my dental hiatus. Then when I thought I better check that the things I was brushing twice daily (promise) were still as Dandy as the comics I used to read in your waiting room, I paused.

You know when you go to a nice hotel, and you tidy your room before you check-out because you don’t want the cleaning lady to have to do anything? You want her to go into your room, see that nothing needs doing, and have a sneaky lie down on the bed for a bit? It’s sort of like that with you, except I don’t want you to have a lie down in my mouth; there’s not enough room. Basically, I respect you too much to present you with any bad mouth situations. What if I had a cavity? You don’t deserve that. Not after all these years. So I went to another dude. More than once, but it didn’t mean anything, I swear.

I would like to thank you, though, for never making me afraid of dentists. I have always felt perfectly relaxed lying in the chair with my mouth gaping open and saliva dribbling down my cheek. I went through years of insecurity and brace work, and then had big bright straight teeth which seemed too big for my head, and then later you sent me off wisely for the removal of four wisdom teeth so they wouldn’t burst through and make me go crooked again, (the ensuing prescription drugs for which got me the most stoned I had ever been in my life by the way.)

Going slightly off-piste, I always liked your forearms. As a girl I didn’t get to see a lot of male arms up close, and the proximity to yours was always nice. There was something about the hairs on them. I don’t really understand what or why. And I liked the big blueness of your eyes behind your glasses.

Anyway. Aside from all that, I wondered if you might fancy…looking in my mouth again. I think I need a filling. I heard something go crack when I bit my penknife the other day, and I chipped another tooth on a bottle ages ago. I’ll pay you double. How about it, Doc? For old times’ sake? I don’t want to go to the other man whose name I don’t even know. And I’m not ready to move to Alice Springs yet, if ever. I’ve heard it’s shit.

Your once-goofy always-goofy girl,

Sadie, aged 34 believe it or not.

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The World in a Size 12 Dress

Mum just popped round. She only meant to drop off the carpet cleaner and have a sandwich but instead she casually made me love her more, then left.

She couldn’t stay long, she said. She had to go and see her friend. We cut our sandwiches and split them half and half and sat in the window overlooking the park, my dog fused to her leg and gazing up at the prospective crusts.

Once a week, every Thursday, my Mum goes ‘befriending’. (This may sound like she parks up in a lay-by on the A127 with a jaunty sign advertising ‘cuddles, a kit-kat, and maybe more if you’re good’, but it’s not that at all, I promise.)

A couple of years ago, Mum joined a thing where nice people make friends with people who are sad or lonely or afraid to go out. People who have never been very good at making friends, or who have gone through a bad patch and need a bit of support to build their confidence back up. Mum gets matched to people, usually vulnerable young women who probably need a bit of mothering, and takes them out shopping or for a walk once a week. Pops round, checks in on them. Is there for them. Being Mum, I know this would not just be a service limited to Thursdays; I bet she makes her friends very aware that she is on call if they really need her. I’ve not fully considered quite how wonderful this is until today. I have been used to waifs and strays, old and young, floating in and out of our family my whole life; we were brought up to have open arms and hearts.  So the befriending is not a new thing; it’s just what Mum does. She doesn’t know what to do with herself if she’s not loving someone.

As we ate our sandwiches she told me about another friend she had to visit. This time one she had known almost all her life, who suffers from a cruel mix of crippling shyness and (recently diagnosed) paranoid schizophrenia. Unbeknownst to me, for she does not bugle her care efforts, Mum has been visiting her for the past couple of weeks after concerns for her ‘demonstrative lack of desire to be here anymore’ saw her taken to a nearby hospital. Mum had had an unsettling phone call, a bad feeling in her waters, and had tracked her down. Mum was saddened when her friend did not recognise her and ran away from her down the ward. Mum persevered, and kept going back, and I can just imagine the wily, no-nonsense, loving tack she would have taken to win back the trust of a friend she has known since they were toddlers. With demanding tenderness Mum has got her to eat, drink, wash herself, and show an interest in her future beyond the ward, which sounds like the type of dreadful place you’d have to be superhuman to survive at all. Mum said “She has no voice. She needs help. I won’t let anyone walk all over her again.” She told me all this like it was nothing while eating her sandwich like it was in some way part of beating the system, asked me why I wasn’t eating mine, then talked me through how to use the carpet cleaner. Then she left, taking my dog to go for a walk with another of her ‘befriended friends’.

I sat back down in a stunned sort of daze, my throat tight with the effort of not crying. That guilty fug that comes from hearing about other people’s sad lives, and a thrashing admiration for my Mum, who is formidable and bossy and relentless and kind and patient and brave and ferocious in all the right places. Sometimes I forget to see it. She’s just my mum. But today she caught me with my blinkers off and I have nothing else to do with the magnitude of it other than write this.

My mum is my mum. She is on my side. She would fight for me if I needed her to. I’ve never really thought about that before. I suspect in my adult years I have been pretending to myself that I don’t really need that, particularly when I might need it the most. But seeing it and knowing it today makes me feel really…big. Like the whole world in a size 12 dress.

Anyway. She’s coming round again in a bit. I can’t bloody get the carpet cleaner to work.

mum