Sunday, August 21, 2011

A Dental Appointment

This short story is a re-post, but I couldn't find the original link. The overheard discussion actually happened.

A Dental Appointment

Sara is late. She is running for the train. The driver sees her running and takes off exactly one second before she reaches the still open door. Sara swears silently. She can still make it, she hopes. The coin exchange machine is malfunctioning again. She starts turning her pockets and bag over in search for coins. The next train should come within ten minutes. Her appointment for a root canal isn't for another forty-five minutes. Not that she is looking forward to it.

Once she has the coins she sits down on the bench and looks at the pigeons perching on the roof of the deserted station building or flying through the empty shell of its second floor. The station house is a ruin, of some long-gone civilization, and the pigeons are the new power that has taken it over. Lucky birds, they have no teeth.

A woman and a man cross the tracks and join Sara and another woman already there at the train stop. The new arrivals look Middle Eastern, probably a mother and a son. He looks affluent, Americanized, in his forties. She doesn't look Americanized. Her scarf is on crooked and she wears no bra. She has missing teeth in the front.

Sara practices deep breathing. Her stomach rebels against the prospect of a dental visit. The couple seem to know the other woman on the bench. The mother doesn't speak any English. She wants to compare how dark her hair is to the other woman's grey curls.

The train arrives. Sara finds a single seat in the back and continues deep breathing and relaxation. She has a phobia about drills. The trio from the stop seat themselves across from her. The man has brilliantly white teeth. Breathe gently, breathe deeply.

He talks with the American woman over his mother's head. "Do you know how many children my mother has had? Sixteen! And do you know how many survived? Eight!"

The train takes off from the station and slowly rolls through the suburban landscape. Backyards and trees go by. Birds without teeth. One neat fence has graffiti which Sara can't read. She can never read any graffiti, and it is all in the same handwriting. She imagines a jet-setting graffiti artist, flying from one country to another, scrawling graffiti everywhere. Most likely someone with perfect teeth.

The train stops and takes off again. The houses look more expensive now, and less of them is visible from the tracks. There are proper woods now, green. Sara tries to relax in the green.

"Don't you think that women belong in the home?" asks the Middle Eastern man of his neighbor. Sara can't hear her answer. A group of schoolgirls enter the train, laughing and chattering. Sara hopes that their voices would drown out the man but they move on.

Now the landscape is citified. Poor backyards with clotheslines and derelict cars, more graffiti. Then highrises. Soon the train would go underground. Then she'd be nearly there. Breathe in, breathe out.

"My mother never liked girls", says the man. "Why do you think she doesn't care for girls?" There are no free seats, no standing room anywhere. Sara starts to sing quietly to keep his voice out. Her stomach has clutched into a tight fist. It won't relax. It won't let go.

The train dives into darkness. The color inside changes to greyish cold. Everybody suddenly looks tired and old and in need of dusting.

Sara counts the remaining stops. Three. She is afraid that she'll need to find a restroom soon. The train slows in preparation for a stop. Large advertisements flash by. Do you need to lose weight? A woman in bikinis lying in the sun. Two happy people buying insurance. No graffiti. Nothing about root canals or the dislike of little girls. They take off again.

Sara has forgotten to sing, so she can't avoid hearing the man. "What is wrong with selling your daughters if you don't want them?" She has to get up. She has to leave right now. On the next station. It means having to run three more blocks. She gets off. She runs three more blocks. She is late for her dental appointment.