Short Fiction

Toothache by Calum Strachan

The pain had made it’s home in the crevice between cheek and gum.  It scrapes away at the soft flesh, burrowing. Nestling.

I swallow more painkillers; a sweaty fistful of ibuprofen, paracetamol and miscellaneous. I down it with a mouthful of whiskey. It burns less than the one before, though the harsh soothing tendrils don’t touch the pain in my face. I take another gulp.

I edge a tentative finger to my cheek. The fingertip presses down and the raw agony flares up. I retreat by instinct alone, like a hand snatched away from a hot stove, and sob.

My unfortunate tools are splayed out in front of me like a bloody butcher’s window display. The screwdriver had been an optimistic choice. The tooth didn’t have enough of it’s head above ground to get any good lever action. But I still managed to do some collateral damage. “It hasn’t erupted sufficiently for extraction,” said the dentist. He had been right as far as screwdrivers and corkscrews were concerned.

The corkscrew had been a more desperate choice. The wild card of dentistry tools. At the very least, I could depend on it to loosen the thing up. To get around and behind and degrade the integrity of the foundation. It had made me flinch and vomit and open another bottle.

I’m cradling that bottle like a colicky newborn. The benzocaine is long gone, and I’d swallowed half of it anyway, so this is the numbing agent I cherish. I press a cotton ball to the open neck and tip it gently, and in my head I make a cooing sound. The nourishing brown seeps into the ball and eclipses the white.

I’m prepared for the pain as I lift the dripping brown ball to my face. The tremendous sting as the cold wet touches the hot ache is a brass knuckle hook. The searing of the cotton oozing around the gum is deeper and more intimate than any punch. I hold on and hold on, gripping my knees, knuckles translucent, jaw clenched down hard on the ball. Eventually, mercifully, the pain recedes a fraction of a percent. The rising tide stands still for a moment. I can suck in a lungful of fresh salty air before it threatens to drown me again. I’d grin, but it’d probably kill me.

“Aw that’s gid like.”

It’s not my voice, but it’s almost as familiar. It’s the wee guy living inside my tooth.

“The whiskey?” I say aloud. My voice rasps through sandpaper and cotton.

“Aye, the whiskey. You’ve made me a nice wee blanket of the stuff.” He’s as jovial as always. Probably half pished. I eye up the third tool. Fallen between floorboards in the attic, forgotten for decades. Caked in fibreglass at the joints. Covered in rust and dust. An old pair of pliers.

“I wouldnae use that if I was you,” says the wee guy.

“Oh no?” I ask while running a finger along the handle. It as coarse as the wee guy himself.

The familiar pain strikes and I fall down hard on one knee. I’m gasping. The wee guy cackles like a maniac. Like a man with a screw loose. Like he’s got his own wee guy under his tooth, barking out orders and jigging on his nerves.

“Here’s the script,” he says with ice under his performative glee. “You’re giving me more whiskey, and you’re no stoppin’ until I’m away wi’ it. And stop bloody swallowing it so fast. You want to keep it in your mouth so I can get my fill. The cotton bud’s the trick.”

I comply because I’ve got no choice. The wee man’s in the driving seat. I take a swig for myself then get to work on the buds. Six buds in and my face looks like a half inflated balloon. It reminds me of a game we used to play with marshmallows. I’ve come a long way since then.

 “Tho’ oo?” I struggle out through the obstructions. I gag and empty the contents of my mouth, and half of my stomach. Saliva, blood and whisky hangs off my lips in a ragged mess.

“That you?” I manage.

Nothing but the faint sound of a drunkards snoring, like the kind in old cartoons. I’m numb and swaying. I grasp the pliers.

The work is bloody and excruciating, but I get it done.

After, I’m shaking on the floor, holding my prize in triumph. A little bit of calcium, no bigger than a thumbnail. All that for that.

“Look at the mess you’ve made of yourself,” chides the wee guy, apparently awake. Apparently concerned. I nod. I can’t speak. “Pure freezin’ as well now. Dusnae matter though, plenty more teeth for me to get cooried into.” I can’t feel him, can’t feel anything, but I know he’s there. Scurrying.

“First though,” he goes on. “Let’s have another drink.” I lift the bottle. I’ve got no choice.

Calum Strachan

Image by Andreas Lischka from Pixabay 

4 thoughts on “Toothache by Calum Strachan”

  1. Hi Calum,
    We all know what toothache is like. The cork screw reference made me wince.
    A tooth enjoying a hauf is very inventive. (That is how I got an acceptance of Red Label, which is howling I might add, but when that’s all you’ve got with the hell of aw diseases, you learn to embrace it!!)
    The dialect, I think, was done well, as no matter where you go in Scotland, there is always a mix of correct pronunciation, local slang and even different area colloquialism. It’s quite hard to write.
    This was well thought out, clever and inventive.
    I really did enjoy reading this.


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