I resisted with every resource I could articulate. I was acting up like my life depended on it. On this particular day, I believed that it did.
No school today but without any of the benefits of that rare and enviable treat; that eight hours of kicking back with nothing to do but savour how a Wednesday could feel like a Saturday, only all to myself.
I would rather be at St. Joe’s amidst its mopped floors, wood, paper, chalk dust and Roneo ink; its stern-ness and judgement; its corduroy, Daily Mirror and St. Bruno staff room; its cold radiators and greaseproof toilet paper, and its walnut-brained fuckwit, alpha moron bullies, with their football nonsense and their gobbing and grunting and primeval clubbing of submissive beta boys.
Today I whimper like an abused child, and I wail, wet-faced, snotty and sore of eyes before an audience of one: my mother. She routinely pulls on her heavy everyday coat with practiced efficiency and I hear the unmistakeable light chirpiness of car keys being pulled from her handbag. I go up a gear: whimpering, wailing, pleading, wailing, whimpering, groaning under the physical labour of my futile stand against the sinful ravaging that is about to descend on this skinny little kid. Not being brave, not taking it like a man. I collapse dramatically, face buried in the stair carpet, my hand extended towards the landing above in a final bid to give direction to my mother as to where I wanted – needed – to be. Up there, under the comforting weight of a thick eiderdown, hanging out with comic book heroes who would have punched this day right across town.
I am lifted to my feet. I resist by being as a dead a weight as possible. The door is opened. It is a beautiful day outside but I might as well be living in a post-apocalyptic Orpington levelled by the Russians that very morning. I resist more, hold on to things, desperate fingertip purchase on the coat stand, the door frame, the door knocker, but I am tugged sharply and lose my grip, punctuated by a heavy knock. I dig my heels into the gravel driveway and resist the ten feet to the car. I bring parts of the garden with me as the gravel lets me down, colluding obediently with my mother by moving aside with a light round of applause. Sprigs of lavender, handfuls of silver birch leaves and sizeable pieces of rockery are strewn in my wake; all have let me down, and my mother is relentless, using me to dredge the garden as she heads purposefully for the passenger door of a maroon Austin 1100.
I am bundled in, wailing, whimpering, wet and wild-eyed. I sob as the door is slammed shut, and for a moment my mother stops, exhales and delicately tucks her black hair behind one ear. Behind the Triplex Toughened glass of the car window comes the muted sound of a rising crescendo of screaming. I buck and thrash and slide desperately into the foot well, sobbing dejectedly, the odd bubble of clear snot issuing comedically from one nostril. My mother gets into the driver’s seat beside me. The keys chirrup excitedly as they slide into the ignition. I wail.
The engine is started. I sit half in the foot well, half face down in the leather seat, the close-up smell of worn leather upholstery warming my face. I am pulled up from the foot well and spun round into a seated position. A seat belt is slung across me. I am being restrained. I thrash my head from side to side, veins stick out in my neck and temple. My throat is sore, my nose and eyes sting. I pummel the fascia with my feet and provide angry vocals for my rhythmic pounding. The car crunches out of the drive into the road. I throw myself repeatedly at the door. I brake, my legs outstretched, feet and toes extended, but there are no brakes. I reach across to the back seat, hand outstretched towards the house. Wailing, groaning, shouting, dribbling, bubbling, thrashing, kicking. I switch between low groaning and high-pitched screaming, like an a cappella choir trying to perform while undergoing electric shock therapy. I am hot, my clothes are twisted tightly around me from the contortions, and my soft, dark curly hair is pasted to my pounding forehead. My fingers are red and sore and my feet ache. The muscles of my jaw ache and are tired. I feel sick with fear and sharp and salty with tearful anger.
We are off to the dentist.
After an eventful drive, I am led lumpenly up the concrete steps towards the sunshine yellow front door that stands sentinel over a manicured garden. I am light and could be blown away easily by a strong gust of wind, but today I plod heavily with the weight of a man five times my stamp. The concrete path has seen this all before and if I pause it will become pliable, bend itself and whip me along to cast me on the polished, red doorstep. Or the branches of the tree will rifle-butt me ruthlessly towards the portal, a sadistic hiss in their withered leaves, while the flowers smile in benign complicity. I stand quivering before the door, less than half its imposing height. The polished brass plaque is etched with the name and torture qualifications of the evil that resides within. My mother tolls the front door bell.
The door swings open and the receptionist greets us. She is ninety per cent teeth and ten per cent everything else: gleaming pearly whites on display like a brochure for what lies on the other side of the pain. Past her escapes the smell of the surgery; an antibiotic veil envelops me, freezing me to the spot. It is a unique smell; predominantly overly minty breath, with a bouquet of antiseptic, infused with nitrous oxide and oxygen, hints of pen and paper, hairspray, mild toilet cleaner, furniture polish, fresh paint and a slight smell of burning. I am no longer hot. I am cold. I turn and there is my mother – sympathetic but resolute – blocking the way back as efficiently as a sudden rockfall.
I enter the surgery. The smell is even stronger, the confident governer of the senses in this charnel house of oral hygiene. Somewhere in this house is a room filled entirely with extracted teeth, of that I am certain. Any residue of the breathable air outside has, unlike me, failed to cross the threshold. The smell is joined by sounds that render me catatonic with fear. Others like me, held against their wishes, are being tortured in this Marathon Man amusement park. I hear groaning and crying; desperate pleas of ‘no more’. Then I hear the drills, and only the drills. I can see my mother speaking with the receptionist, but I can’t hear them. All I can hear are the drills. Their sound is anarchic and out-of-control, like those who wield them are more akin to snake charmers and dangerous animal handlers than expert medical technicians.
At first there is a clean, high-pitched sound, free of resistance, head reared, ready to strike, and simply boasting speed, brutal efficiency, and the ability to cause pain. Its purpose at this point seems to be demonstrating how hopelessly outgunned its opponent is: tungsten carbide versus soft tissue and milk teeth. As the drill descends and enters the mouth, the sound changes, now slow and purposeful, closing in, seeking out its target. Then, it changes again as it finds that target and excavates. It screams louder now with insane pleasure, carving up gum, shattering bone, enamel and dentine, opening blood vessels, and exposing nerves. All the while, the man in the latex gloves steadies the drill and the nurse holds the mouth open like she’s shoring up the entrance to a mine and wields the suction tube like she’s vacuuming out a small handbag.
And the child flails around, unable to call upon any physical advantage other than acting out his complete and utter desperation to escape.
As the door to the dentist’s room opens I attempt to rally with a reinvigorated tantrum but can only manage a pathetic and barely audible whimper. I am called in. My name sounds louder than I’ve ever heard it spoken, and as clear as a death sentence.