Benny rubbed his jaw for the third time during their game, and Beth couldn’t help but ask.
“What’s wrong with your mouth?” She moved her rook.
“Nothing,” he lied.
“Don’t bullshit me,” she rolled her eyes as he contemplated blocking with the knight, “you keep messing with your jaw.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, settling on a pawn move instead. “A toothache. Probably had something too acidic.”
She dropped it, but only until he massaged it again, tensely stretching his mouth. “You should go to the dentist.”
“Don’t have one here,” he grunted stubbornly. “I’ll take an aspirin and it’ll be fine. It’s nothing.”
“It’s not,” she insisted. “I’m going to make you an appointment with my dentist.” She captured his rook and pushed back, heading for the phone.
They got an appointment the next day, and by the time it rolled around, Benny was glad that she had made it. Even with a hefty dose of aspirin coursing through his system, he could barely open his mouth, refusing anything but coffee and some soup. Though he insisted that he could drive-- “It’s fucking Kentucky , I could drive half-dead and still get where we’re going” --, Beth persuaded him to take the bus, and he obliged, gritting his teeth as another wave of pain washed over him.
Benny lounged in the dentist’s chair as Beth perched on a stool by his side. Though she had forced Benny to go, Beth did not like dentists. There was something about the fluorescent lights, the damp smell, and the scrape of metal against enamel that put her on edge.
The dentist, a grey-haired man, came into the room with heavy footsteps, shaking Benny’s hand and giving Beth a friendly wave as he introduced himself as Dr. Forsyth.
“Tooth pain, hm?” Benny nodded miserably, his jaw too tense to even properly reply. “Let’s lean you back and take a look.” The doctor cranked the chair back, pulling a wheeled stool over and snapping on a pair of latex gloves. Benny opened his mouth, grimacing in pain, and the dentist prodded inside with his tiny mirror. He hummed concernedly. “Have you had your wisdom teeth removed?” he asked. Benny grunted a negative around the dentist’s hands, which were still in his mouth. Another second of poking around in his mouth, and then the dentist pulled back. “We’ll need to take some x-rays, but I think your wisdom teeth are severely impacted.”
“Will he need them taken out?” Beth asked.
“If the impaction is causing the pain,” Dr. Forsyth explained, “then yes. Now,” he turned to Benny, “if you’ll come back with me, we can get those images of your mouth.” Benny obliged, following him into a small room as Beth waited. He returned a few minutes later, and the doctor returned a few minutes after that, holding some dark sheets. He pinned the x-rays to a light box on the wall, illuminating the images of Benny’s teeth, and pointed to the last ones on the top and bottoms of his mouth, which were almost perpendicular to the others.
“Your teeth are, in fact, severely impacted, and have begun pushing on the roots of the molars, which explains the pain,” the dentist explained. “I’d recommend that they be removed as soon as possible, so they don’t cause an infection or further shifting of your tooth alignment.”
“How soon is as soon as possible?” Beth asked concernedly.
Dr. Forsyth ran a finger down a piece of paper on the desk behind him. “Looks like there was a cancellation in an hour and a half,” he said. Benny and Beth both balked slightly. “I think it would be best if it happened today, to relieve the pain, if nothing else.” The promise of relief was tempting, quelling his nerves, but did nothing for Beth’s.
“Isn’t that a little soon?” she asked anxiously.
“I really think it’s for the best,” the dentist repeated. “It’s a very routine, safe procedure, and it would ease his pain quite a bit.”
Benny nodded, and turned to Beth. “I want to do it,” he said firmly. She bit her lip to keep from objecting.
He’s an adult , she thought. Besides, I’m the one that forced him to go in the first place.
“Alright,” the doctor clapped his hands together, “then it’s settled. We’ll start getting you prepped.” He turned to Beth. “Unfortunately, you’re going to have to head to our waiting room now. We’ll come and get you once he’s finished.”
“I’ll be okay,” he mumbled as best as he could through the pain, reaching over to give her hand a squeeze. Mustering her courage for him, she smiled tightly, returning his squeeze, before heading out into the waiting room.
For two hours, she busied herself playing chess on the peg set that she carried in her purse and idly flipping through magazines. She comprehended neither activity, doing them vacantly and robotically to occupy her time until the receptionist came out.
It wasn’t just that Beth disliked dentists. Her mind kept wandering back to Benny, who was undoubtedly knocked out cold by now. She remembered reading about the side effects of anaesthesia in her high school science textbook. Nausea, confusion, and death. Her heart beat faster with the last one, faster than she cared to admit.
“Watts?” the receptionist called. Beth’s head instantly jerked up from the magazine she had been staring blankly at, and she stuffed it back onto the rack.
Eyes half open and staring blankly, Benny was slumped in the dental chair, a piece of gauze hanging out the side of his mouth and an ice pack resting between his jaw and his shoulder. The oral surgeon, a balding, friendly-looking man, turned to Beth as she entered the room.
“You must be Mr. Watts’ companion,” he said, and she nodded. “The surgery was routine, and he’s starting to come around.” Benny’s eyes had a flicker of recognition as Beth placed her hand over his, and he grunted. “He’s had a dose of nitrous oxide to sedate him, but he should be back to normal within half an hour. I’ll write a prescription for something to dull the pain, which he can take with aspirin, if needed. He should gargle a glass of water with a teaspoon of salt to flush his mouth after he eats, but he’s okay to eat whenever he feels up to it.”
“Beth?” Benny croaked, not lifting his head.
“Yeah?” she asked gently, looking down at him.
“My teeth .” His voice was muffled by the gauze.
“The dentist took them out,” she said patiently.
“He took my teeth ?” Benny asked, panicked. “My teeth!”
Beth tried to suppress a giggle as the dentist handed her the prescription and retreated out of the room. “He took the ones out that hurt.”
“But they were my teeth,” Benny said sadly.
“Yeah,” Beth agreed, then tried to change the subject. “Let’s head home, okay?”
“Where did they go?” Benny patted his jaw with both hands. Beth ignored him and helped him up, steadying him as he swayed. “I don’t have any left.”
“You do,” she reassured. “He just took the ones that hurt. It’ll make you feel better.”
This seemed to satisfy Benny as they walked-- or, in Benny’s case, stumbled-- out of the office and to the bus stop. He tugged on a lock of her hair. “It’s nice that you have red hair.”
“It is?” she asked amusedly.
“Yeah,” he said. “It’s red .” He paused, a look of horror crossing his face. “The dentist didn’t take my hair ?”
Beth couldn’t hold in her laughter any longer. “No,” she chuckled, “you’ve still got your hair.” Benny still looked fretful. “Here,” she took his hand and placed it on top of his head, “see, it’s still there.”
The bus pulled up in front of them, and she helped him organize his feet to mount the steps. Once at the top, he plopped down in the closest seat, Beth settling in beside him. He watched the streets go by as the bus drove off, and then suddenly snapped his head back to her.
“Beth,” he whispered urgently, gauze making him lisp.
“Yeah?” she replied.
“I need--” he paused, seeming to lose the word, “I need a kiss. ”
Beth felt a fond warmth bloom in her chest, and then felt it fade when she saw Benny’s state. “No kisses for you,” she said, patting his knee. “Not until you stop drooling all over your face.”
“But Beth ,” he whined, “a kiss?”
“A hug,” she compromised, throwing an arm over his shoulder and giving it a squeeze. He reached over and sloppily pressed his mouth onto her cheek. It was not pleasant, full of slimy gauze soaked with saliva and blood. “Benny,” she gently pushed him back, “that is gross.” A drop of spit dripped from his gauze onto her pant leg as he smiled crookedly at her, and she wiped it off with the corner of his coat.
“My mouth hurts,” he complained. “I want to go home.”
“We are,” she reassured. “Five more minutes, and then we’ll be home. I’ll ask Jolene to fill your prescription, and you’ll feel better.”
“Beth,” he repeated, leaning in like he had a secret to tell her. “I love you.”
I love you s did not come easily to Beth nor Benny. His was helped along by the cocktail of drugs coursing through his system and loosening his lips. Beth did not have any such advantage, but, as Benny’s saliva dribbled onto her pants and he gazed up at her with puppy-dog eyes, it slipped out of her mouth too.
“I love you, too.”