Ever since I moved to the countryside my body has started to fall apart.
One thing that has been a recurring issue has been my oral health. A couple of years ago my dentist told me that I had the gums of a fifty year old. I remedied this issue by never going back to the dentist. I mean, a dentist never gave me advice about my mouth that I hadn’t already heard on a chewing gum ad.
Now, I brush consistently but I am perhaps not the most thorough brusher. I think I’m supposed to brush my teeth for 5 minutes but 5 minutes is a really long time. I usually just base my it on how long the person standing beside me brushes their teeth. At least that is how I did it when I had a girlfriend.
Now my ex-girlfriend, she was a thorough brusher, I’ll always remember that about her. I would sort of copy her brushing technique and this generally put me in good stead. But after we broke up I found myself brushing for shorter and shorter amounts of time perhaps because I am lazy or perhaps because it reminded me of her and standing alone in a bathroom, brushing my teeth with my tears is a fairly depressing thought
But this I think is the root-cause of an issue I’ve been facing. Time after time I’ve found myself looking down at my toothbrush coated in a pink amalgam of blood and Colgate. Things reached a particularly worrying new height when some of my gum literally peeled off my mouth and I swallowed it. WebMD has told me it could be either gum recession or tuberculosis.
That part of the story is relevant, I swear.
Last week I had arranged to go to Melbourne to see my ex-girlfriend for brunch. It has been over a year since we broke up and I was following Jerry Seinfeld’s advice that you haven’t truely broken up with somebody until you’ve gone out for a scone with them.
But beyond having a scone moment I also wanted this to be my moment. It was a chance to show my ex-girlfriend just how surprisingly intact my life has become: I’m making decent wage in an interesting job, I’ve done a bit of travel recently and I’m reading more fiction than ever.
To this effect, I had set up a series of small contrivances with which I intended to boost my, shall we call it, cache. You know to make it really seem that I had come a long way. First, I began my morning with a bit of exercise, to get that pumped up look. Then, after I finished my push-up, I headed around the corner and got a haircut. The hairdresser has generally been a place I avoid more than the dentist but I’ve struck up a good rapport with my current ‘stylist’ and I find conversation generally flows well. Anyway, it was while getting my haircut and laughing heartily at a joke I had told that I noticed something in my reflection: a thin red stripe between two of my teeth.
I instantly stopped laughing and snapped my mouth shut. I felt around the area with the tip of my tongue, the tell-tale metallic taste of blood. I spent the remainder of my hair appointment with my lips curled over my teeth trying to avoid giving anything away. After my hair had been cut, I thanked my hairdresser without opening my mouth and, as I made my way to the tram stop, made a mental note never to return. What a shame.
I arrived by tram in Fitzroy, one of the hipper parts of Melbourne, and made my way to the café where we had arranged to meet. I was early so after finding a seat, I retrieved the book I am currently reading, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ 100 Years of Solitude and held up with the cover displayed as prominently as possible so other patrons would register that I was reading it. Deploying literature was another one of my careful contrivances along with my pumped guns and trendy haircut.
I peeked over the book and noticed that several other customers were also reading Marquez titles in a similarly showy way. They all had furrowed brows and I wondered if they were finding him as impenetrable as I have been. I can barely get my head around who is who because Marquez keeps killing off characters and then introducing new ones with almost identical names. Nevertheless, my eyes continued reaching the bottom of page after page even if my brain was not absorbing a single bit of it.
So there I was, concentrating on working out who the hell Remedios was in the story when a voice interrupted my confusion. “How are you enjoying the book?” Came a heavy Irish accent. I looked up at a waiter who, with his long hair tied into a top-knot and laces of delicate tattoos weaving elaborately down his arms reminded me of Jose Buendia (or was it Jose Arcadio?).
“Oh I really like it.” I fibbed.
“Yeah, it’s one of my favourite books. Have you read any of his other work?”
“Well I read Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” (this is a lie: we were set it to read in Third Year Spanish and the furthest I ever got was the title on the front cover. It has since languished in my bookshelf.) “But this is in a league of its own.”
I smiled at the waiter and his eyes flicked at something. Steering away from our dishonest conversation about the merits of Marquez’ canon he said with a note of discomfort in his voice. “I think you cut your gum or something, there is a bit of blood on your teeth.”
I wiped my mouth with the back of my hand and looked down at a rust coloured smear drying onto the skin. Meanwhile, I tried to play it cool and continue our conversation, “So have year read any of his other…”, but I had to wipe again, this time I used my index finger staining it with blood too. It was too late to remedy the situation, the waiter, obviously perturbed by watching me coat my right hand with blood, abruptly terminated the conversation, “Well good luck with the book.” He turned on his heel and left me to work out how to stem the humiliating trickle. I rinsed but this only caused the blood to abate momentarily, soon that metallic taste had filled my mouth. I decided on a drastic course of action and tearing a napkin from the dispenser I crammed it beneath my upper lip. Just like the dentist used to do with those little cotton tubes.
As I did this I noticed my ex walk in. I obscured my face behind my book and pretended I was completely engrossed by it when I heard her voice. “Hi Rupert!”
I looked up feigning surprise. She glanced at the wad of tissues stuffed beneath my upper lip which was causing it to protrude absurdly.
“Amy! Helho, grey to see oo.” I hugged her and said, “wa a shurpishe!”
“Surprise? But we were planning on meeting, remember?” She was being polite and ignoring the lisp that my napkin had given me.
“Oh, yersh of courshe I remember shilly! How are shoe?”
“Good. Good.” She replied draping her jacket on the back of her chair she sat down opposite me. “So tell me everything, how’s life?!”
“Oh life ish grey.” I leant back confidently, despite the napkin stuffed into my mouth, and threw my hands behind my head, “I’m teashing hishry now.”
She was quiet for a moment, trying to process the words but gave up and replied, “Teasing what?”
I leant forward to correct her, “No not teashing, teashing! I’m teashing hishry.”
“Oh teaching history! I couldn’t understand what you were saying.” She laughed.
“Oh you can’t undershtand me?” I said, “Thash becaush I’ve goth thish bandage in my mouf. Ith because I have” I paused, what? What did I have?! Make it something convicing!
But it didn’t matter because in an amazing display of bad timing the napkin dislodged itself from my mouth and dropped pathetically onto the table. We both stared at the bloodied scroll as it weakly unfurled itself in front of us revealing its true nature as a paper table napkin. I sighed and brushed it off the table. What a waste of a push-up. By telling her I had consumption I had ruined my carefully laid plans to come across as totally together. I had self-destructed and was left with only one other option: ask how she’s doing.
“I’m doing well,” she said , “I’ve just started my postgrad degree.”
“Oh yeah?” I asked without looking up, “what in?”
She stopped a beat before answering.