I am moved by Lady Percy 's expression of love. CLICK HERE - see if you agree.
Otherwise my novels, short stories, verse, family, music, memories, vulgar interests, detestations,
responses, apologies. I hold posts to 300 words* having found less is better than more.
I re-comment on comments and re-re-re-comment on re-re-comments.
* One exception: short stories.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Wood for trees

Work-in-progress research (before - above; after - below)
for An Oral Problem

An Oral Problem
Short story 1532 words

Hagar was leaving the Centre by the side door when a dim figure stepped forward out of the dark. Feebly he raised his shoulder bag to defend himself; it was either that or the Financial Times, not even rolled up.

“Sorry, I’ve startled you,” said a reasonable voice. “The last thing I wanted. May I come in?”

“I’ve just set the alarm.” Hagar’s piping tone became more confident. “If I don’t close this door behind me all hell’s going to break loose.”

“Sweet Jesus, what a start! Here, let me step back while you close the door. I swear I’m just a non-harming person in need of dental help.”

“The surgery’s closed.”

“I realise that. But I have an emergency proposition.”

It was the reasonable voice that did it. Eventually he was able to re-open the side door and they sat in the patients’ waiting room lit inadequately by one bank of lights; Hagar had allowed him five minutes.

“I’ve broken a tooth,” he said, spreading his hands.

“Hardly an emergency, for God’s sake. Let me see. A lateral incisor, not even a real front tooth.”

“I’m short of time.”

Hagar shrugged. “It needs capping which means the lab’s involved. It’s a two-day job.”

He nodded. “Suppose I... made it worth your while?”

“I’m not exactly on my uppers, old sport.”

“How about a thousand? In cash.”

Hagar sat up straight. “A thousand! What’s your problem, then?”

The man waved his hand vaguely. “A woman, what else?”

“Sheesh. I hope she’s worth it. But it will still take two days.”

“Hmmm. That would be tight. Very tight.”

They sat in silence and Hagar thought about a thousand – tax-free – and what it could do for him. More particularly for Lottie, his problem woman. He spoke speculatively, “There is a temporary way round this. I could prepare that tooth for the crown, do the moulds, get them to the lab. For the forty-eight hours in between I could build up the tooth with composite; it would look OK but you’d need to be careful: stay away from apples, nuts, crunchy stuff. Would that help?”

“Would it look like a real tooth?”

“Certainly.”

Over an hour’s work but it passed pretty quickly. He said his name was Jiggs which Hagar disbelieved, but then who cared? Whenever Jiggs’ mouth wasn’t full of dental equipment he liked to ask questions about what was happening. Wanted to see the mandrel, commented on how quickly the mould paste set, asked about the diameter of the reinforcing pins (Which Hagar didn’t know.) Said that rinsing out his mouth didn’t really get rid of rogue fragments of dried-up paste. Noted that the plastic cover protecting the bulb in the overhead light was scratched. Seemed genuinely disappointed when all was done.

Hagar took half-payment and agreed to be available early evening on Thursday to finish the job. Re-set the alarm, re-locked the side door and felt the reassuringly firm wodge of five-hundred pounds in twenties in his pocket.

The house was dark when he parked in the driveway. Lottie had warned him, said she’d be late. He did scrambled eggs, burning the first four slices of toast. Watched hyenas tear the tripes out of a wildebeest on telly but fell asleep in the chair before a repeat performance involving orcas and a fur seal. Fell asleep equally quickly in bed, unaware of her joining him at three in the morning.

The police called at the Centre in the morning and he saw Detective-Sergeant Swede in the cramped little office set aside for admin matters. Swede wore a remarkably well-cut grey suit and what looked like a regimental tie; for once Hagar felt slightly vulnerable in his polyester surgical blues.

“Aren’t you cold wearing those flimsy things?” Swede asked.

“Dentistry is hard work,” said Hagar. “We keep warm.”

Very quickly it became clear that Swede knew a lot about Hagar’s impromptu patient and it became necessary to lie a little. “He told me his name was Jiggs which sounded odd. But I confess I didn’t take any more details; that would have meant activating the computer system and I wanted to concentrate on his tooth. I’ll add in the personal info when he returns on Thursday.” Hagar paused. “I haven’t even paid in the five hundred pounds yet,” he said, as casually as he could manage.

Swede, nodded, half smiling. Tax fraud wasn’t his first priority it seemed. “Let me see if I’ve got this right in lay terms, forgetting the techno-talk about lateral incisors. You’ve made him look presentable, normal if you like. No one would know one of his teeth – those that are easily seen by others – had been broken.”

“A temporary job, of course, but that’s essentially correct.”

“And he was keen – very keen – to have this done?”

“Very. Hence the one kay.”

“Would you say the tooth was broken recently?”

“Very recently. The edges of the break were still quite sharp.”

Swede nodded more decisively this time. “That fits what we suspect. Look, here’s what we have. We don’t know him but the car he used matches some other evidence which I can’t tell you about. We have CCTV footage of him parking in a street about half a mile away and walking in this direction. I’m told that your cameras have him arriving at your side door. But he’s savvy; keeps his face down. And, we think, he wanted the tooth repaired because it’s an easy identifier. What we need from you is a full description of his face. Obviously, you’d be willing to pick him out of a line-up when we get that far.”

A silence developed in the small room. A silence compounded by confusion, embarrassment and guilt. Definitely guilt. Hagar sat, his mouth half open, seemingly incapable of speech.

“What’s wrong, Mr Hagar?” Swede asked finally.

Hagar stammered, “I... I’m... not sure I’ll be able to help you, Detective-Sergeant.”

“Why the hell not, man?”

“I... I didn’t turn on all the lights in the waiting room. Didn’t seem necessary.”

Swede was exasperated. “All right, all right. Never mind about that. But for an hour you had him in your dentist’s chair, sometimes only inches away. You must know what he looks like. Better than he does himself.”

Again Hagar said nothing.

Angry now, “Mr Hagar, this is an effing murder enquiry.”

Hagar spread his hands, tears in his eyes. “To me they’re all just mouths.”

They tried, how they tried. Batteries of policeman badgered him, through the rest of the morning and into the afternoon. A pleasing voice, an interest in technology, those Hagar could confirm. The teeth yes, especially the slightly twisted molar. But as to the face...

Detective-Sergeant Swede returned as it was getting dark. Contempt had replaced anger. In two or three spitting, cutting sentences he contrived to suggest Hagar was an inadequate member of society.

“But he’ll be coming back tomorrow,” said Hagar piteously. “To have the crown fitted.”

“I wouldn’t hold your breath.”

On Thursday they waited, Hagar and half a dozen policemen, none of whom said a word to him. Until midnight when, abruptly, they stood up as a group and departed the Centre in silence, leaving Hagar to set the alarm and lock the side door.

“Just mouths,” he whispered as the last broad back passed into the dark.

At home Hagar had the novel experience of getting into a bed where Lottie already slept. Looking gorgeous and wanton, her long auburn hair spread out over the pillow. But there was no way he was able to fall asleep beside her. After ten minutes he got up, hearing her sigh, irritated, and went downstairs.

He’d undressed downstairs in order not to disturb her. He picked up his trousers and felt the roll of twenties, stiff and substantial, through the fabric. In his mind he’d already spent the money at a boutique newly opened in town. Women’s designer shoes, a ludicrous gesture. Useless too. He’d pay the cash into the practice’s account.

On the coffee table was her handbag, carelessly open. He knew that if he chose to he’d find something in it that would makes things final between them. Needless to say he would do no such thing, preferring to let matters slide for a few weeks more. Perhaps until Christmas when there’d be some artificial form of celebration.

From the start it had always been an unlikely match: he stocky and hairy-chested, she as glamorous as a fifties filmstar: Rita Hayworth say. The true explanation had quickly emerged as, post-honeymoon, he’d doggedly set to and discharged her huge mountain of debt.

He hadn’t been entirely naive, his astonishment when she had accepted him had been very real and she’d seen he needed reassurance. Though nothing that would tax her imagination. “Love at first sight,” she had said airily. “Probably the same with you,” she added even more airily. Foolishly he hadn’t taken it any further.

Very foolish indeed, he suddenly realised, remembering their first meeting. She’d been worried about the discolouration of one of her teeth, a lateral incisor to be exact.

A mouth in fact, a mouth well remembered. And then it seemed they were married.

7 comments:

Ellena said...

You sure know how to weave a detective story. I won't say more for fear of spoiling my compliment.

MikeM said...

Bravo! How have you managed to avoid greater fame? Typo sixth to last para..."her" for "here".

Sir Hugh said...

Two personal traits recalled by this. I have a bad time recognising faces which has often lead to embarrassment, and puzzlement from those close to me at my failing with which they fail to empathise. Hagar's failure in this department is so credible to me.

The second is more interesting. "They sat in silence..." When I am back-packing and arrive at, say a pub, and it is full I don't accept that as the final word - I persist and emphasise my problem, then let silence work. Often this promotes further consideration, and possibly intervention by onlookers, and so often it results in constructive suggestions about other nearby accommodation. Father also used the power of silence on the telephone - he would ring, ostensibly for a chat, then go silent, and I would find myself desperately thinking of something to say, then telling him things that I later wished I hadn't. I learnt to use the technique in my job when negotiating terms with a client by stating my case then sticking it out to make the client next to speak - like being the server in a tennis match - it gives you the upper hand.

The story is so well observed - the folly of males falling for attractive women and ending up with all sorts of troubles.

Roderick Robinson said...

Ellena: Not just a crime story but an admonition from the government, urging folk to brush twice daily. I'm being paid (secretly) by the NHS.

MikeM: Thanks for spotting the typo, now corrected. Why am I not more widely recognised? No one likes a smart-ass. More by email.

Sir Hugh: In 2¼ hr time I'm due at the dentist to have the second part of my capping done. I shall thank C for her help, I shall quote MikeM's comment that (by implication) I deserve worldwide recognition for my most recent short story which mentions, thanks to C, a mandrel. She'll be baffled. The capping may go awry but it's all grist to the mill.

I must confess I started out intending this story to be comic: the dentist as social cripple, only able to identify people at cocktail parties by prizing open their jaws and counting their teeth. Drummed out of the tennis club. But as usual the story took over and went its own way.

There is another angle: failing to recognise people out of context. After 17 years of using Tesco I'm familiar with most of the old-stager women who work the check-outs. But occasionally I see them them in the store, in civvies, shorn of their uniform, doing their own shopping. I say to myself: but you can't be this quite different person, you work the peeping scanner.

I'm glad reflection born out of silence works in real-life; it certainly works far too often in fiction and I'm as guilty as anyone. That particular moment is a shorthand way of proclaiming a change of theme. Mother was particularly vulnerable to Father's silence technique and I fear it backfired (quite accidentaly) when he used it with me; often I'd tell him something he didn't want to hear. So there'd be silence at both ends of the line.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

A very good short story. A compliment, which I will elaborate only by saying that
I've just this moment come across an interview with the writer Susan Hill (whose work I don't know) and I'm copying below something she said which may be useful to you, in case you're considering publishing your short stories(if not, why not?) Approaching Amazon Kindle's editors could be a way in.

"...A couple of years ago, Hill was invited by Amazon to write short fiction for its Kindle Single format. “I hadn’t written short stories for quite a while and because Kindle Singles are properly edited in-house, I was happy to contribute on those terms. It’s very hard to sell an individual short story unless it’s very short: magazines tend to want 2,000 words, which is not my ideal length. Kindle Singles are 5,000 or more. So I wrote one, and it did incredibly well, and I’ve now done three more.”

Roderick Robinson said...

Natalie: I appreciate this suggestion very much indeed and there may be something in it. It is, of course, very much against the grain as a quick glance at any literary agent's website will show: many say they are open for novels but are not interested in short stories. The belief is, rightly or wrongly, that most readers hardly read short stories.

Parenthetically I should add that a small publisher is presently looking at a collection of my short stories, sent in response to the pubisher's mild show of interest. Whatever the outcome I am warmed by the fact that anyone is prepared to take even this initial step.

But you touch on a thorny issue. Publicising my novels, other than via my blog and sending extracts off to agents, is a hideous drag. I tell myself I'd rather be writing (which is true) but the fact is I'm temperamentally British when it comes to self-aggrandisement. Well-meaning friends have said: surely you want to be read. I do! I do! Almost more than anything else in the world! But even more I faint-heartedly hope that through some magic, unimaginable process their value will make itself known without my intervention.

I did even think of paying someone to publicise my novels but a friend, more savvy about publishing than me, discouraged me.

Meanwhile, with four novels written and complete I am, as you may have noticed, delicately exploring a fifth. The fact is I'm short of time, I recognise (even if no one else does) that I'm getting better at novels and that remains the lodestone.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, I'm glad that my suggestion could lead to action, if this is a hint that it might:
"...there may be something in it."

Although I was well aware that:
"...I'm temperamentally British when it comes to self-aggrandisement."

You could overcome this British impediment by consulting your own criteria for what Works Well. Simple pragmatism, nuts-and-bolts reasoning: "I want to be published. My work is good enough to be published. Therefore it is not self-aggrandisement to take bold, effective steps in that direction."

I realise you've already taken some steps and I hope the publisher currently looking at your short stories will say Yes. But Amazon Kindle Singles could be a door to firmly knock on. And why not also submit some short stories to relevant magazines? In the meantime.