Here is a remake of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s little masterpiece, “One of These Days,” I wrote the other day. Athough Garcia Marquez wrote it in the late ’50s/ early 60’s about the Colombian “violencia,” the story seems so apropos for the civil, so far, civil war we currently find ourselves in, especially regarding gun violence:
One of These Days
The general came in holding his jaw with one hand and supporting himself with an ebony cane with an ivory handle carved like an elephant with the other hand. It was was swollen much more than the day before—nearly the size a plum sagging from his jaw, unshaven.
“Is Grainger in?” he mumbled out of the good side of his mouth. “An immediate root canal is essential!” He had trouble saying this. “I must see him today. I am doing TV shows this weekend. He must see me today!” He stroked his bushy mustache.
“He is in, indeed, Hon’,” she said, smiling politely and nervously. “He’s just in from his morning racing practice at Snowland.”
“Well then! What are we waiting for? Tell him I want this done now,” he said as best he could. His normal mellifluous baritone was higher pitched, strained, shrinking. He inhaled deeply and slowly and closed his eyes in pain. He was a short, stubby cigar of a man. Retired Air Force. Adjunct Faculty member at the Academy. Popular Talk show host…AM 1050.
“He is not seeing patients today.”
The General pulled his .45 from his shoulder holster. He grinned a rumpled, crazed smile. “Please tell him I want to see him. Now! No guff this time.” He gently touched the infected area on his jaw with the back of his trigger finger, as if it were a dark purple egg nested in a tuft of cactus needles, winter light gleaming through the front windows directly onto it.
As usual, he was wearing his ascot and had a carnation pinned to the lapel of his blazer. He waved his gun in the air, pointing toward the security door that led to the examination and operating rooms, and then he aimed directly at her forehead. “Go on, now.”
Earlier that morning, Dr. Granger twisted his knee by catching his ski tip on a fast giant slalom course. It was the fourteenth gate, and he was going well in the clear winter morning at 7:00 am. Then he was twisted up in the frosty netting. He certainly didn’t want to see any patients now, except for little Lily, his four o’clock, who had barely survived the theater shooting and needed so much reconstruction.
He was sitting at his stainless steel worktable in his lab that was nicely appointed with the most modern equipment and gadgets, in Fountain, Colorado, a small town south of Colorado Springs, where he was the only dentist and oral surgeon in the area. He was wearing his Hawaiian shirt and scrubs, crafting a platinum grill for a guy who’d been curb-checked. The guy was lucky not to have had a bullet also schooled into his brain. Drug dealers, he thought. Good money and lots of expensive dental work. He rubbed his knee. It felt good to sit and do the intricate work.
His matronly assistant appeared at his open door in her blue, flowered smock. Usually, the woman who had been with him for seventeen years was unflappable, but she was pale and her neck muscles were strained. “Doctor. I think you’re going to have to see him. Really. Five days you’ve put him off and now he’s pulled a gun on me.” She forced a smile.
“You are fricking kidding me. I told him to call Clint Washington in Denver.” Granger opened his drawer and pulled out his .22. He’d bought it years ago to teach his son how to handle a gun, shooting tin cans and bottles at the range.
She rolled her eyes. “He has a really damned big gun.”
“Okay. Tell him to come back here. Get room number two ready and take some pictures of that tooth after we speak.
The General appeared at the door holding his gun steady and trained on Grainger. Grainger was leaning back in his chair, two-fisting his gun and aiming carefully at the general’s multi-jowled jaw.
“I told you a couple days ago to call Dr. Washington.”
“Come on, Doc,” he mumbled. “You know I don’t trust those kind of doctors.” He paused and closed his eyes. He swallowed and gingerly touched around the infection. “It’s an M.D. diploma he has on his wall, but you never know.” He managed a kind of bark. “There are those Caribbean med schools that write degrees to anyone who has the money.”
“He went to Temple University. A strong school.” Grainger said. “Looks pretty bad from here. I’d have to take a closer look, of course.” He refocused his aim. “I suppose I could relieve the problem right here, right now, though it might go through your brain too.” He, himself, hadn’t shaven for three days, but he flashed his big, bright white smile.
“Candy?” He reached into the drawer and tossed the general a cherry-flavored Jolly Rancher.
The general deftly deflected it with his gun as he leaned on his cane, the candy careening against the wall and bouncing onto the floor. He frowned and gritted his teeth in anger and then winced from the sudden movement, his fingertips turning white as he worried the smooth, yellowed ivory of his cane. He re-aimed and cocked the gun with his other hand. He was sweating and holding himself in steady agony.
“Ok.” Granger smiled. “Let’s take a look.”
“Thank you, sir.” He uncocked the gun and slid it back underneath his blazer.
“You’re too old to be racing, Doc,” the general muttered as Grainger limped into the room, gritting his teeth and shaking off the pain. His assistant had opened the x-ray files on the computer screen. He adjusted the multi-jointed arm. The general reclined in the dental chair, nervously, continuing to brush his whiskers on his swollen jaw lightly with his stubby, nail-bitten fingers.
“You should,” the general said, grimacing, “get that checked out,” He pointed to Grainger’s knee as he was snapping on his latex gloves.
“Or just put me out of my misery. Shoot me like an old stud,” Granger laughed.
“Good Lord. Amen, brother. There’s another reason!” The general said, whispering, pressing hard on his forehead with the palm of his hand, his eyes shut tightly. It throbbed and the pressure throughout his head distorted his focus. He now felt himself saying, as the pain now daggered and throbbed, ”Those idiots claim there are so many suicides because of guns.” The flowers on Grainger’s shirt were rotating. He would persevere through this misery, by God. He had to spread his message like Paul Revere. “Clearly, that is another false argument for why they are going to take away our guns! It’s your goddamned, God-given, (excuse my French, dear Jesus), right to take yourself out. Jefferson understood that, I tell you.” The general clenched his fist in the air. He rested for a moment. “Who defines pursuit of happiness? Suicide has nothing to do with the 2nd Amendment!” The pain seared. Throbbing. Not much could keep him from talking but this had just about done him in.
“I was joking, General.” Grainger surveyed his tools.
“This is no joking matter.” He hadn’t slept now for many days. He’d once heard medics use the term “exquisite pain.” This was perfectly apt at the moment. The pain bubbled through him like mudpots at Yellowstone. “You know he’s a King George down deep,” He croaked in pain. “Just you wait. Oh dear Lord this pain is intense. He will declare a state of emergency just before his second term is up and suspend the election. Sweet Lord, the pain is exquisite,” he spat.
“General,” Grainger said. “You might want to take it down a notch, relax and breathe. Let me get to work.”
“You can bet it takes a lot of guns and ammo to match the firepower of the United States military!” the general spewed a fog of rancidness and spittle leaked from the bad side of his mouth. “Been there, seen that for twenty plus years! They are stooges. All of ‘em. You know Americans invented guerilla warfare. Overthrow the Czar!” He howled in pain. He felt dizzy. Grainger’s face contracted and expanded. The clock on the wall was melting or was that a painting? “I’ll be the widow-maker if I have to, dear Jesus ! Good Lord, I have a TV appearance. You’d better fix me up quick and good doc.” Tears leaked from the corner of his eyes as he grimaced, inching down the sides his mottled face. He wiped them as inconspicuously as possible with the back of his hand.
“No worries. Open up, please.” Granger said, turning on his forehead lamp. He pulled up his mask and looked through his high-powered magnifying glasses. “Let’s take a look.”
“You been listening to me, right? Every day. 585 AM. 6-10 a.m.” Granger nodded vaguely, and the general appeared satisfied with the barest return of a nod and opened his mouth.
His teeth were as thick as a pig’s and yellowed from chewing tobacco and drinking coffee. He hadn’t been using his whitening trays. Two of rear molars were capped with gold. The bridge he had done two years before was holding up nicely but he was going to have to drill right through the crown to get to the infected root. He regarded the x-rays.
“OK.” Grainger said. He called his assistant. “This could hurt. Could be hard to get you numb. The inferior alveolar nerve is right there. It’s going to be tight.”
The general nodded somberly. “You oughtta cut the pony tail, doc. You’re a balding old man. 60? Right?”
“Fifty-seven. That’s what my wife says too, but I say screw you all!” He laughed, flashing his pearlies. “What a life I live, eh? I make enough money to support my expensive habits…addictions. Skiing. Making infinite turns. It’s addicting, I tell you. No idiots or boarders in the way. Clean, cold air in God’s cathedrals!
“Really? Addiction? You freely admit that. Not a hobby? Oh God.”
“Admit it, General. You’ve got one too. It’s fun to squeeze off a couple hundred rounds with an AR-15 and tear apart a cow, right? Why? We all have our childhood traumas, don’t we?” Grainger said matter of factly. “First time I held a Colt .45 in my hand was when I was eight. I still can remember that rush of power, the weight, the blue-black metal, the finely machined instrument. I suddenly felt invincible. I had power, real power in my hands. Then I was told to fire it and it scared the shit out of me. Threw me back hard against my dad who was holding me. I nearly hit both of us in the face with the recoil. My ears rang for weeks.” He paused. “I have more fun carving turns. It’s what I was meant to do.” Granger said and loaded the syringe. “Open and relax.”
He inserted the needle into the dark, pinkish gum. The thick liquid of the abscess flowed out around the needle as he poked and prodded. “Damn, it’s going to be hard to get this numb.” The general was breathing furiously. Grainger jiggled his cheek trying to distribute the anesthetic as evenly as possible, finding room for more of it. You should be good and numb in a few minutes….or not.”
“That hurt, Doc,” the General mumbled. Grainger wiped the General’s mouth with the blue paper bib.
“There’s a lot of pus in there, General, a lot of fluid and pressure. Yep. It hurts at first. No doubt about it.” He grinned, patted the General’s chest and feeling the location and hardness of the gun.
“That’s good. I like that. It hurts at first,” the general barked. “I think I’ll use that. My listeners will like it. If we put armed guards in schools, it may hurt at first, but we will lance the problem of gun violence like an abscessed tooth!!” The general paused. He tested his cheek with finger. “Shitfucktohellandbackinabucket!” The general shook his head. “We must be able to protect ourselves. Good God, I’ll say it again and again. The only way to deal with a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, right, man? We’ won’t let ‘em touch your guns, Doc. We are free!!! Don’t you worry!”. We’re rolling out a shooter game app for first graders! “Protect your teacher!” Pretty good, eh?” He sank back into the chair tried to smile but his face squeezed up in pain, his multiple jowls tightening. “I don’t think this anesthetic is working, Doc. I need something stronger.“
“That’s the highest grade I got.”
“No laughing gas?”
“Not today. Out.”
“I’ll give you a little more,” Granger said. He inserted a new vial into his syringe. “Double.”
“Open,” he said and pushed the anesthetic in quickly, forcefully, and not completely gently.
The General immediately arched and groaned making fists under his smock. After the pain subsided, he said, “Damn, doc. Worse than the flak in ‘Nam. You served, right?”
Granger shook his head no.
“You are an old hippy aren’t you?” the general said between gasps. “Smoking weed. Skiing the bumps, “dude” instead of fighting for freedom! What are you doing? Trying to hang onto that era and politics with that stringy ponytail and balding top? You may be in great shape and ski fast and have the best of reputations, but I’m not sure you’re fully aware of the seriousness of our situation.”
Grainger adjusted his glasses. “Open,” he said and tested the air-power drill with a few quick, zipping bursts. ”Now you will pay for little Lily,” he said without rancor, but rather bitter tenderness. “And even for the drug dealers.”
He drilled fast and deep, with the precision and nerve of a downhiller. The general bowed in pain. He yowled and sweated as Granger worked. “I’m not numb!” he managed once, but he held as steady as he could, coldly stealing himself as he’d listened to the grinding and smelled the burning of tooth.
“Then you’re not going to get numb. Too much infection. Sorry.” Grainger continued relentlessly as the deeply unpleasant, yeasty smell of the abscess released like lava from the tooth. He vacummed and drilled and cleaned out the pulp. The general flailed, his tortoise-like belly raising in the air, his boots pegged to the stirrups of the chair. Grainger continued to express the absess and suction the tooth until he finally he’d cleaned it, the General writhing and gripping the padded armrests of the chair.
Then Grainger irrigated and went in with the minuscule file and worked out the offending root as the general jerked and recoiled, gurgling in pain, gasping for breaths. He pulled the nerve out, dangling it from the tip of the file in front of the general’s gaze, a bloody pinworm. “See that? I got that sucker in one piece!” he said looking at it through his magnifying glasses. Then he wiped it on a gauze pad on his instrument table.
The general was breathing exhausted, his eyes baggy and red. Granger undid the bib and then snapped off the general’s smock like a matador. The general ripped off his ascot and wiped his mouth and patted his forehead and the top of his crewcut. He leaned back into the chair, eyes closed, seemingly thankful to be alive and not in pain. Grainger slowly slid his hand under the general’s blazer and pulled the gun from the holster. He causally held it millimeters away from the general’s forehead. “You see, guns aren’t always the protection you think they are. The bad guys can take them away from you.” The general opened his eyes, terrified and then submitted to his apparently dire predicament.
“Kill me if you want. I made it past the Cong and now a demented dentist will do me in.” He swallowed, drained. He managed and smiled a wrinkled, fat-lipped grin. “Amazing how pain can disappear so instantly after torturing you for so long.”
Granger slid the gun back into the holster.
“Dry your tears,” he said patting the general’s chest, thinking of racing through the gates again, going through the them over and over, sliding over the crystalline whiteness was where he was free from the relentless tragedies. He threw the general a clean towel.
“Send the bill,” the General said.
“To you or the PAC?”
The General didn’t look at him as he wiped himself and ran his fingers over his bristly scalp. He tossed the towel into the hamper at the rear of the room, turned, and just before he tromped down the hallway, he said:
“What Fricking Ever.”