The International Writers Magazine: Life Stories
A Truly Lousy Day
Paul Lerner awoke with a feeling of dread. Why? Oh, yes, D-Day, the dentist that afternoon. Only a check-up, but it didn’t matter. As a child of the Depression (the real one), who’d gone to cut-rate neighborhood dentists when a kid, drill buzzing away, no anesthetics, pain while helpless in the chair, going to the dentist would always be an ordeal.
He only hoped no new bad thing would be found with his 80-year old teeth. Also, it had rained the day before, to the delight of the local forecasters, who greeted any type of bad weather as wonderful news. Paul hated to drive in the rain. It was going to be a lousy day.
He saw that his wife Sally was already out of bed; he might as well get up and face the music. As was his habit, he turned on his computer and checked his e-mails. Uh, oh, more bad news. An e-mail from the editor of one of the online magazines that printed his stories saying that he was discontinuing it, a victim of the recession. Paul had somehow become a writer after his retirement, doing articles for his local paper, then for a senior paper, and also short stories for online magazines. As it happened, the editor of another one of his magazines had put it on hiatus because of the death of her husband. Another one, once out monthly, now came out quarterly. His markets were drying up.
When Paul told Sally he was losing markets for his stories, she told him he should start looking for some others. His wife was always sensible. After breakfast, he checked the calendar. He had to bring his car in for a smog check and they also wanted to get their annual flu shots. You’d think that being retired they had all the time in the world to do such things, but Sally had something doing every day the next week: chorus practice, lunch, bridge game, who knew what else. Paul wanted to get the smog and flu shots done because no rain was forecast next week. He asked Sally again (they’d discussed this already) if there was any day she could go. Sally was sensible, but she had a family trait, no one in her family could reach a quick decision. They went back and forth over this again until finally Paul lost his temper (he was feeling edgy anyway) and said, “For Christ sakes, just pick one day so we can get it done.” Sally agreed she could miss one chorus practice so they’d go on that day, but she wasn’t happy and Paul knew he could look forward to chilly relations for a while. The lousy day was getting lousier.
Paul didn’t feel very much like going out (it was still raining), but he had some errands to run: the library, the bank, the supermarket. At the library, he couldn’t find a decent book; he finally took a novel he’d once read but a long time ago. He couldn’t bear to have nothing to read; it made him physically uneasy. He had to stand on a long line with mothers and their kids, all taking out millions of books; this didn’t make him any happier.
The line at the bank wasn’t as bad, but there were four windows and only two tellers. He could see other bank people standing around seemingly with nothing to do. Why not have one be a teller when people were waiting? When he finally reached a window he deposited the check for his monthly senior paper column. He also asked the teller, a young woman, for his current balance. “All right, Paul,” she said. Paul? He didn’t know they were on such friendly terms. He hated it when young people called him by his first name. She gave him the slip with his balance on it, a few thousand dollars, and asked, “Paul, are you comfortable with all that money in one place?”
They had a large bill due for painting their house, the reason for the large balance, but what business was it of this snippy young woman? “Yes, I’m comfortable,” he replied. He took his slip, turned around and left. When he got back into his car, he realized that was the second time that morning he’d lost his temper. He considered himself a pretty laid-back person and usually he was. It was the impending dental appointment. The news about the online magazine didn’t help. Neither did the weather.
After lunch, a light one as he had no appetite, Paul drove to the dentist. As on cue, the rain became harder and at one point he could barely see ahead. He drove slowly and of course the driver behind honked his horn. Idiot! That’s why people had accidents. Finally, he reached the dental office, late, but as usual he had to wait anyway. That was obligatory. And as usual his apprehension mounted as he waited. Once in the chair, he felt as if pinned down with no control over what happened to him. Olga, the dental hygienist, was another young woman, conscientious but talkative. While she scaled his teeth she carried on a one-sided conversation, telling him about her new apartment, her new dog, her planned vacation in Hawaii. Occasionally, she asked him a question, such as “Had he traveled anywhere recently himself?” He could only grunt an answer.
When the cleaning was finally done, seeming to have taken forever, his dentist, Dr. Barrow, came in for a look. Barrow was a large, beefy man, always cheerful. He poked about in Paul’s mouth, saying “Uh, uh. Uh, uh” What did that mean? A cavity? A crumbling bridge? The dentist straightened up and said, “You’re holding your own. Surprised that one tooth hasn’t broken, just a filling. See you in another few months.” Paul breathed the proverbial sigh of relief, feeling much happier already. Maybe it wasn’t such a lousy day after all.
As if in keeping with Paul’s new mood, when he exited the dental building the gray skies had given way to blue and the sun was shining. Driving back was much better. It helped to see. His route always took him past a MacDonald’s. Sally like their milkshakes. He stopped and got her one, strawberry, her favorite. When he reached home, he gave it to her; it was a peace offering. “How was your check-up?” she asked.
“The old guy is holding his own.”
“Good. Feeling better?”
The rest of the day went by uneventfully. After watching the TV news the “storm” had passed, the forecaster sounded disappointed, they retired to bed. Paul as usual kissed Sally, then turned over. As was his habit, he reviewed the events of the day. It had started badly but ended okay. Maybe, like that tooth that was supposed to have crumbled, he’d hang on for a while. He’d try to think of a story to send in for the online magazine that was closing down. It was a good magazine and he wanted to be in its last issue.
© Martin Green November 2011
Next morning a stunning girl who was in my lit class stopped me on the way out and asked, “Are you the one who hit somebody at a party yesterday?”
On the way back to my office from the so-called oral exam, which I knew I’d flunked brilliantly, I stopped at the State Building Number 8 cafeteria for a cup of coffee. It was, I thought, the least I could do for myself.
In recent weeks I’d been thinking a lot about my secretary Jane Harper and now here she was. “Mind if I join you?” she asked.
Paul Lerner opened his eyes, awakened by a bad dream in which something, he couldn’t remember what, was coming after him. He automatically reached his hand over to the other side of the bed although he knew nobody would be there.
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