Intergalactic Medicine Show     Print   |   Back  

    by David Lubar
Toon Out
Artwork by Lance Card

Until she stepped into Dr. Kublanko's waiting room, Shelly had felt pretty good about getting braces. Half the popular kids in school wore them, and Shelly did have to admit that her overbite made her look more than a little bit like a bunny. She'd gotten tons of advice from her friends once she'd spread the news.

"Chew lots of gum now," Sarah had told her, "because you won't be chewing any once they put the braces on."

"Plan on eating spaghetti for the first few days," Lorie had warned her. "You won't feel like chewing."

Now, she was just minutes away from her first session in the chair. It was only an exam, but it brought her that much closer to the moment when it all became real. The small office, attached to the side of a house on the edge of town, was so dim and gloomy, Shelly found herself almost wanting to cry.

"Cheer up," her mother said. "They'll be off again before you know it."

Shelly nodded and sat on a couch that was against one wall. Across the room, another girl was sitting, waiting for her turn. The girl looked up.

Shelly smiled.

The girl drooped her head back down toward the floor.

"He's very reasonable," her mother said, whispering the last word. Shelly knew that reasonable was her mother's way of saying cheap.

That could definitely describe the waiting room. The place certainly didn't resemble any other office she'd been in. The furniture was old and worn. There weren't any magazines. There was no music or radio. There wasn't even a receptionist.

Doctor Kublanko stepped into the waiting room and said, "Shelly?" He looked almost too young to be a dentist.

"That's me," Shelly said. She followed him as he bounced down a short, dark hall to a room with a dentist's chair. When she looked at the chair, she felt a pang ripple through her stomach. For an instant, she thought of turning and fleeing. What was so terrible about a few crooked teeth?

"Hop right up," Dr. Kublanko said.

Shelly got in the chair.

"Let's have a look," he said.

Shelly opened her mouth. Dr. Kublanko examined her for a moment, then said, "Well, let's get started."


"The braces," Dr. Kublanko said.

"But, don't you have to do some x-rays? Isn't this just an exam?"

"Oh, you need braces. And there's no point in waiting. So, let's get them on."

Shelly kept her mouth opened, in part because she was too stunned to close it. Dr. Kublanko went to work. It took a lot less time than Shelly had thought. The doctor just slipped something over all her teeth. One minute, she was sitting there with her mouth open, a minute later, she was aware of this strange thing in her mouth.

"It feels funny," Shelly tried to say. But it came out "Ih eel zunny."

"You'll get used to it," Dr. Kublanko said. "I'll see you again in exactly one week."

Shelly got out of the chair and walked toward the waiting room. It was odd -- she'd assumed the strange metal in her mouth would feel cold, but it was very warm.

She probed at it with her tongue. It felt weird.

"That wasn't so bad, was it?" her mom asked when Shelly returned to the waiting room.

"Gesh not," Shelly said, which was as close to guess not as she could come at the moment. She wondered when it would start to hurt. Her friends had told her that her teeth might ache for a day or two.

By that evening, she still felt fine. There was no ache, no discomfort at all other than the strangeness in her mouth.

Her mother made spaghetti, but Shelly wanted steak. She wanted to tear into a nice, juicy piece of meat. Rare. Definitely rare.

"I'll make steak tomorrow," her mom said when she heard Shelly's request. She looked surprised. "See, he must be a pretty good dentist. You aren't hurting at all. And his prices are very reasonable."

"I guess," Shelly said.

She was almost completely used to her braces by the time she went to sleep. She woke once in the middle of the night, briefly, but all she could remember was the feeling that she didn't have her braces on. Guess I'm getting used to them, she though as she drifted back to sleep.

In the morning, her mouth felt fine. No pain, no discomfort. She wondered how the braces could work if she didn't feel anything. At her next appointment, she asked Doctor Kublanko about that.

"Oh, these are the latest design," he said as he examined her. "Everything is going just perfectly." He took a thin hose with a nozzle at the end and put it inside her mouth.

"What are you doing?" Shelly asked, speaking around the nozzle.

"Oh, just cleaning things a bit. Hmmmm. From the way these look, I'm guessing you breathe through your nose. Try to breathe through your mouth. The braces work best when they get lots of air."

That didn't make sense. Shelly was going to say something, but she suddenly felt very tired. She blinked her eyes. Had she dozed? She looked up at the doctor. "There," he was saying. "All set until next week."

"Uh, okay." Shelly got up slowly. She still felt strange. Her eyes wandered round the small room, settling for a moment on a diploma hanging above the sink. Shelly looked at the date. He'd gotten his degree more than forty years ago. That didn't make sense. Dr. Kublanko couldn't possibly be that old.

"Relax," the dentist told her. "Everything is going just the way it's supposed to. Now get along home."

On the way out, she saw a girl in the waiting room. The girl smiled at her and said, "I'm just here to see if I need braces."

Don't go in there. Shelly almost spoke, but she was too tired to find the right words. It wasn't worth the effort. She dropped her head and turned away, then walked off.

That evening, Shelly woke again. Something glinted on the window sill, right up against the screen. Shelly started to get up, but the room danced in circles and slid from under her. As she fell back to sleep, she felt something slipping onto her teeth.

"I want to get my braces off," she told her mom the next morning.

"But that's ridiculous, dear," her mom said. "You need to wear them for at least two years. Otherwise, they won't do any good. What's wrong? Are the other girls teasing you?"

Shelly shook her head. She saw there was no use trying to explain it to her mom. But the dentist was another matter. She'd face him at her next appointment.

"And how are you?" he asked Shelly as she sat in the chair for her exam.

"There's something wrong with my braces," she said.

"Oh really? Well, it's easy to adjust these things." He reached onto his tray and took up a small pliers. "What exactly is the problem?"

They leave my mouth and crawl around the room at night. That's what Shelly wanted to say. But, suddenly, she was afraid to admit that she knew this. Shelly looked at his face -- it was so young, except for his eyes. She turned away, afraid to stare into those eyes. "Uh, they feel a bit loose," she said.

"Oh dear. Here, see if this is better." He did something inside her mouth.

Shelly nodded. "Much better," she said when the dentist had removed the tool from her mouth.

"Good. Now let me do just one more thing." He placed another tool, the one connected to a hose, into her mouth. "Great," he said a moment later. "All done."

Shelly realized she was nearly asleep. She dragged herself from the chair and staggered out of the office. When she reached her home, she fell right into bed and slept without waking during the night.

The next morning, Shelly looked carefully at her teeth in the mirror. Nothing seemed to have changed. Then she looked at her face. She was tired. There were dark bags under her eyes. Her face seemed older, her hair seemed dry and brittle.

She was sure that her youth and energy were being stolen. It had to be the braces. That night, she switched her alarm so it would ring at 3:30 in the morning. It's going to end, Shelly thought as she lay down in her bed.

The alarm jolted her. She sat up and switched it off.

Her tongue ran across bare teeth. She looked around the room. The braces, like a metal spider, were on the window sill, sitting in the moonlight. As she caught sight of them, they rushed toward her.

"No!" Shelly shouted.

The braces ran to the bed and sprung up onto the mattress.

Shelly clamped her hand across her mouth.

Sharp wires dug into her skin as the braces climbed her nightshirt. Wires stabbed at the hand she'd clamped across her mouth.

Shelly grabbed the braces with her other hand and ripped them free. She flung them to the floor, then grabbed a book from her bedside table.

She rolled to the floor and slammed the book down on the braces. Over and over, she slammed the book against the braces. It took every bit of strength she had. The world wavered. Shelly wondered if she was going to pass out.

"SHELLY! What's going on?"

Shelly sat up slowly and looked at her mother standing in the doorway. "My braces," she said, pointing to the floor.

Her mother switched on the light and walked over. She knelt next to Shelly. She put a hand under Shelly's chin and looked at her mouth. "What about them? They look just fine."

Shelly started to speak. The braces rubbed against her tongue. She looked at the spot on the floor. It was bare.

"You'd better get some sleep, young lady," her mother said. "You have school tomorrow. Oh, and I almost forgot. Doctor Kublanko called. He needs to make another adjustment to your braces. You have an appointment with him tomorrow, right after school." She paused and shook her head. "I honestly don't see how he can give so many appointments and charge so little. But I'm certainly not complaining."

Shelly nodded, unable to speak. Tired and drained of energy, she crawled back to bed. It must be my imagination, she thought. It was a dream or something.

"It doesn't matter," Shelly said as she drifted off. She was too exhausted to care. She felt so tired, and so old. Nothing was important -- not the braces on her teeth, not even the cuts and scratches on her hands. Shelly had no idea how those small injuries had gotten there, but they didn't matter either. The cuts would heal. And in just a few years, she'd have nice, straight teeth. Wouldn't that be wonderful?

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