Monday dawned warm and rainless. Aurelio Escovar, a dentist without a
degree, and a very early riser, opened his office at six. He took some
false teeth, still mounted in their plaster mold, out of the glass case
and put on the table a fistful of instruments which he arranged in size
order, as if they were on display. He wore a collarless striped shirt,
closed at the neck with a golden stud, and pants held up by suspenders
He was erect and skinny, with a look that rarely corresponded to the
situation, the way deaf people have of looking.
When he had things arranged on the table, he pulled the drill toward
the dental chair and sat down to polish the false teeth. He seemed not
to be thinking about what he was doing, but worked steadily, pumping the
drill with his feet, even when he didn't need it.
After eight he stopped for a while to look at the sky through the
window, and he saw two pensive buzzards who were drying themselves in
the sun on the ridgepole of the house next door. He went on working with
the idea that before lunch it would rain again. The shrill voice of his
elevenyear-old son interrupted his concentration.
"The Mayor wants to know if you'll pull his tooth."
"Tell him I'm not here."
He was polishing a gold tooth. He held it at arm's length, and
examined it with his eyes half closed. His son shouted again from the
little waiting room.
"He says you are, too, because he can hear you."
The dentist kept examining the tooth. Only when he had put it on the
table with the finished work did he say:
"So much the better."
He operated the drill again. He took several pieces of a bridge out
of a cardboard box where he kept the things he still had to do and began
to polish the gold.
He still hadn't changed his expression.
"He says if you don't take out his tooth, he'll shoot you."
Without hurrying, with an extremely tranquil movement, he stopped
pedaling the drill, pushed it away from the chair, and pulled the lower
drawer of the table all the way out. There was a revolver. "O.K.," he
said. "Tell him to come and shoot me."
He rolled the chair over opposite the door, his hand resting on the
edge of the drawer. The Mayor appeared at the door. He had shaved the
left side of his face, but the other side, swollen and in pain, had a
five-day-old beard. The dentist saw many nights of desperation in his
dull eyes. He closed the drawer with his fingertips and said softly:
"Good morning," said the Mayor.
"Morning," said the dentist.
While the instruments were boiling, the Mayor leaned his skull on the
headrest of the chair and felt better. His breath was icy. It was a poor
office: an old wooden chair, the pedal drill, a glass case with ceramic
bottles. Opposite the chair was a window with a shoulder-high cloth
curtain. When he felt the dentist approach, the Mayor braced his heels
and opened his mouth.
Aurelio Escovar turned his head toward the light. After inspecting
the infected tooth, he closed the Mayor's jaw with a cautious pressure
of his fingers.
"It has to be without anesthesia," he said.
"Because you have an abscess."
The Mayor looked him in the eye. "All right," he said, and tried to
smile. The dentist did not return the smile. He brought the basin of
sterilized instruments to the worktable and took them out of the water
with a pair of cold tweezers, still without hurrying. Then he pushed the
spittoon with the tip of his shoe, and went to wash his hands in the
washbasin. He did all this without looking at the Mayor. But the Mayor
didn't take his eyes off him.
It was a lower wisdom tooth. The dentist spread his feet and grasped
the tooth with the hot forceps. The Mayor seized the arms of the chair,
braced his feet with all his strength, and felt an icy void in his
kidneys, but didn't make a sound. The dentist moved only his wrist.
Without rancor, rather with a bitter tenderness, he said:
"Now you'll pay for our twenty dead men."
The Mayor felt the crunch of bones in his jaw, and his eyes filled
with tears. But he didn't breathe until he felt the tooth come out. Then
he saw it through his tears. It seemed so foreign to his pain that he
failed to understand his torture of the five previous nights.
Bent over the spittoon, sweating, panting, he unbuttoned his tunic
and reached for the handkerchief in his pants pocket. The dentist gave
him a clean cloth.
"Dry your tears," he said.
The Mayor did. He was trembling. While the dentist washed his
hands, he saw the crumbling ceiling and a dusty spider web with spider's
eggs and dead insects. The dentist returned, drying his hands. "Go to
bed," he said, "and gargle with salt water." The Mayor stood up, said
goodbye with a casual military salute, and walked toward the door,
stretching his legs, without buttoning up his tunic.
"Send the bill," he said.
"To you or the town?"
The Mayor didn't look at him. He closed the door and said through
"It's the same damn thing."
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