The Cat and the Crumhorn
by Brenda Anderson
Adrian buzzed his next patient in. In the corridor outside his dental rooms, a sleek Burmese cat strolled by, flicked its tail and disappeared. The patient entered and settled into the high-tech chair. “You keep a cat? In your dental practice?” His face, eyebrows, even teeth radiated disapproval.
Adrian nodded. “Open wide, please.”
“Seriously? A cat? But the health inspector…”
“Fred’s a cat lover.”
Adrian’s dental assistant slipped glasses onto the patient.
“See, patients either love or hate cats.” Adrian checked his teeth. Behind the glasses, uneasy eyes followed his every move.
“Belle’s beautiful but distant, see? Cat lovers adore her. The rest get uncomfortable. I can literally see them counting the ways to get rid of her. They can’t wait for me to call them in. In the great democracy of the waiting room, Belle’s the all-time leveller. She’s everything to everyone: something to focus on, to hate or pat. Rinse and spit, please.”
“But,” the patient spat hard, “hygiene? Kitty litter? I mean to say …”
Adrian sighed. All his unpleasant patients hated Belle. “Relax. I had a cat flap installed behind the water cooler. Belle steps outside when she needs to. And my receptionist vacuums twice a day. Now, I need to do a small filling.”
The patient spluttered. “You don’t fool me. Animals are filthy.”
Adrian smiled. “Is that so? Not this one. Also, Belle’s very discerning. Small pinch, coming up.” He inserted a needle.
The patient clutched the arm rests. “Mmmaaarrggghhhh.”
Adrian withdrew the needle. “In a second that’ll be numb. Getting back to Belle, now: I didn’t have to train her. She’s very sensitive to moods. Those who feel low about their dental health…”
The patient stiffened.
“…need extra care. Belle flicked her tail at you. I deduce you need extra care. Time for me to start drilling.”
The patient pulled away.
“Don’t worry.” Adrian switched on his most soothing voice. “I’ve adjusted the setting to Extra Sensitive. And for your added comfort, here’s some pleasant music.”
The buzz-saw drone of a crumhorn solo enveloped them.
“Great, isn’t it?” Adrian beamed.
The patient glared at him. The dental drill shrieked and the crumhorn groaned in perfect harmony. A tear ran down the patient’s cheek.
Adrian finished the filling. His assistant removed the glasses and switched off the music. The patient spat in the basin and glared at him. “You’re punishing me because of that cat, aren’t you?”
Adrian smiled. “No. Belle doesn’t like the crumhorn either. You two should make it up. You’d be perfect together.”
The patient’s eyes widened. “What is wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I’m retiring tomorrow.” Adrian grinned. “I’ve spent my entire working life with drills. From now on it’s drinks at sunset, siestas whatever I like. Oh, and I waive the fee. No charge.” The patient ran to the door.
“Say hi to Belle on the way out,” Adrian called.
As he disappeared down the corridor, Adrian punched the air. He’d never liked that patient anyway.
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Brenda Anderson’s fiction has appeared in various places, including Slink Chunk Press, 50-Word Stories and Abstract Jam. She lives in Adelaide, South Australia, and tweets irregularly @CinnamonShops