My brother Crick and I were throwing empty beer bottles against the wall behind the motel. It was six in the morning.
“This is stupid,” I said. “I have a dentist’s appointment.”
“You don’t have insurance, dumbass.”
“I have Al’s ID.”
“You stole his ID?”
“Who cares,” I said. “Who cares. Let’s not talk about it.” Al was my ex-wife’s brother, a middle school teacher. Nice guy.
Crick threw another bottle, extra hard. The pieces went all over. The way the sun was, you could make out a rainbow with all the shards shining in the air.
“We’re too old for this shit,” I said. It was stupid and pointless—crime that wasn’t even fun.
“Hey Mitch,” he said, ignoring me. “You ever wonder what happens if you come and take a brick to the head”—he paused for effect—“at the same time?”
“Good feeling or bad feeling? Overall, I mean.”
“I hate you, you know that? You’re a moron and I hate you.”
“Yeah, yeah. But what do you think?”
“Fuck you, that’s what I think.”
“Try it on me.” He looked around to make sure the parking lot was empty. “Wait a few minutes, then hit me with a brick. I’ll say when.” He turned away, facing the hotel dumpster, and pulled his pants down. There was no stopping him, and I was too tired anyway. I drank another beer as the sun started to come out, listening to birds chirp instead of my twenty-six-year-old brother jacking off.
“Almost there,” he said. “Twenty seconds. No, ten seconds. Ten seconds!”
I looked around for a brick.
“There aren’t any bricks,” I told him. “Why the hell would there be a brick lying around?”
“Get something else. Five seconds!”
There was the bottle. I threw it at his head as hard as I could.
“Fuck!” He screamed. “Too early! Goddamnit, Mitch.” His head was bleeding.
I opened another beer. I was trying to listen to the birds, but Crick kept yelling like a maniac.
“Damn,” I said, to no one really. “Alright.”
“One last try,” he said, after all the screaming was done. “I’ll tell you when this time.”
Ten minutes later, Crick came as I threw the last bottle at this head. He groaned like a walrus. I lit up a cigarette and asked him for a ride to the dentist.
“Don’t you want to know how it felt?” He asked, hurt.
“Sure, Crick. How did it feel?”
“Like getting hit with a brick,” he said. He wasn’t even trying to be funny, that’s how stupid it was, all of it. I wonder if God was laughing at us. Or crying for us, or maybe both.
It was beautiful, the dentist’s office. Clean floors, people wearing glasses and real shirts, an indoor plant.
Crick and I showed up looking like shit. I’m sure they could smell us, too, the stench of stale beer and decomposing barf. A nurse in the waiting room saw the blood on Crick’s head.
“Sir! You need to be treated right away. Can I call you an ambulance?”
Crick waved it off. “Don’t feel a thing,” he said. Then he started hitting on the her, calling her angel-face and smiling like a freak.
“Bugger off, Crick,” I said, before they could kick us out. I apologized to the horrified nurse.
“Let me tell her how I got this,” he said, pointing at his head.
“No one wants to hear it. Trust me.”
“Yeah, yeah.” He winked at the nurse. “See you later, angel-face.” He left, tossing an empty beer on the way out.
And then the dentist came out, an old, cheerful-looking fat guy. He took me into his office and sat me down in a blue sofa-chair thing that went down to my feet. I was lying down like it was some kind of bed.
“Okay, Al, open up.”
“I gotta warn you, Doc. It’s really bad in there.” I hadn’t been to a dentist since I was nine.
“Don’t be silly,” he said, upbeat. “This is my job. I’ve seen everything.”
Then he looked at my teeth, and the way his face was afterwards, I could tell he hadn’t seen everything. I had to laugh.
“It’s bad, isn’t it?” I said.
“Well—yes. You’re going to need three root canals, at least.”
“That means killing the nerves in the tooth. So the decay doesn’t get worse.”
“Hey, don’t worry. We’ll put you under anesthesia.”
“Okay.” I took a deep breath. “Alright, yeah. I’m okay with that.”
“Alright. We have three kinds of crowns: gold, silver—”
“I’ll take the gold,” I said. I felt like a kid at a candy store.
“One last thing, Al. Do you smoke?”
“No,” I lied.
“Al,” he said. It was ridiculous, but I didn’t want him to think too badly of me. “I won’t judge you,” he said. “I’m your dentist.” The way he looked got me all choked up. Maybe it was the nerves; maybe it was that they were about to fuck me up real bad. Who knows.
“Yeah,” I said. “I smoke sometimes.”
He dug around in my mouth with sharp metal things. It was making me sweat. Then the nurse came in with a big old needle, and that was it for me. I started to get up.
“I don’t think this is a good idea.”
“Al,” he said, real firm. He took off his mask to look at me. “You’ll be okay. I promise.”
“I’m scared to death, Doc.” I was tired and miserable and all the years of shriveling up were catching up to me. It made me pathetic, like a baby.
“Listen to me, Al—”
“My name’s not Al.”
“Sorry. Forget it.”
He looked at me. I was sure he’d figure out what happened and give me the boot, but then he just said, “I won’t let anything bad happen. I promise.”
He was treating me like a kid, I realized, but instead of getting mad I just got more choked up.
I closed my eyes; there was a pinch, nothing more.
“You’re going to feel sleepy now,” the dentist said, “and soon—”
I interrupted him. “My teeth, Doc. I didn’t mean for them to get all fucked up. So rotten.” I was getting so sad all of a sudden. I didn’t know why any of this was happening.
He said something, but I couldn’t hear what. His face started to blur. Warm face, I heard my thoughts say. Warm face.
Can you still hear me, Doc? I can’t.
Forgive me, father.
I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
When I wake up I will have to run so they don’t put me away again. I will have to care for my brother, who is killing himself slowly. But now I am okay. There is no trouble, Doc, none at all. I am getting tucked into bed.