Fear saturates my soul, a heavy weight that soaks into my resolve.
“Come on, Jackie.” Mom has her arm through mine. “It’s ten steps to the car. You can do it.”
I put my head down and try and focus on everyday things. The sound of cars riding over drain covers, the squish of bicycle wheels, the chatter of young moms in the street. I look at Mom’s arm looped through mine and notice the contrast in skin. Hers is lightly tanned while mine is chalky and pale.
“Becks, you get the door open.” Mom directs my sister as I pull back towards the house.
“I can’t do it. I don’t care about my tooth.” My voice is husky and breathless, reflecting the crushing feeling in my chest. “Please, Mom. Not today.”
Becks has the car door open and Mom pulls me towards it. “You’re going to the dentist, Jackie. Just get in the car.”
My lungs deflate like wrinkled balloons and I struggle to suck in air. It’s two years since I left the house and five years since I rode in a car.
Mom pushes me into the backseat like a criminal. “You have to get your tooth fixed and you know it can only be done at the dentist’s rooms.” She eases herself into the seat next to me while Becks slips into the driver’s seat. “Close your eyes and we’ll soon be there.”
I grip her hand, drawing strength as my heart explodes into irregular beats. Mom knows me well and her voice soothes as I hunch forward and close my eyes.
“It’ll be worth it, Jackie. The dentist will sort it out and there’ll be no more pain and worry.”
I try and focus on the motion of the car, the sun that warms my skin, birds chattering in trees, the aroma of fried onions and burgers. My heart rate lessens slightly and I run my tongue over the tooth in question. The edges are rough where the filling fell out and the gum is ulcerated and angry.
An hour later, the dental work is done and I clutch a container of antibiotics that will complete the treatment.
“You coped really well,” Mom says as we leave the dentist’s rooms. “Would you like us to take you anywhere while we’re out?”
“No. Just take me home please.” My heart ricochets as people pour around us on the sidewalk. So many faces, strange smells, strange sights. I need to be back in the safety of my house.
An hour later, I sit gazing out my kitchen window. Children walk home from school, laughter drifting as they hop and skip down the path. A delivery man parks his motorbike and takes a parcel up to one of the other townhouses. A bus stops and a couple of bony old women alight.
Unexpectedly, a pang of envy washes over me. My world has shrunk to the space inside the walls of my house. Memories of the morning overflow and I put fear aside and focus on the good parts. Fragrant roses outside the dentist’s rooms, wind blowing through my hair, pigeons squabbling on the windowsill, the gentle touch of the dental nurse as she squeezed my shoulder.
It’s comforting to be home, cocooned by the familiar, but something has changed. The thought of going out still fills me with fear, but maybe, just maybe, I won’t wait another five years.
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