Nothing but the tooth

When it comes to wisdom teeth, the world is divided into haves and have-nots. Those that have suffer stoically while those that have-not continue on, blissfully unaware of their good fortune.

Sometimes the have-nots playfully roll their tongues to the back of their mouths and say: “Oh, I don’t think I’ve got any! But I’m honestly not sure!”

You’d know, trust me.

Not only have I got a wisdom tooth, I’ve also got a wisdom tooth infection. Just in time for Christmas.

Arriving home to my parental home in poor condition has become a festive tradition. Last year I spent Christmas wrapped in a blanket hogging the sofa nursing Lemsips.

This year I came in dental agony, prompting fears that I am in fact poorly all-year around.

Having never experienced intense, shooting pain like it before, I asked my mother tearily how she ever managed to give birth.

“Your toothache might be worse than giving birth!” she said modestly. “At least with childbirth you know it’s going to be over in a while.”

My father took me to a dentist in Sandymount.

image source: Wikimedia Commons

image source: Wikimedia Commons

“Oh, you poor pet,” the dentist said, looking into my mouth.

Then she sent me to stand in an X Ray machine, clasping a piece of plastic in my mouth.

“Your tooth needs to come out,” she said. “But it’s too risky for me to do, as it’s right on this nerve.”

My nerve is a long white snake stretching from my tooth to my ear. Pain has been shooting along it for days now. I will probably need to go to a German hospital to get my tooth pulled. My way of dealing with that eventuality is to ignore it.

My father came with me to Rathmines to pick up some antibiotics and intense painkillers.

I paid for them using my VISA card. Then I went into the hairdresser’s to book an appointment.

Last night my father said: “I marvelled at the debonair confidence with which you sailed through your errands in Rathmines earlier.”

I blinked at him.

“You remind me of your sister (the one in America)” he said. “She also pays with plastic.”

“How do you pay?” I asked him.

“I pay with cash,” he said nostalgically.

“Yes, but what do you do when you don’t have enough?”

“I write cheques,” he said. “A dying art.”

My father opposes change of any kind. As long as we avoid talking about politics, it’s not much of a problem.

In fact, as an emigree, the certainty that nothing will change at home can be reassuring.

My father’s constancy is primarily associated with food.

Therefore, I can be absolutely assured that no matter what time of year I return home, there will be a bowl full of soaking butterbeans on the kitchen table and a half-open packet of Lidl cream crackers.

Yesterday my mother made her trademark exquisite celeriac soup. Later she hung up our walnut baby Jesus on the Christmas tree.

In the evening we watched a poorly-dubbed version of Ceclia Ahern’s “PS Ich liebe dich” on German television.

And I curled up wrapped in a blanket munching Dominosteine on one side of my mouth.

There’s no place like home.

Frau Bienkowski and the Irish Convent

Frau Bienkowski was sitting by an open window, soaking in the sunlight. She gave me a faint smile. It was not her usual welcome. She was in pain.

“Every limb hurts,” she said.

We had been planning to venture outside the moment we got some sun. I asked Frau Bienkowski whether she thought she could manage.

Ten minutes later she was pushing her stroller around the grounds, naming flowers and telling me about the people she knew living in the neighbouring buildings.

Every so often she stopped and sat on the ledge of her stroller.

“Am I slower than you thought?” she asked.

“Not at all,” I said. “I’ve only ever seen you in your armchair.”

We passed two caretakers smoking at a back entrance to the canteen. Frau Bienkowski called over to them. “I was faster last year!” They nodded sympathetically and one of them, a young woman with a scraped-back pony tail and jet black hair said, “oh, the curse of biology.”

Frau Bienkowski told me she remembered what flowers were blooming when the Russians came. “You don’t forget a time like that,” she said.

After our walk we went for coffee. I ordered a latte. “What’s that?” she asked.

I told her it was a mixture of espresso and steamed milk. She said she’d try it next time.

We chatted about parents disapproving of mixed marriages. She said it happened lots after the war and I said that in Ireland in the past, a Catholic-Protestant marriage could divide a family forever.

“You know, you’re only supposed to stay an hour,” Frau Bienkowski said after two.

“Do you have something you need to do?” I asked.

“I don’t want you to feel obliged, that’s all,” she said.

“Frau Bienkowski, we have discussed this before. This is a pleasure.”

“Oh, very well.”

Back upstairs, Frau Bienkowski asked me to read from “Die Pforte zum Himelreich,” the book by Irish writer Una Troy which I brought her last week.

“I started it,” she said. “And it is very good. But my eyes became swimmy and I couldn’t read on.”

The scene I read was a dialogue between an eager 23 year-old upstart journalist and a 100 year-old woman in a convent. She was Ireland’s oldest person and he was vying for the scoop on how she’d managed to live so long. She gave smart-ass, wry responses.

I put on my best crotchety voice for the old woman and an effeminate whine for the young man. Frau Bienkowski laughed out loud three times.

“You should be a professional reader!” she said. “I can completely imagine that nun!”

When I left, Frau Bienkowski said, “You bring me such joy.” This time her smile was real. It made my day.