by James C. Clar
Eduardo was the only dentist in the village. That fact, of course, assured that he was also the best dentist in the village. Such puerile statistics aside, he nevertheless believed that his training in North America counted for something. Twelve years ago, for reasons that he either failed to remember clearly or chose rather to forget, he had opted to return home and pursue his practice in the region of his birth. To be honest, much of his time lately was spent regretting that decision. Whiskey, and women, helped ease his pain. At times, however, the cure could be worse than the disease; Eduardo’s hands shook these days, he seldom ate properly and his dress and hygiene were beginning to suffer somewhat. He also had more than one man’s share of trouble with jilted lovers, angry fathers, older brothers and even the occasional suspicious husband. A number of the children he saw as patients shared, or so it seemed to Eduardo, “his eyes” or “his nose.”
Although he was by nature the most apolitical of individuals, he could not help but be repulsed by the story he was reading in the morning newspaper concerning the execution of five rebel “collaborationists” in the capital yesterday. Just a few short weeks ago, right here in the central plaza, two alleged leftist sympathizers were dragged from their homes and shot by government forces before the assembled villagers … including the children. The level and frequency of violence was unprecedented. Not that the guerillas were above such tactics, far from it. But, at least as far as Eduardo was able to fathom the situation, they stood for something beyond themselves – egalitarian reform (whatever that really meant?) and the empowerment of ordinary people. Propped up by their powerful neighbors to the north the current government, on the other hand, seemed concerned only to perpetuate itself and to maintain the rather lavish lifestyles of its major functionaries.
Weary of such thoughts – after all, what could one man do? – Eduardo was relieved when he heard his door opening. His relief was short-lived as soon as he realized who had just entered the office. General Suarez stood over six feet tall. His uniform was immaculately pressed and his bearing was haughty, commanding and aristocratic. The supreme leader of the government army sat without as much as a word. Equally mute, Eduardo proceeded with an examination. It didn’t take long for him to determine that the general was suffering from an acute abscess. Stepping back from the chair, Eduardo clasped his hands behind his back lest the officer see how much they were shaking. He explained to his patient that there were two courses of action available; an immediate extraction or, preferably, a root canal and, eventually, the placement of a crown on the offending tooth.
As Suarez weighed his options, Eduardo considered his own. Whatever the general decided to do, his dentist was faced with a dilemma whose resolution might some day be considered monumental or even historic in implication. Regardless of the exact procedure Eduardo was asked to perform, some form of anesthesia would be necessary. If he opted to do so, Eduardo could quite easily – and without the general’s prior knowledge – cause his patient to literally writhe in agony. The thought also crossed Eduardo’s mind that, with an almost equal lack of effort, he could induce Suarez to suffer a seizure, a stroke or even a potentially fatal heart attack. Although his training and sensibility militated against any of those choices, Eduardo entertained them all … at least in the abstract.
Eduardo knew himself for what he was, a physical coward. At the same time, and despite his myriad weaknesses, he also considered himself to be a good dentist as well as man of at least some moral fortitude and integrity. But, in this concrete instance, what constituted the “right” thing to do? And, even assuming that he could make such a determination, would Eduardo actually have the stomach to do it? The humble dentist was almost paralyzed with indecision.
Eduardo’s meditation was interrupted by the general’s peremptory tone. The officer had made his decision; the dentist was to begin immediately. Eduardo turned and began assembling his instruments. He selected a syringe and a long, narrow gauge needle. He opened the small refrigerator in the corner of the room and removed a small bottle of colorless liquid. As he did so, he knew beyond all doubt that this was yet another decision he would soon regret.
James C. Clar is a teacher and writer living in upstate New York. His work has appeared in a variety of print and internet publications. Most recently, his short fiction has been published in TAJ MAHAL REVIEW, EVERDAY FICTION, POWDER BURN FLASH, ORCHARD PRESS MYSTERIES, MYSTERYAUTHORS.COM, STATIC MOVEMENT and LONG STORY SHORT to name a few venues. James is an ardent jazz fan as well as an avid digital photographer. Contact James.