The price of toilets kept going up, for example. It was getting harder to live in the town, financially – financially things were getting pretting difficult. And there were other worries too, like the fact that the dentist was making noises about closing his surgery and leaving town, which seemed like crazy talk in the current financial situation, a financial situation in which even the price of toilets kept going up.
The dentist had been preparing his patients for a future free of dental care, talking them through various procedures, lending them books so they could learn at home. He was not the kind of man who would have wanted the town’s collective dental hygiene to suffer, but by the time he left his patients were nowhere near being ready to fend for themselves. One morning they discovered that there was a sign hung on the door to his surgery, a kind of suicide note in reverse, a sign that explained the reasons for his exit, and wished them the best of luck. The sign did not say whether he would be coming back, and this caused his patients more angst than the mere fact of his absence, the not-knowing whether this was a temporary state of affairs or a permanent change, not knowing whether the price of toilets would eventually fall and their dentist would return to the town and care for their teeth again.
A postcard appeared on the town bulletin board. “Living in the woods, just watched a bear dining from the river until he was full of fish, like a whale. Have taken up yoga and jam-making. Look after those teeth. Love, The Dentist.” They did love the dentist, but they wished they knew when he was coming back. Their attempts to master dentistry from books were not going well. They could imagine him living out in the woods, standing, stretching, boiling fruit, watching the bears and the fish, having time to concentrate on what he was concentrating on, finding free toilets in the trees and not having to worry about money or teeth.
All the while, it was getting harder to live in the town, financially and hygienically – the money the patients were saving on dental care did not cover the rising costs of toilets. They tried to make the best botched jobs they could from the parts of the dentist’s books they understood, but it was tough going. Teeth turned out to be far more complicated than they had ever realised, it felt a lot like their mouths were mocking them, partially erupting with rude laughter. They concentrated on what they were concentrating on, but when they stopped they began to make some discoveries – secreted away in the books that he had left behind were various small personal items, a moustache comb here, a postcard from a former lover there, an old and favoured finger puppet tucked inside the dust jacket of a volume about gums. Clues that hinted that perhaps he would be coming back, that living in the woods was just a phase.
The price of toilets continued to soar. Each time it was reported that they had hit a new all-time high, it would inevitably increase further, so that reporting the latest price rise became pointless. The price of toilets had become liquid, but like a river it ran in only one direction.
The dentist, out in the woods, heard rumours but did not think that the flowing river of toilet price hikes was as idyllic as the river near which he spent days watching bears eating fish. Since leaving the town he had entertained not one single thought about teeth, though he did think about his patients. He scribbled another postcard and addressed it to the town, telling the people there all about his latest adventures. It did not mention whether he would be returning or not, the dentist deciding it would be kinder not to mention it, hoping that they would work out for themselves what he thought they should do. He did not sign it ‘dentist’ either, deciding to use his real name instead – he did not feel as though he could claim to be a dentist any longer.
He was just a man who lived in the woods, far away from a world of toilet price rises and dental hygiene problems. And until everyone realised the same thing, things were not going to get any better.