GATE PHOTO BY JULIE EGER
Fear was the factoring cause, ever since that dry socket took six months to heal. The taste of rot and infection so close to the brain. Lower right side of his face still numb five years later. Didn’t hurt, if that’s what you’re thinking, just odd feeling. His tongue kept going back to the empty spot, like a man looking for his dog and couldn’t find it, couldn’t believe it was gone. Kept going to that spot. Jake was afraid of losing his teeth, one by one, hoping when it happened it wouldn’t turn into something he’d heard them talking about at the coffee shop.
But the idea of that dry socket went deep. It curled up inside his head, and woke him sometimes like a night mare scratching at him. They kept telling him:
“You’re going to need a dentist someday.”
A tooth would start to throb a little, a signal it might be getting ready to let go. He had a bottle of Oil of Cloves. A dab on a Q-tip was usually enough to trick him into thinking it didn’t hurt. Sometimes he’d use whiskey, either from the bottle next to his bed, or maybe Wheels would pour him enough, on a good night, down at Billy’s. He did things to keep himself busy. Cut wood, stack it. Drive to town, get a late breakfast, maybe lunch at Crazy Lou’s.
It was during one of those busy times, out in the back pasture when he went to fix a broken section of fence, when no one was around, he got the truck stuck. Now, this was a good truck, old, but reliable. It smelled of oil rags, grease. Crunched up pop cans and Tastee Crème bakery bags rattled around under the gas pedal. The radio could pull in WDUX from any corner of the county. He studied the mud and put boards under the back tires, but they kept spitting out as Waylon sang over his shoulder in the background.
Jake scratched his head and gave a sigh. His top left tooth started to throb. If only he had someone who could pull. He rubbed his jaw, and started the long walk to town.