When asked how he was doing, Noel took the risk and gave an honest answer. “My tooth is killing me.” His friend looked bored, so he added the reciprocal, “but how are you?”
Stephanie was a mess. Her father was in town and every time she saw him it raised issues that she wasn’t prepared to deal with. Not to mention the eternal job hunt and her passive-abusive boyfriend, but Noel was sure her teeth were fine. “I’m very sorry to hear that,” he said, his jaw throbbing.
They hugged goodbye, but he couldn’t feel anything. All he knew was the sustained searing nerve in his lower right mouth. He walked, but he wasn’t sure where he was going. He kept turning right at intersections, and by muscle memory stumbled into work and started filling out reports.
“Are you all right?” a coworker asked, and he told her, “My tooth hurts.”
“Existence is suffering,” she said, leaving.
His report was mostly expletives. With concentration, he went through the document and deleted them, but there was nothing left.
“Hey Noel, my son is in the scouts and we’re trying to raise money for a camping trip. Even just a couple of dollars would be helpful.”
Noel looked up at the man who’d come into his cubicle, and without turning away, pulled out his wallet and emptied its contents onto his desk, credit cards and all.
“Hey thanks,” the man said, and Noel grunted affirmatively as he stood up and walked away, anywhere.
“What’s wrong with Noel?” he heard someone whisper behind him.
“He’s a psychopath.”
“I know, but what else?”
Noel didn’t care. Noel didn’t notice. He had a dentist appointment next week. He could hide in the bathroom forever.