With a heavy heart, I have just conducted my biannual lying session. I hate that I have to do this. I am an honest person driven to the extremes of fib-telling by a situation that I can see no other way out of.
Every time I find myself in this situationI search my soul for a better way out. But there just is no other way. I have to lie. I have to lie when I sit down in the dental hygienist’s chair and she asks me the question: ‘Have you been flossing?’ I do not understand why it should be that a woman in a white coat holding a tooth poker can drive a good person to perjure themselves.
I do not understand — and I don’t think I ever will — why the dental hygienist can reduce me in three seconds flat to a state of moral bankruptcy in which I am prepared to trot out a load of old codswallop.
It pains me because I like to pride myself on being the opposite of a liar. I am a compulsive truth-teller. My friends and family are for ever telling me how much I embarrass myself with my idiotic desire to write candidly about everything that happens to me.
I have been put in every kind of embarrassing, compromising, frightening situation and managed to face it by telling anyone who will listen every last humiliating detail about it. Why, then, can I not look the dental hygienist in the face twice a year and tell her that, no, I don’t floss?
I’ve written about this before and had encouraging responses. I’ve been relieved beyond measure to learn that I am not alone in being unfathomably unable to break off a length of white tape and stick it between my teeth. I am not the only one, apparently, who is given the shivers by the whole enterprise. So why can’t I just say that?
When the hygienist says, ‘Have you been flossing?’, I should say, ‘Nope. I have not. Not once. I can’t stand it. It gives me the creeps. I know it’s irrational, but there we are. No one’s perfect. I’m kind to animals, but I don’t floss. So just you get on with your job and give those pegs a good clean because I’m paying £25 a month for dental insurance and I want my money’s worth.’ But of course I do not. This time, I sat in the chair and she put her mask on, had an initial poke, then said the dreaded words in her scary, muffled, pre-emptively sarcastic voice: ‘Have you been flossing?’
‘Uh-huh,’ I said hurriedly, hoping God would excuse me if I didn’t actually say the word ‘yes’.
‘How often? Every day?’
Oh, dear Lord, forgive me. For what I am about to do, I beseech your mercy…
‘Mm-hmm.’ And I nodded.
She looked doubtful. ‘Open again,’ came the order. She poked around for quite a long time and then started to speak while standing behind me as I lay there immobilised. It struck me as quite similar to the way a member of the Gestapo might stand behind a trussed-up prisoner during an interrogation.
‘Your gums are bleeding,’ she said in a voice as cold as her steel pokers. ‘They wouldn’t be bleeding if you had been flossing every day.’ And then she just stood there, in silence, behind me, waiting for me to incriminate myself.
The torture scene from Marathon Man briefly entered my head. No, it was no good. I couldn’t do it. I wasn’t that brave. ‘Really?’ I squeaked, thinking ‘Please! Just stop making me lie like a thief and clean my damned teeth!’ But she wasn’t going to give up.
‘Are you pushing the floss right down?’ she asked.
And then I saw a way out: a way to grasp the opportunity to start again, with a clean slate. ‘Right down?’ I said, sounding baffled. ‘I don’t think I am doing that, no.’
Silence. She wasn’t buying it…Or was she?
‘The thing is,’ I ventured, ‘I don’t think I am doing it properly, you know, because I’m a bit squeamish so I’m only pushing the floss in very quickly.’
So quickly it’s not happening. ‘You see,’ I persisted, ‘to be absolutely honest with you, I think I’ve got…’ I paused for dramatic effect… ‘…a flossing phobia.’
Ha! Put that in your pipe and smoke it. Everyone knows phobias are things you have to take seriously. People with phobias need understanding. You can’t lecture them to floss. I might even need floss phobia counselling.
The dental hygienist harrumphed. She didn’t argue any more. She put her plastic goggles on and gave me an hour-long scale and polish that made the torture scene in Marathon Man look tame.
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