A Right to Laugh

Grinning broadly Governor Miles ‘The Smile’ Fleck sank back into the soft leather desk chair and sighed. Today had gone well, he reflected. Better than well, in fact. Miles was suffused with pride.

Miles drew a cigar from his breast pocket and ran it underneath his nose, inhaling deeply. He savoured the rich aroma, a perfect accompaniment to the luxurious surrounds of Judge Wallace’s private chambers. Wallace was on vacation – jet skiing with his granddaughters – and after hearing that Miles would be attending the Sanders trial had suggested the office as a place for his old friend to unwind at the end of each day.

Miles had been anxious throughout the proceedings. Although he was only an observer his role as the governor whose hard-line restrictions on abortion were undergoing their first challenge made him of interest to the press.

Thankfully sense had prevailed, he mused. The plaintiff had lost her motion for an exception on the ground of threat to life, the judge ruling her pregnancy might be unpleasant but it wasn’t certain to kill her. Miles felt self-satisfied; he had struck a blow for the voiceless, he truly was a champion of justice.

‘Ow!’ A sudden searing pain in the left side of his face pulled the governor from his reflections. He prodded gingerly at his jaw. A jolt of red hot agony flared at his touch. Miles whimpered. Reaching for his cell, he speed-dialled his dentist. A recorded message gave him an after-hours emergency number which he dialled with sweating hands. A voice asked if he could come in the following day. While he didn’t normally like to use his position or wealth to obtain special treatment, this was an emergency. Tomorrow would be full of interviews and press conferences and he couldn’t conduct them like this. Trying not to move his jaw, Miles explained his circumstances and the voice agreed to send a dentist to him within the hour.

Half an hour later there was a knock at the door.

‘Come in.’

A middle-aged woman wheeling a large suitcase strode into the room bringing with her the scent of antiseptic and a reassuring air of efficiency. Miles almost wept with relief. The pain had settled to a persistent throb but after an hour he’d had more than enough.

Opening her case to reveal a daunting array of silver instruments the dentist turned to Miles.

‘Hi there Mr Fleck, I’m Dr Steinem, we spoke on the phone. If you’ll open your mouth for me and try to relax we’ll see if we can sort out this pain.’

Miles leaned back and closed his eyes, wincing when cold metal probed at the source of the pain.

‘Hmm, here is it?’

He nodded.

‘Looks like you’ve got a crack along tooth 17, that’s your lower left third molar. The crack has exposed some underlying rot that’s begun to infect the tooth’s root system, which will be the cause of the discomfort.’

‘What’s the treatment?’

‘In your case it looks like beneath that shiny veneer the rot has set in pretty deep. It really needs to come out.’

Miles was disappointed; his thousand-watt smile was his trademark. At least the gap wouldn’t be visible, he thought.

‘OK. Can you remove it now?’

Dr Steinem leaned back sucked in some air through her teeth, making a whistling sound that grated on Mile’s nerves.

‘Weeellll, technically yes I could, it’s a simple procedure, but in actual fact no I can’t.’

‘What do you mean you can’t, you don’t have the equipment?’

‘It’s not that, it’s more a question of the right to life.’

‘What are you talking about?’ Miles grimaced. The persistent throb in his jaw was causing his left eye to twitch distractingly and his head ached.

‘It’s the changes to HB3849,’ she said. ‘The bill governing the right to life.’

‘I know what the bill is’ Miles snapped ‘I wrote it.’

‘Of course,’ Dr Steinem smiled. ‘The thing is, the wording is such that technically I can’t legally remove anything from your body that’s made up of cells or living tissue if the removal would kill it.’

Miles glared at her. ‘I get it; you’re making a point, right? This isn’t funny; I’m in pain. Are you even a dentist?’

Dr Steinem looked at him, wide-eyed. ‘I can assure you I’m not joking,’ she said.

‘Well that doesn’t make any sense, a tooth is just a cluster of cells; it has no rights.’

‘Technically it does now.’

‘That’s not the purpose of the law.’

Dr Steinem shrugged, ‘I didn’t write it.’

‘This is lunacy, my tooth is causing me pain and I want it out of my body.’

‘That’s no longer your choice to make.’

‘That’s not fair,’ Miles was on the brink of tears. He was confused and the pain was making it difficult to think clearly.

‘Whose fault is it that the tooth got rotten?’ Steinem asked.

‘I brush my teeth twice a day…and I floss regularly’ Miles said.

‘Sometimes those safeguards fail, it’s unfortunate but it’s ultimately your responsibility; you have to live with the consequences.’

‘Get out of here, I’ll call another dentist.’

Steinem shook her head ‘No one will risk their license by removing that tooth. The only people still doing extractions have gone underground – vodka and pliers is what you’ll get. There’s always the option of going to another state for your dentistry.’

‘I don’t have time, I have interviews tomorrow. Besides what will I tell people? I’m known for my smile.’

Miles thought desperately. ‘What if I pull it out myself?’

‘Then I’d have to report you, or risk my license. And I’d better not hear that the tooth is ‘accidentally’ knocked out either.’

Tears of pain and frustration slid down Miles’s face as he watched Steinem close her suitcase and prepare to depart. ‘Don’t worry,’ she said, ‘The tooth will detach and die eventually, and the discomfort is unpleasant but it won’t kill you.’


Elizabeth Robinson-Griffith is a writer and feminist from Melbourne. She has a background in gender studies and is completing RMIT’s Professional Writing and Editing degree. Elizabeth is a past editor of antithesis and has been published by Underground Writers, Lip magazine, The Nasty Women projectand In Review. You can find her on Facebook sharing her thoughts about feminism and the everyday as SergeantPolly.

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