The Teeth Park
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A tragedy, then, is the imitation of an action that is serious, has magnitude, and is complete in itself ... with incidents arousing pity and fear, wherewith to accomplish its catharsis of such emotions [Poetics, 6]
Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.)
"That's it...!" Gerald slammed his knife and fork down on the table and caught the edge of his dinner plate with a resounding clang, spattering gravy as far as the portable television in the corner of the room.
"I've had enough!" he shouted.
"For God's sake, Gerald, what's wrong now?" asked Sarah, his wife of thirty-seven years.
"Same as always," grunted Gerald, glaring at her. "They're uncomfortable! They give me ulcers ... and ... they just don't feel right!"
He cradled his head in his hands.
Sarah placed her knife and fork on the table and mopped at the globules of gravy on her chest.
"Don't be silly. You'll need time to get used to them."
She was beginning to feel the strain herself. For thirty-six years of their married life she'd had no cause for complaint; in the last year however, Gerald had undergone pioneering technology - against his better wishes - which had enabled him to have false teeth fitted permanently in place; since then, he had become unbearable.
"I've had long enough," he replied, glancing upwards, before quietly adding, "And that's not all."
"What do you mean, that's not all?" She recognised from his tone that it wasn't simply another minor grievance.
"I didn't want to say anything." Gerald folded his arms and rested them on the table.
"About what?" Sarah's stomach tightened.
"What dreams? What are you talking about, Gerald?" Sarah was confused; she sipped from a glass of red wine.
"Since I've had my teeth, I've been having a strange dream." He stared blankly at the television screen, paying little heed to the characters.
"Oh, Gerald ... I think its stretching things a bit too far to blame the nightmares on your false teeth."
Sarah was relieved. She had thought for one awful moment that he was going to blame his eccentric moods on a terminal illness.
"I knew you’d dismiss it."
"And for good reason, Gerald, dear. Do you seriously expect me to believe that you're having nightmares because of your obsession with your false teeth?"
Sarah had resumed eating, convinced that it was simply another moan.
"Not dreams in plural, just one. Always the same one."
"A car crash. I'm out on a winding country lane, I don't know where. There's a girl in the car with me, I don't know who she is. We drive up to a bridge over a river. As we cross it some idiot comes out of nowhere, forces me off the road. We both scream ... and then I wake up."
Once again, Sarah placed her knife and fork on the table, perplexed about her husband's health and state of mind.
"What car ... which girl?"
"I've just told you! I don't know the girl, or where we are," he said, becoming more agitated.
"You've never told me any of this before."
"I didn't want to worry you."
"Gerald, I'm your wife for pity's sake!" Her tone then softened. "Look, I'm sure it's just a coincidence, but if you're not convinced, go back and see the dentist."
"I have: he shares your opinion, I need more time to adjust. He says they're the best on the market ... look real, feel real: can't be faulted. I haven't told him about the dream."
Gerald seemed embarrassed by his admission, even to Sarah.
"I should think not. It's a phobia. You've had it all your life, ever since your father's embarrassing episode."
"It's got nothing to do with my father!" he shouted.
Like Gerald, his father had been a music hall entertainer in London's West End. The embarrassing moment to which she had referred was a meeting with King George V in 1934. The king walked down the line shaking everyone's hand after the performance. As he drew level, Gerald's father suffered a serious coughing fit and his teeth landed in the monarch's hands.
"I hate false teeth!" continued Gerald, his anger still fuelled. "Always have, always will. I really can't abide them. For God's sake, they've made my life a bloody misery! Can't talk, can't eat, can't sleep. I've bloody well had to retire because of them! I'm sick of it, why the hell did it have to happen to me?" He slammed his fist hard on to the surface of the table, causing his plate to bounce.
"Gerald!" Shouted Sarah, "Calm down! If you're that bothered go and see Peter. I'm sure he'll help. At least he'll put your mind at rest."
Peter Noble was a family friend of twenty years who also happened to be a psychiatrist.
A week later, following relentless pressure from Sarah - and the threat of divorce proceedings - Gerald was in Peter's Harley Street office.
Like most Harley Street specialists his room was executively furnished with dark wood panels, a leather Chesterfield, bookcases filled with first edition, leather bound volumes, pure wool carpets, and over-powering heating. In the background Gerald listened to the original London cast from the musical Les Misérables; oblivious to the message it carried, such was his tension.
"I'm pleased you came to see me, Gerald. From everything you've told me, I'm inclined to agree with Sarah, it's a simple phobia, a natural aversion to false teeth. Problem is, you don’t have much of a choice any more. You will get used to them.”
"I doubt it. You don’t have to live with them. Why me? That’s what I'd like to know."
Gerald studied his friend. He was tall, with a slender build, thick brown hair and a smooth, tanned ... almost polished complexion that only one of London's elite could afford.
"You were unlucky, Gerald, it could have happened to anyone."
"But it didn't, did it?" He was losing his patience again, his voice rising. "A hotel full of people on a tropical island and I was the only person to catch it."
Gerald shuddered and his stomach churned as the terrifying experience replayed in his mind.
He and Sarah had spent a week on the island of Papua New Guinea. The last couple of days were spent deep in the heart of The Sepik River around the Chambri Lakes and involved a trip into the remote jungle.
Most of the group followed suit with the tribal warriors and ate the tropical fruit on the trees, as did Gerald. But he'd ventured a little further and had eaten another one, unaware that it contained a virus. On his return to England, Gerald's gums ached intensely. He awoke one morning to find blood on his pillow - and three teeth. Before dinner on the same day he had lost four more. Five minutes into the dentist's chair, he'd lost the rest.
"I wouldn't mind but I looked after my teeth obsessively, cleaned them after every meal, flossed them, used a regular mouthwash, new brush every month..." Gerald could have continued. He was palpitating at the thought.
Peter offered his friend a cool glass of water. "There's no point going on, Gerald, you're just upsetting yourself. It's happened. Learn to live with it." Peter paused. "Do you mind if I make a suggestion?"
"I want you to try a course of therapy."
"Therapy!" spluttered Gerald, feeling like a freak.
"Don't look so horrified. It's a natural treatment. Lot's of people undertake therapy for phobias."
Gerald gulped another mouthful of water. "I'm not sure. What do you want me to do?"
"I want you to go and work for the manufacturers, The Teeth Park, at the dental laboratory."
"Like bloody hell I will!" he screamed, rising from his seat. He felt the rush of adrenaline to his head.
"Work for people who make false teeth? Are you out of your mind?" His palpitations were returning. Gerald felt hot, the prickly heat overtaking his body.
"No I'm not," replied Peter. "I'm suggesting it to help you. They're based in Epsom, about three miles from you. I have a friend who works there. They're looking for a cleaner."
Gerald stood up, exasperated. "Then tell them to carry on looking. I'm not working for those people, and that's final!"
Two weeks after his adamant refusal, Gerald had started work for The Teeth Park. He liked the rest of the staff - although they appeared secretive about their work - and found the environment clean and pleasant. His tasks were menial ... almost boring. Apart from cleaning he was also expected to make the tea and run errands.
What he didn't like was the overpowering, clinical smells, the posters on the walls - which made him cringe every time he glanced at them - and having to handle the teeth, even though they were well wrapped.
He was also very curious about the room with the red door, which was always locked.
Gerald's teeth phobia did not ease. He loathed their appearance, the feel of them; the mere thought of dentures still made him retch: most of all, his recurring nightmare continued.
However, his relationship with Sarah had improved. She was pleased he had taken the job and their marriage appeared to be returning to normal.
It was nine-thirty in the evening. Gerald had finished his first night shift. He’d been with the company a month and now had his own set of keys.
His curiosity having overcome him, he'd tried in vain for fifteen minutes to gain access to the room with the red door, but none of his keys fitted.
Gerald wondered what they did in there that was so important. Why were they so secretive about the room? It wasn't only the red room itself that bothered him but the way the staff remained silent in his presence: the odd expressions they gave him, particularly if he was near the red door; which still made him feel like an outsider.
He finally gave up and called in at the supervisor's office. He placed his report inside the blue folder lying next to the PC monitor. Gerald was about to leave the room when he noticed one of the filing cabinets had been left open ... one that was normally locked.
After debating whether or not he should snoop, he found his curiosity gaining the better of him.
Gerald crept across the room on tiptoes and opened the top drawer. As he'd expected, the folders were marked Private : Confidential. He didn't think it would do any harm. Perhaps now he may learn what the company had to hide, if indeed there was anything.
Most of it was routine, until he came to the last drawer. Here, he found personal details, not about employees, but seemingly ordinary people.
He placed the file on top of the cabinet and glanced outside the office, still nervous of being caught. He returned to continue reading: the company kept information on people who had died. Gerald then discovered a folder on someone he knew well, Christopher Sinclair, a one-time neighbour of his who had perished in a road accident two years before.
If he remembered correctly, Christopher's widow had been extremely upset at the time because of the condition of the body; he never did find out what it was.
But why should the company have files on Christopher?
Gerald racked his brains as he tried unsuccessfully to remember the mystery surrounding his neighbour's death.
He was about to replace the file when the telephone rang, startling him. He dropped it and ran for cover round the side of the cabinet, his heart missing a few beats ... his breath in short, sharp rasps ... his legs weakening.
Regaining his composure, he had found the courage to answer when the phone stopped ringing.
Cautiously, Gerald returned to the papers, shooting furtive glances in all directions; he even checked the car park through the office window as an afterthought.
As he read through the last file, his skin prickled.
Indistinct colours clouded his vision and he felt faint. He dropped it, scattering across the floor the personal details of a twenty-five year old man named Stephen Fielding.
Stephen had died in a crash a few miles from his home in Weybridge. He and his girlfriend were crossing a bridge when a white van came out of nowhere, forcing them over the side. Both he and the young lady were killed instantly.
Gerald's name appeared at the bottom of the file. He had been the recipient for Stephen's near perfect set of teeth, which were now permanently encased in his own mouth.
Gerald's agonising scream went unheard. The Teeth Park's unrivalled reputation for manufacturing the only dentures in the world that actually resembled a perfectly real set of teeth was because they were real - they came from corpses.
The following morning the staff were overcome by the nauseating smell of death as they entered the laboratory.
They found Gerald lying face down in a pool of congealed blood, surrounded by dental instruments ... and Stephen Fielding's teeth.