Saturday, August 13, 2011

What Good Timing

I guess I'd better get some content up here, huh?

Here is an old story of mine; since I titled my blog after this story, it seems reasonable to post it first. It hasn't been published anywhere else.

This is an atypical story for me. No one dies in it. It's nice, maybe a little bittersweet. And it's short. I'm really fond of the two characters in this story; I actually have a couple flash fiction pieces involving them as well. I'll post those later.

In a few days I'll post links to some of my published, archived stuff that is more typical of what I usually write. Until then, enjoy "Cottonmouth".


When he awoke the first thing he heard was the doctor’s voice. “All right, Mr. Mori. Time to get up now.”

What good timing, Katsuhiro thought. He opened his eyes.

There was a vague fuzzy form in white, topped by a gray smear- the surgeon. A hygienist in a pink smock across the room. Something thick and cottony prevented his jaw from closing all the way, and his mouth tasted metallic.

The doctor was leaning out the door, calling someone. A smaller figure stepped into the room. Even through the haze of anesthetic he knew her instantly. Jessie. He tried to greet her, but the wad of something in his mouth turned her name into a garbled moan.

“No, we couldn’t keep them.” The doctor shook his head, answering some question she’d asked. “They were impacted. We had to shatter them to get them out, which is why he’s so groggy.”

Someone gently slipped an arm under his shoulder. Jessie. She was talked to him, maneuvering him to his feet. “Come on, Katsu-kun.”

It was the voice she used with stray dogs, to convince them she was their friend. He wavered to his feet, leaning heavily on her arm, but he leaned too far and received a noseful of her curly hair. Coughing, he lurched the other way.

In the corridor it occurred to him that he was leaning on a girl and he pushed her away. “I can walk.”

She moved back. He shuffled forward a little, until his shoulder connected with the wall. Jessie took his arm again without a word of reproach.

In the parking lot she left him swaying in an adjacent space while she rummaged around in the front seat. In the end she carried two armloads of flyers, Styrofoam cups, and assorted junk to a trash barrel in front of the oral surgeon’s office.

The car was sweltering. He leaned against the window, feeling sick, while Jessie twiddled the climate control switches. “Right, so I have to pick up your pain medicine from the pharmacy before I take you home. Depeche Mode or Bon Jovi?”

“Mode,” He gurgled. There was a dull, throbbing ache deep in his jaw, down his throat and up into his cheeks.

She seemed to understand that. Or perhaps she just knew him that well. Synthesizer music exploded out of the front right speaker, the only one that worked. Ultra. His favorite album.

The growl of the motor caused a surge of pain in his head. He closed his eyes, but that only made him carsick, so he gazed at the scenery that rolled past the window. Gray streaks of road, colored blobs of traffic light, a wide plain of blue sky spattered with white clouds. Jessie didn’t talk for a while. She rarely carried on a conversation in the car; she was one of the most careful drivers he’d ever seen, watching the other cars, obeying traffic laws he’d never even learned. For once he didn’t find it irritating. Her wariness meant he could concentrate on his own misery.

“Katsu-kun?” They’d stopped. Jessie waved her hand in front of his eyes. “We’re here. You want to come in or wait?”


“Okay.” She kicked open the door and paused a moment, looking at him thoughtfully. “You know, you kind of look like this chipmunk I saw one time when I was a kid. It had all this food in its mouth and its cheeks were all puffed out like yours.”

He blinked at her.

“That was right before our dog Boris killed it.” She closed the door carefully. He watched her stride into the supermarket.

Through the window he heard the muffled sounds of a parking lot: the ring of shopping carts crashing together, cars roaring, people talking. His thoughts floated in a haze of pain medication and anesthetic residue.

Sometimes, when major things happened, like a car wreck or his college graduation or having his wisdom teeth out, he wondered what it would have been like if he’d stayed in Tokyo. His car wreck wouldn’t have happened because he wouldn’t have had a car. All of his family would have come to his graduation; not just his parents, but his grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins. And his fiancee, because by then he would have been engaged to some nice girl who held her hand over her mouth when she laughed. And he would have gone to the oral surgeon alone, and one of his sisters would have picked him up, Etsuko or Yukina. And whichever one it was would be late. She’d take him home on the subway, with all the other passengers staring, and then run back to work, and he would have waited in his cramped apartment until his mom got off work and picked up his pain medicine.
Instead he was here, in America, with Jessie who had taken the day off and sat in the waiting room and was now buying his prescription, which he had to remember to pay her back for.

He sank into a doze, so that when she came back and rattled her key in the door he jumped and bumped his forehead on the window. She sighed and dropped the bottle of pills in his lap. “Katsu-kun, you’re seriously out of it.”

Itai,” He whined, rubbing his head. Jessie leaned over and pushed his hand away, gently probing the sore spot. He sat still and let her. “No bump. No concussion. You’ll be okay after you take one of these.”

He clutched the bottle of pills to his chest all the way back to his apartment.

Jessie helped him out of the car and coaxed him up the stairs to his apartment, one arm held firmly around his waist. Katsuhiro thought he saw his neighbor peeking out at them through the curtains, frowning. She was an amazingly elderly Korean woman, and he thought she hated him. He supposed she had good cause, but it still bothered him.

“She doesn’t hate you. You’re imagining things.” Jessie took his keys from him and unlocked the door. He thought she was responding to a remark he’d made, but he couldn’t remember saying anything. Could she read his mind?

His apartment was dark and smelled like dust. Jessie dumped him on the sofa and disappeared into the kitchen. The couch was overstuffed and dangerously comfortable. Katsuhiro sank into its folds and curled up like a puppy.

“Sit up. Come on, you have to take one.”

He obeyed, leaning against the couch’s arm. Jessie sat down on the opposite arm and handed him a glass of water and a tiny white pill. He looked at the glass and realized that his mouth was full of cotton. He spit it into his hand and took the pain medicine. The water tasted like blood.

“Are you still bleeding? Gross! Here, I almost forgot, they gave me this too.” She stood up and pulled another wad of cotton out of her pants pocket. She took the bloody cotton without even making a face. He stuffed the new cotton into his mouth.

“Okay.” She ran a hand through her waterfall of red hair, flinching when her fingers caught a tangle. “Okay, I’m going to leave now and do some stuff, but I’ll come back later to check on you. I’ll bring some applesauce and pudding and if you’re up to it we can hang out. I’ll even bring one of my DVDs if you want.”

“Escape From New York.” He buried his face in a pillow.

“Okay, I’ll bring that one.” She leaned over and pressed a hand to his forehead. It felt cool and dry against his fevered skin. “Don’t die while I’m gone, will you?”

He nodded. It was getting hard to keep his eyes open. She rose to go. He reached out and caught her hand. She paused.

“Jessie, hey, Jessie,” He felt the cotton catch at the back of his throat. “I love you.”

She shook her head. “You idiot, I can’t understand a thing you say with all that stuff in your mouth.”

His fingers dropped away of their own accord. He felt something settle over him; a light blanket, probably the one from the back of the recliner. She was leaving, and even though he didn’t really want her to go, he was too sleepy to do anything about it.

By the time she returned, five hours later, he was awake and starving. They sat on the couch and ate vanilla pudding and applesauce and watched the director’s cut of Escape From New York.

“Katsu-kun,” She said suddenly. “Do you remember anything about this morning?”

He thought. “Did you say Mrs. Park doesn’t hate me?”


“And we stopped to pick up my medicine. I need to give you the money for that.”

“Anything else?”

Something bit at him, like an itch he couldn’t quite place. But when he reached for it, the thing squirmed away. “No. I was really out of it.”

She looked at him for a moment more, a curious expression on her face. Finally she shrugged. “Okay.”

“Check it out,” Katsuhiro downed another spoonful of sweet, cold pudding. “This is the best part.”

The End!

(incidentally, "What good timing!" is the first thing I thought when I woke from having my wisdom teeth out. Also, if you have your wisdom teeth out, don't get a milkshake afterwards. There's nothing like sucking down some milkshake through a straw and then looking down to see your milkshake full of blood)


  1. This really takes me right back to when i had my wisdom teeth out. Philip took the morning off work to sit with me and take me home. He didn't mention till a year or so later how 'chipmunk-like' i looked. Incidentally, you're not supposed to drink anything through a straw for like 2 days after you have teeth out, but that's a lovely image you've put in my mind now. I think i'll be avoiding milkshakes for a while...

  2. Yeah, was pretty gross. I remember watching "Oliver!" with my mom while high on whatever pain meds they gave me...I think that's when I developed my huge crush on Oliver Reed.