Readings — From the February 2020 issue

Spit Take

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From A Czech Dreambook, published last month by Karolinum. Vaculík, a Czech dissident, was the author of Two Thousand Words, a June 1968 manifesto that called for the democratization of Communist Czechoslovakia. It was cited by the Soviet Union as a pretext for its invasion of the country. A decade later, Vaculík began A Czech Dreambook as a diary, but soon incorporated fiction and accounts of his dreams. It was published in Czech in 1981. Translated by Gerald Turner. 

tuesday, 13th february 1979

Today I resumed dealings with the dentist after a two-year break. I had bumped into him before Christmas. “I have a bottle at home for you,” I said, “and it won’t be a bribe, because I haven’t needed you once this year.” He replied: “Then it will be a normal fee, as in ancient China. There they used to pay the doctor when he wasn’t needed.” Mind you, there is always someone from our family visiting Dr. Kurka throughout the year.

He ordered me to climb onto the horizontal chair and pumped it in such a way that my feet ended up almost higher than my head. He gave everything a good poke and asked me when we would finally take out those three dead incisors at the bottom, which were already wobbly anyway. And at the top left it was perfect for a bridge: we’ll do an X-ray. I reminded him that we had already X-rayed it. But, Mrs. Krumphanzlová read from the card, that was two years ago. I said that nothing was hurting me and I had come for the sake of good relations. Dr. Kurka scraped away at something or other of mine and said to the assistant: “Get me a temporary dressing ready.” Then he said: “Rinse.” But as I had my feet higher than my head, this was impossible. First he had to lower me to a more suitable position. “There you are,” he said. “That’s what happens when patients have to rinse out for themselves.” I expressed surprise that someone else was supposed to rinse out my mouth for me. The nurse said: “It’s supposed to be the assistant’s job.” Dr. Kurka said: “What’s supposed to happen is this—” crossing round the back of my head and standing on my left. “The assistant is supposed to stand here, and here, as you can see, is a sort of hose. While I’m working in the patient’s mouth, the assistant is supposed to suck it all out straight away. It has quite some suction.” He pushed a button and the hose started to hiss. “And when the patient needs to spit, a funnel is pushed into the end of the hose and he spits into that. But we are unable to achieve that standard here, as the personnel is lazy.” “And it’s the same all over,” the assistant said. We went to do the X-ray.

In 1969, I received a summons over the “Ten Points” manifesto and was expecting to go to court. I was terrified at the thought of all my teeth starting to ache in the cold concrete surroundings. The dentist we had before Dr. Kurka was not very well known to me. When he read my record card he asked: “Are you that Vaculík?”

“Yes.”

He gazed at me for a moment and then said: “Forgive me, I know it’s not the time or place, but such things interest me. How old were you when you joined the party?”

“Twenty.”

“Open wide. So, from the age of twenty you worked for us to have the Russians here today. Now let’s have a look at you and make sure we deliver you to your jailers in good shape.”

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