Cavity: A tooth can die quickly, in days, or slowly, over weeks or months or years

Danielle Geller in Guernica:

The saltwater aquarium in my new dentist’s office is its best feature. My favorite fish is a red fish with big eyes and a black stripe along its back. He has a generally grumpy demeanor, and I cannot help but feel a friendship form between us. I take photos of him and sometimes post them to Instagram. (“This red fish is my favorite fish, he is a total weirdo.”) He is popular among my friends.

I am aware, though it has not been my experience, that aquariums are common features in dentist offices. (One of my childhood dentists had an arcade machine. My sister and I would race monster trucks before our appointments.) I imagine this is due to the anxiety many people feel about dental procedures. (I once had a full-blown panic attack before my wisdom tooth extraction, even though I had been given Valium to take beforehand. “I can’t do anything if you don’t stop crying,” my dentist snapped.) Aquariums aren’t cheap to maintain, but dentists or their office administrators must feel they have some beneficial or tangible impact. (In the Google reviews for my new dentist office, I find one from four years ago that reads: “Excellent service. But I went because of Dr. K—’s military service and understanding of PTSD.”) Watching fish swim lazily through a fifty-gallon tank surely has some small but significant calming effect.

The red fish doesn’t really swim. He darts from hiding place to hiding place to resting bowl, and then he crawls along with grasping, tensile fins.

…This essay is a glass aquarium. The fish, a smooth-eyed distraction.

My father is dying. Liver cancer, stage 4.

“Tell your sister not to get too excited,” he tells me in a short phone call. By excited, he does not mean thrilled. He means worked up, distraught. We are not supposed to cry about his death.

More here.