Vladimir Ivanovich Meklin cared deeply about his health, especially about the condition of his teeth. At the age of fifty-eight, he still had his own teeth, but one of them, a wisdom tooth without pulp, was on the verge of being lost—the filling fell out, the enamel darkened, the tooth was wiggling and chipped. The doctor from the district polyclinic considered that it was useless to treat the tooth and decisively recommended its extraction.
His first extraction…Vladimir Ivanovich decided that he should pay the most serious attention to this event. He approached a friend from his university days, Boris Stotsky, who was two years older than him and has replaced the teeth of both jaws with implants. In addition, Stotsky was very experienced in life and fairly cunning—he has gotten into scrapes hundred times, but always landed on his feet.
“Pulling out a tooth is a simple matter, Vladimir! You should only care that the infection will not spread to other areas,” Boris told him authoritatively. “You extract one and you risk losing all at once.”
“I am being treated at the district polyclinic attached to the First Medical University,” Meklin said. “And, most importantly, our dentist is a very decent person. His name is Abram Solomonovich. You know, Jews are God-gifted doctors!”
“If Abram Solomonovich is such a wonderful doctor, why couldn’t he save your tooth, why did it start to wiggle, why was a new filling not put in? What does it cost you? Free? Well, my friend, I don’t want to offend you, but you are not rich enough to get your teeth treated at a cheap clinic.”
“I went for a consultation to an expensive dentistry, “Shmedi” on Nevsky Prospekt. Badri Pchelidze himself examined me. He also said, “We have to extract!” But I decided that my local dentist would do it.”
“Don’t say rubbish, dentists treat, but a surgeon pulls out.”
“I don’t know if there is a surgeon there, but I wouldn’t want a stranger to take off my tooth…”
“Well, then go to Chkheidze!”
“To Pchelidze…He didn’t impress me. He told me endlessly that he needed to lose forty kilos and how much time he spends in the gym…”
“That’s it! I know Chkheidze. Because of his gym, his hands are shaking and he sees double. Or maybe not because of the gym, but because of something else? This is a serious matter, so you should not go this way. For me, too, it all started with the very first tooth, and what results I have achieved now!”
“What should I do?” Vladimir Ivanovich asked in confusion.
“I have no idea…However, I know one very good dental office. People of our kind work there. They have a special relationship with customers. And by the way, it’s very cheap.”
“Tell me the name of the clinic. I will look on the Internet about their services, rates and customers’ reviews.”
“It won’t work,” Boris replied. “You cannot find them in directories and search engines. They accept clients only on personal recommendations.”
“What about me?”
“About you…Can’t I help my fellow student? Here is their phone. Make an appointment and say them that you are from Boris Ilyich—everyone knows Stotsky.”
On an October morning, after spending three and a half hours on the suburban train, Vladimir Ivanovich got off at the old provincial town where that mysterious unnamed dental clinic was located. He hoped that first-class specialists were working there, otherwise Stotsky would not recommend that dentistry. Meklin felt a slight agitation, sore throat and even chills. He saw the clinic from afar and recognized it from the photograph that Stotsky gave him. It was located on the first floor of a residential building and looked great. The clinic had a wide porch staircase with metal and glass railings, ramps for the disabled and modern street lamps on both sides. The entrance was framed by two green walls of neatly trimmed thuja trees.
The road to the clinic was in perfect condition, the lawns were mown, the small fences of the flower beds were freshly painted, the benches were polished and stained to match the color of mahogany.
People of different ages sat on the benches with serene facial expressions. The only thing that surprised Vladimir Ivanovich was that these either resting persons or patients were absolutely motionless. Meklin went up to one of them and strained his ears. No breathing was heard. He brought the mobile phone to the person’s face—a barely noticeable trace of fog appeared on the display glass. The man was not really breathing, but he seemed at least still alive! In a different situation, Vladimir Ivanovich would be sincerely astonished and begin to look for an explanation for this strange phenomenon. But he was not into that right now. Now he should keep his eye on the ball and be very careful not to make any wrong decision and not to allow the clinic staff to take any actions without his approval.
A man in a raincoat stood at the very porch. He had just stepped onto the pavement, and lifted his leg to take the next step. The man, tilting his head, carefully peered at the place where his foot should have stood, and somehow became frozen motionless in this uncomfortable position.
“The hell with them all! These people are deliberately distracting me from an important matter. That guy on the bench is clearly alive, so this one is all right too. I am strong, youthful for my age, athletic, they won’t lead me astray so easily,” Vladimir Ivanovich said to himself, and easily ran up the steps of the porch.
He was greeted by a charming young woman at the reception desk. She filled out the necessary documents and asked him to wait—the doctor will see him soon. Meklin liked how the reception area of the clinic looked. There were light modern furniture and fresh wallpaper. Wooden chairs with colorful upholstery seemed comfortable. The window overlooked one of the picturesque corners of the town. Everything here breathed hospitality, inspired peace and gave hope for a future happy life. Meklin sat down in an easy chair, and a young nurse ran up and turned on the floor lamp next to him. Vladimir Ivanovich began to read the book The Silence of the Lambs, which he had brought with him.
Soon, he was invited to the doctor’s office. Meklin liked the surgeon at first sight. The doctor was cheerful, round-faced and round-bodied; he has strong hands and gave the impression of an unusually healthy person, both mentally and physically. His female assistant looked just as round and nice.
“The surgery is simple,” the doctor explained. “It is done under local anesthesia. But so that the infection does not spread throughout the oral cavity and you do not lose the rest of your teeth, we need to carefully work out all the steps. Open your mouth, please. My assistant will make sure that unwanted fluids do not accumulate in the area of surgical intervention, and I will give you anesthetic injections. And so that you understand what we will do in the cavity of your mouth, I will tell you everything in the most detailed way. If I ask a question and you want to answer “yes”—nod, or if “no”—turn your head left and right. Do you agree? Great! I see that you are a very forbearing and, most importantly, positive young man… You don’t like being called a young man? Youthful-looking—is it better? Excellent, everything is very good.”
The operation went according to plan. The tooth was extracted and demonstrated to the patient. The bleeding was very little, and the doctor quickly stopped it and began to sew up the gum.
“Our surgery is nearing completion,” the doctor said, wielding tweezers and a needle with a dissolvable thread. “Knowing how deeply you care about your health, and seeing your exceptional composure and remarkable patience, I would like to offer to our charming patient one unusual procedure. The clinic has at its disposal the newest American medicament, which gives a full guarantee that the infection from the wound at the site of the extracted tooth will be safely cut short and will not spread anywhere. You are not at all obliged to agree, you are already fine and most likely you will be all right without it. Most likely…But it is this drug that gives a hundred percent guarantee. We don’t offer this medicament to anyone, but you have won great admiration of me and my assistant,” the doctor winked at his assistant. “In short, this drug is available only for employees of our clinic, but we offer it to you. No, no, it will cost you nothing, absolutely nothing. You will not feel the injection either, because you are now under anesthesia. If you agree, nod your head. I had no doubt—such an educated and far-sighted man would definitely accept such a tempting offer. It’s a wonderful insurance against possible troubles. That’s it, now everything is all right.”
The doctor straightened up, looked around triumphantly, and then leaned down solicitously towards Vladimir Ivanovich.
“Now I need to explain to you one very important circumstance. This drug gives such a stunning effect only if it does not come into contact with the outside air. You must keep your mouth closed for three hours, and no outside air—you should breathe only through your nose. I warned you about this, why are you indignant now? Here she is, my assistant, a witness that you were warned and that you gave your positive consent. All right, I understand you very well, Vladimir Ivanovich, you don’t need to explain anything to me, just shut your mouth. However, as you wish, you can breathe through your nose or even through your mouth, but as a professional—we have a professional clinic here, not some Mickey Mouse outfit or a greasy spoon eatery—I really obliged to warn you: if the medicament comes into contact with air, it causes tissue necrosis in most cases. No, no, this applies not only to gums, but to jaw bone tissues too. Do you want to undergo a surgery with partial removal of bone tissues of both your jaws? No, you do not. So don’t open your mouth again. Look, everything here is being done for your own good. I know you can endure it a little bit and not breathe through your mouth. But what if you accidentally start talking with a ticket seller at the station or with someone else? Be prudent—let’s do everything that is required to be done in such cases. REQUIRED! We will sew your mouth shut for three hours. It’s not a big deal, you will rest on a bench in our beautiful yard, and then we will remove the threads of the seams. Firstly, it won’t hurt. Secondly, we will sew your mouth from the inner side, so the threads will not be seen. Well, do you agree? We started off so great, but now, you are acting mulish for some reason, creating problems in our joint work. Now then, do you agree? Nod your head. Yes, the procedure is a little more complicated than you imagined, but you get a full guarantee. I am sure you will laugh at your fears afterward. Good for you! I understood at first glance that you are a progressive, free-thinking and modern person. That’s it, our procedure is nearly finished. Sit in your chair for one more minute. I know what’s bothering you. Can you breathe through your nose? You don’t have to worry—that’s a thing you don’t have to worry at all! No runny nose, no mucous discharge will prevent you from breathing. The fact is that the wonderful medicament that we administered to you—keep in mind, it was with your consent—extremely slows down your metabolism. While the injection is working, your body needs millions of times less air, and consequently, all your internal processes and their accompanying biological secretions are reduced millions of times and practically stopped.”
The assistant, apparently, remembered some important things. She took the cheerful doctor aside and began to whisper something in his ear. He suddenly got angry and blushed.
“No need to explain to me what to do next. You are trying to teach your grandmother to suck eggs!” the doctor answered the assistant very sternly. But when he returned to the patient, his face again was covered with a mask of courtesy and kindness.
“Well, dear Vladimir Ivanovich,” the doctor smiled. “It seems to me that you have already fully adapted to the new situation. So, you are prepared to receive reliable information about what is really happening to you now. But in order to help you to correctly evaluate this information and to prevent you from harming yourself or our clinic equipment—which, as you can see, is the most expensive and the most modern—we will have to take some preventive measures.
The doctor made an imperceptible sign to his assistant, and she deftly fastened Meklin’s forearms to the elbows of the chair, using special straps.
“Do not twitch, Vladimir Ivanovich, and do not try to show your indignation—you will only harm yourself,” the doctor said. “Everything that is being done here is done only for your benefit. Both you and I did a great job, and this guarantees us a perfect end result. I know you can hear me. The thing is that you will have a very deep cleansing sleep soon. And during this sleep, oxygen should not enter your body through your respiratory system at all. I told you about the consequences—the consequences can be terrible! I understand that you are extremely worried and upset by such unexpected turn of events, but believe me, thousands of patients have already passed through this office and this chair. Everything will be perfect for you. We need to sew up your nostrils so that no air enters through them. No, no, you still need oxygen, but only in such small doses that skin respiration will completely provide you—yes, yes, humans have skin respiration. I know it’s hard for you to make such a decision, but believe me, we have come so far that there is no going back. We have to take one more very small step, and then the light at the end of the tunnel will be visible. Give your agreement! Well done, well done, we are proud of you. Now I will sew up your nostrils in the perfect cosmetic surgery way, then you will need to sign a paper stating that everything that was done here was carried out by the clinic staff with your consent.”
The doctor finished his work, and his assistant freed their patient’s hands. Vladimir Ivanovich’s movements became more and more slow. Meklin did not realize this. He felt like the doctor and his assistant were moving faster and faster. His thought and attention did not have time to fix their position in space, and their movements seemed blurred to him. Then Vladimir Ivanovich was given a contract and a pen. He remembered his promise to sign something. Meklin was a man of his word. He should sign if he promised, especially since he didn’t want to let these nice people down! The doctor and his assistant had a hard time waiting—at least fifteen minutes passed until the first three squiggles appeared from the patient’s pen.
“That’s it, that’s enough,” the doctor said sharply and wiped his sweaty forehead with a handkerchief.
His assistant literally tore the pen and contract out of Meklin’s fingers. Vladimir Ivanovich carefully examined his hand. He remembered that he had just held a pen, and it had suddenly disappeared now. It’s better to get out of here. Meklin began to stand up in order to leave the chair. Then, his face became frozen in an expression of stupefied surprise.
“Will he wake up in three hours?” the assistant asked, turning to the doctor.
“Don’t be silly. Would we bother with him for just three hours? I injected him with normatively recommended dose of the medicament that excludes the individual from society but without atrocities, without fanaticism and without bloodshed!”
“I feel sorry for him, he seems such a nice person,” the assistant murmured.
“I believe that we treat him and those like him more than humanely. His internal clock will go slower and slower, so he will be able to live in the future unlike me and you. By the way, while the man’s clock is still somehow ticking, let’s take him to the yard and seat him on a bench. Perhaps he will eventually leave us on his feet, but it will take months and possibly years.
The doctor stepped back into the semi-darkness of his office. He could not discern the face of the person who was sitting at his table, but the doctor knew this man well.
“Long time no see, doc,” the guest said in a soft, soulful voice. “You look good— fresher and younger than before. What is the book in your hand?”
“The Silence of the Lambs, I borrowed it from a friend” the doctor answered.
“The Silence of the Lambs—well, well, that’s the right title! However, I do not want to detain you for a long time, so let’s get down to business right away. You know, there will be the election at the beginning of next year. We need to shut off from voting the fifty percent of the state’s population by that time. You have to put your shoulder to the wheel, my friend.”
“That does not depend on me. As many clients your Stotskys send to me, as much work I do.”
“Can you use your own initiative? Advertise online, post reviews from grateful patients…”
“But you have instructed me to work secretly and to accept clients only on the recommendation.”
“Enough talking. Don’t forget you are personally responsible. The results of our work come first, make your best effort! After the election, we will have it all sewn up—we will be able to shut off any excess units of the populace just by a resolution of any three law enforcement officers without the consent of patients and not bothering to get them sign a contract. So come on! If you work badly, you know what will happen—we will have to sew up your mouth too.