The Shine Journal

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Herb Gill Goes To Jail by Tricia Sutton



Herb Gill, banker, VFW and Knights of Columbus member, and all-around good citizen, made a deal with his wife. He told her if he hadn't sprayed the house and yard for spiders by the end of the weekend, he'd finally go to the dentist. He'd put both off for so long he was afraid of what he'd find in the weedy thickets of his yard, of what the dentist would find in the tartar and decay of his mouth.

To Herb, the only thing scarier than spiders was the dentist. His fear of spiders was what kept him out of the family electrical business. Crawling under houses and inside attics, not on your life, he said. His fear of dentistry was the cause of his brown gums and yellow teeth—incongruent with his suit and tie image at Mountain View Savings and Loan.

But each time he gathered the nerve to exterminate, something else called his attention. The tool cabinet could use some labels or wood needed chopping. He changed a light bulb in the closet. New closet illumination revealed his old golf clubs, which could use some swinging. He was hungry. He was sleepy. And before he knew it, the weekend had come and gone, and now he sat in the dentist's chair.

Carla, the chirpy hygienist, loaded his mouth with a variety of equipment: the jack, as he thought of it, the forcible weapon with which to pry open his mouth, a vacuum attachment, and a device that sprayed ice-cold water on his aged and sensitive gums, sending his muscles into twitch and jerk mode. The water torture alone was grounds for dental abstinence the remainder of his life.

"This could take some time, Mr. Gill," said Carla. "You have years of plaque buildup and you don't floss." She took out a sharp, hooked instrument and commenced stabbing his teeth and gums. "I don't know why you delay regular cleaning visits."

He tensed and groaned, loudly. The pain was eye watering. He imagined a black widow bite less excruciating. The pain comparison to a spider bite only heightened his anxiety, and he clinched his fist and moaned loud enough for Mrs. Gill to hear from the waiting room.

"How's he doing?" Mrs. Gill poked her head around the corner. "Giving you a hard time?"

"He's a trooper," Carla replied. Then to Herb, she said, "You could try a relaxation technique. One trick is to focus on an object, like this picture." She pointed to a Norman Rockwell print on the wall.

Herb, being a trooper and all-around good citizen, did as he was told. He studied the print of four children, playing dentist. Three girls in dresses were all checking the inside of the mouth of a much smaller boy in overalls. He lost himself in his childhood reflections, complete with Norman Rockwell imagery. He remembered his older sister using him like one of her dolls. God rest her soul, he thought. His teary eye then caught something in the corner just above the print, something small and black, about the size of an olive. His eyes grew; he tensed again, his legs quivered, and he pounded the chair with his fists.

The hygienist called in Mrs. Gill. "I think I'll give him a little nitrous oxide to calm his nerves."

"Honey," said Mrs. Gill said to Herb, "it wouldn't be so bad if you didn't wait so long between cleanings. Fourteen years. You deserve to experience a little discomfort. But go ahead." She motioned to the hygienist, then returned to her People magazine in the waiting room.

He was still using his body to protest as Carla placed a mask over his nose and mouth. After she removed the mask, the black olive in the corner was a little blurry. Just a shadow, he reasoned, and began to relax. Carla's head formed an eclipse of the room as she resumed her torture. He made a mental note to ask for the gas from now on. He sighed, ashamed at all his pre-nitrous oxide commotion. Carla rotated and he once again looked to the corner. The olive was gone! His heart quickened. His head jerked. Carla slipped with the hook and stabbed him between the gum and tooth. He tried to overcome the pain and search for the missing spider. It was nowhere.

Carla apologized, dabbing the blood off his lips. He searched the wall, the ceiling, the carpet, and his body. He saw it on his torso, the olive that wasn't an olive. He tore out of his chair so violently he knocked Carla flat on her back. He swung and flailed his arms like Frankenstein breaking free of his straps. He knocked over a divider wall and socked the fast approaching dentist on the jaw. The room went spinning and he woke up in a police cruiser.

"Dr. Baker said he won't press charges," his wife said after she bailed Herb out of jail. They walked to the car—he at a mournful pace—and he slumped in the passenger seat, still too shocked to drive. He fumbled the buttons on his flannel shirt, noting they were black. "He also said you have a cavity that needs filled."


I'm a writer in many genres, novelist and short story writer. I'm shopping for an agent for my completed family saga novel and have another genre novel in the works. Short story published in The Rambler Magazine. I am the neighborhood cat lady. 

Motivation: This story came to me while at the dentist. There was a black spider on the wall just above the Norman Rockwell. My imagination ran wild after that.

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Email TSJ: Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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