Garbo wondered if this is how a dentist falls in love.
No, the woman at the door’s teeth were not obscenely white, they were not entirely straight, and they were not devoid of problems. The teeth possessed a slight lean. A slight yellowing scarred the back. And along the gums, faint traces of further problems.
But still, they were perfect teeth.
“Apologies for the mess,” she said. “I ran here after your message. You’re the dentist who called, no?”
“Yes, I’m Garbo.”
“Gabo, like the author.”
“No. Garbo. The actress. My parents were bigger movie fans than literary ones.”
“They ought to have gotten along with mine then. The cat’s name is Orson. And it’s strange that it ran here. He needs a dentist.”
Over the holiday weekend, no one was there to see a single cat scratch a window screen and tear itself a door into the waiting room of a dentist office. It was hardly alone. Rain refusing to backdown and a storm capable of torture, three more cats soon joined their friend and worked on making the room a home. What they afterward settled on was to lay in formation of an ‑x, to put their heads together and the bodies out. A band of thieves, they soon fell asleep, descending into a gentle rhythm particular to their world.
Just as they were sleeping, the world sought a much-needed stupor. Exits from the town to brighter places happened by full car after full car, and crowded bus upon bus. For those remaining, the weather seemed stuck, the grand effect of several clouds that forgot time moved forward. These individuals marched through the streets and parks like raindrops that did not yet crash, loose and downcast, their eyes forever glued to the floor like they should soon fall apart.
One such figure was Garbo Guerrero, who stepped outside of his apartment often to avoid being alone. A single photo published online of his son with his remarried mother was enough to put the weekend’s trajectory on a regretful track. He wanted to work. Work was refuge, work was purpose, work was the escape.
And so, on the morning of the holiday, Garbo endeavored to go and sit in his office.
But he noticed something amiss. Partly open, he saw the window screen had fallen. On the ground, he noticed scratches and marks. He placed a hand through the space between window and wall and felt the dampness on the other side. Robbers first came to mind. Stealing tools and equipment to pawn or break apart. Unlocking the door, he opened it slowly, stepping back in case there was trouble.
What he found instead was four sets of eyes slowly starting to rouse. They turned their heads up, like they waited for him to nudge them awake. He stepped inside, and not wanting them to run, he shut the door behind him. Closing the window next, the air already felt stuffy, stiff, and still.
“What’s happened to all of you now?” he asked.
He could only get ahold of one person. She arrived no later than an hour. The others, the lost cats, continued to stare or sleep, as Orson moved towards her arms. For ease, he took them to a patient’s room. Nowhere to sit except the patient’s chair, she placed the cat down and they were left standing.
Near a handwashing sink Garbo kept a small toy—a pair of absurdly large chattering teeth. She spun the crank. When she placed it down, immediately a sound erupted—kkkrkkrkkrkkrkk. The teeth clicked and clattered toward the sink. On impact, the noise and action stopped.
Following this crash, the visitor learned to speak again.
“You stumbled upon a whole colony, it seems.”
“Cats wanted an escape this weekend too.”
“Yes, it’s true.”
They were dancing around her concern.
He criticized his fascination for teeth—his want to see beneath her lips—that brought the matter this far. Why bring her and the cat back to the operating room? That made her think he was serious about the matter.
“What’s wrong with him?” Garbo asked.
“I don’t fully know,” she said. “Age, perhaps. The guy is marching on. But can I ask you something?”
He looked at her. No occurrence would ever make him say no.
“It’s funny that you should have that name. What do you think about your namesake?”
“Why do you ask?”
“An old story from my dad.”
“Strange to say, but I never paid much attention to it. Cursed with it, why would I want to know the one blessed with it? That’s a personal choice, I guess. Excuse me, what’s your dad’s story?”
“It’s years ago. Decades actually. After the navy, dad was working at a hotel kitchen when a rumor starts that Garbo is pregnant.”
“Pregnant?” he questioned. “Garbo never had kids or married.”
“Remember, she retired young. Hating the limelight, she left Hollywood for a reclusive life. That’s where my dad enters. One day, he and his coworkers hear the hotel is entirely empty. Not because of a lack of customers, but because of a single customer. My dad runs back and forth. He drops off food. Whatever she needs, he finds it. One day though, he sees the door wide open. He thinks he should close it; instead, he hears a scream. He wanders inside and a woman is alone on the bed. Even in her agony, he sees unfair beauty. Sheets not red before are stained. He runs to her and tells her to breath. Years of navy duty come to help. She grabs onto his arm and can hardly speak. He feels a beat along her stomach. Like something knocking from within. He tells her he might need to open her up. Whatever pain that brings is nothing to the pain she has endured. He starts. What he then sees emerge could quiet a man to his end.”
“I’m a bit confused,” Garbo interrupted. “Where was this; where could it have taken place?”
“Let me finish. When the crew sees him again, they wonder what he could have been up to? Don’t you know not to disturb her, they say. ‘I wasn’t,’ my dad cries, ‘I was helping!’ He barely keeps his job. A note arrives several days later. It’s not signed, and it’s not marked. All it says is thank you. Another day passes and an order comes through. It requests my dad bring up the food specifically. He hurries up with each item. The door, like before, is open. Now there is no cry. Inside the room, he doesn’t find her. He only sees a small grey kitten.”
“He cannot forget what came out of her and what he helped deliver into the world. Green eyes then and green eyes now. What he remembered was part human, but already this was all cat. He searches the room to find a note or a clue. Nothing is there. Slowly, he reaches for the kitten and wanders away, wanders away from the room and from work.”
Garbo takes a step back to regard Orson.
“You’re not suggesting this one is that old, are you?”
“Oh, of course not. We are almost two generations removed from that. What cat lives so long? Though we did wonder all our life what would happen to Garbo’s cat. Would it return to its human form? Could it? But no, it never did. Not that we saw, anyway.”
“Your dad told you this story?”
“You said it so straight faced. You believe it?”
“My dad used to tell it so much I started and stopped believing it many times. Now that he’s gone, I simply remember it. Mostly I remember how Garbo disappeared, how a problem came to my dad’s feet, and how he took it in and cared for it, as one should always do.”
She came over to the cat and planted two hands on its body. It didn’t know it yet, but it was about to be held much tighter.
The problem was urgent.
The cat’s rightward fang was loose and ready to come out. It was obvious it would have to be done or risk infection. Normally, what he’d do would be to sedate the patient, put them into a numb state, and tug and pull. Unsure, if the same chemical combination could work on the cat, he hesitated.
One stare over his shoulder and he wondered how she would see him. To finish and be the man who saved but hurt her cat, or to fail and be the man who couldn’t help her. She offered a closed smile and he prepared for either consequence.
Anthony Gomez III is a PhD student at Stony Brook University where he studies late nineteenth-century literature, early film, and questions of memory and diaspora. He is based in Brooklyn, New York. An emerging Mexican-American writer, his most recent pieces are forthcoming in Shenandoah, 3Elements, and The Bookends Review. Read more at https://www.anthonygomeziii.com/