American Consequences - September 2018

felt something. Or his head did. Whichever it was, he approved. His body became waves – waves instead of legs, waves instead of arms, waves instead of lungs, the weightless pleasure of waves. He experienced something like a laugh, but it was the laugh of soul rather than body. So the two – soul and body – are separate after all! What a thing to discover! What else? He could hear. A pulsing beat, a sound the color of gold. A beat that sounded as if it rang from inside the bell of the world. Ah, the church bell of Creation. The heartbeat of God. He looked around. The room expanded. Or rather, Horace shrank. Or rather, the room expanded. Somewhere he heard a sharpening wheel, and he saw its sparks spray into the air. What ecstasy to be a spark in this universe, one of an infinity of sparks, all brilliant, all in flight. A spark streaked by his face, and it spoke to him in a voice like God’s. “Open your mouth,” said the spark, and Horace imagined his mouth opening, and perhaps it did or did not but did it matter? Brilliant and humble and in flight! Rapture!... And then, he felt himself breathing. His lungs, no longer waves, had become lungs again. He blinked and saw blinding brightness. He felt the blink. He held his eyes shut a moment. The pulse that had been God’s heartbeat seemed now to be a throbbing, as if it were a visitor knocking on his forehead with two knuckles. His mouth tasted of iron. His tongue felt leaden. Still, it moved at his bidding, sort of, so he explored his mouth and found a hole along his gum line where he remembered no hole. He opened his eyes, and in the brightness he saw Riggs in his apron. Riggs held a tooth key,

Michael Downs is the author of three books, most recently a novel that retells the story of the American

dentist widely credited with introducing general anesthesia to the world. Learn more about him and his work at

and lodged in the key was a tooth. It looked to him white as could be, as if polished, as if it were the tooth of an angel. “Did you feel it, Wells? Did you feel the tooth pull?” He had not. He had not, and even as he felt tired, wanting to sleep, the awareness that the angel tooth Riggs held was his own sparked through him. He tasted blood and tongued the spot where his sore tooth had been, felt its emptiness, and even the pressure of his tongue in the hollow space felt as no more than a caress.

He clapped his hands once, then let them fall, benumbed birds alighting in his lap. Thus does the map of the known world widen and its mysteries multiply. From The Strange and True Tale of Horace Wells, Surgeon Dentist , published May 2018 by Acre Books. Copyright Michael Downs, 2018. Headshot of Michael courtesy of Leslie F. Miller.

American Consequences 33 THERE SHALL BE NO PAIN

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