The anaesthetist’s breath smelled of instant coffee and skipped meals. A dormant surgical mask hung beneath his chin as playfully, he invited her to count backwards with him.
They were on eight when she noticed the doctor’s missing tooth. When performing the pre-operative checks, he’d asked her to open her mouth and peered in as if appraising an old horse. Perhaps she should have done the same. Surely if he were any good, he could afford to visit a dentist? Or was he so good, so in demand, that he couldn’t spare the time?
This whole thing was terribly inconvenient. The ladder had seemed sturdy enough when she tested it, shaking the uprights against the russet trunk of the old Angophora tree. It had hardly been used. She remembered her father buying it to evict a possum from the roof. She’d begged him to let it stay. She didn’t mind the scratching and the scuffling at night, she’d told him, found it a comfort even. But the following morning the bewildered creature was in the cage and sent off to be re-homed, or so she had been told. That was nearly eighty years ago. Things simply weren’t built to last anymore. Ladders and hips alike. Both rotten and crumbling with age.