“I can give you a prescription for GenEX®,” my dentist said. “You’ve heard of that?”
Indeed I had. A miracle concoction. Grows new teeth. There are lots of things on the market now that nobody could have dreamed of twenty years ago. They come out so fast I can’t keep up with them.
Since the genome had been mapped, back at the turn of the century, the experts were predicting all kinds of stuff. Cure diseases, grow new limbs, new organs, new teeth, all from our own DNA. We’d never have to grow old, they said. `The person has already been born,’ I remember the experts saying back in 2002, `who will be the first to live to be 500 years old.’
But I was old then and older now, and I had my doubts.
“It’s perfectly safe,” my dentist told me. “Been tested out on millions of patients for over ten years, and not a single problem.”
“Well, I’m an old fellow, and ten years doesn’t seem like such a long time to me anymore. I’d like to see it tested out a bit more before I try it, I’m thinking.”
But my dentist, who was a young man of forty-five, thought ten years was a plenty long time, and he laughed my doubts away.
“Yes,” he said. “You are old, and so are your teeth. Oh, they’re in great shape, considering their age – but you’ve been chomping at your food for almost ninety years. And your teeth are worn and brittle. Face it, they’re tired.
“GenEX® will give you a new set of teeth, strong as a ten year old’s, in just six months. You’ll just grow them. These old fellows will drop out, like your first set of baby teeth, and the new ones will grow in, just like that,” he said with a snap of his fingers. “All perfectly natural.”
“Um…” I hedged.
“Look. When’s the last time you chomped down on an apple? Or just bit into a steak without worrying about pulling out one of your teeth?”
“Ah… well, I s’pose it’s been a while…”
“You’ve learned to chew things pretty carefully?”
“GenEX® will save you a lot of worry,” he assured me, smiling, “Save a lot of visits to the office, and it’ll save me some trouble, too.”
Well, I let him talk me into it.
Of course, everybody I knew was already taking this GenEX® stuff, anyway. Took me some getting used to, seeing these ninety year old men flashing their big toothy smiles like they were Hollywood stars.
This genetic revolution had changed things, I have to admit, mostly for the better. Reminds me of back when I was kid, in the nineteen-fifties. Those days I saw a lot of people with goiter, huge fleshy blisters growing on their throats, stretching from chin to sternum. That was a pretty common sight, back then. But then somebody figured out how to fix it, and the goiters all disappeared. Just didn’t see them any more.
And so now it is today. Don’t see any old hands gnarled with arthritis, or old backs hunched over with bursitis.
Now I’ve got friends ninety years old, and not looking a day over seventy, strutting around without their walkers or wheelchairs, not all bent and hobbled. Their backs are straight, their eyes are clear, and they tell me that they plan to keep on taking GenEX®, and Zyloflax ®, Xaphaphyl® and every other damn thing that comes out, until they get back to where they were when they were fifty, or forty. I hear some of these hopeless old farts telling me "I'm gonna be thirty again!"
And for the last few years it seemed like these research folk been coming up with a new treatment every month, all based on this genetical engineering. GenEX ® gives you new teeth. This other thing makes you grow new hair. And this other thing yet will grow you a new liver or a lung. They’ve got something that cures multiple sclerosis, another treatment for muscular dystrophy, and another for leukemia – all of these old diseases gone the way of chicken pox. Congenital deafness? No problem. Six months of treatment, and you’re all fixed up. Blindness? Cure it with a patch. Lost a leg? Need a new kidney? All taken care of. Just grow a new one.
Of all the treatments coming out, GenEX ® was old news. It’s been around the longest, tried, tested and true.
I was the only old dodderer around, anymore. Guess I’d got used to my cane, and all the annoyances that went along with it, maybe something like the prisoner who grows to love his chains, as they say. I didn’t like being old, never did. But I did come to get used to it, and despite the assurances of the doctors and the advertisers and all my friends, there was something about GenEX®, and all the others things they put out on the market that made me uneasy. So I figured I’d go natural.
And anyway, my wife was gone. She’s passed on twenty years ago. And there was my old high-school buddy. His name was Paul. I’ve missed him terribly over the last sixty years. He got hit by a bus, back in `76. Turned him into hamburger. Bang, just like that. We were going to be writers, he and I. But he went and got himself killed, and I went and got myself married, and that was the end of all that.
That was my first wife, by the way. I don’t miss her. It was the second one, who passed on, that I miss, and pretty terribly, too. So getting older and all that just means that I’m only that much closer to wherever it was they went, after they shook off this mortal coil. So I’m not much concerned about living forever. Don’t think I ever had been.
But my dentist was right. While I’m here, waiting for my ticket to the next world, it would be nice to bite into an apple now and then, or rip into a nice roasted piece of cow, like I used to do. And with this GenEX ® stuff, that everybody I knew was taking, I’d be only six months away from that.
So I let them all talk me into it. What the hey. I walked out of the office that day with my prescription in hand, stopped by the pharmacy where they gave me a box of patches and a tiny bottle with a cap on it that turned into a measuring cup. The liquid inside the bottle was kind of a reddish purple, and the pharmacist told me I could have it in any flavor I liked, mint, strawberry, grape, banana, chocolate, and so on, or even amaretto.
I took it plain, and hobbled myself back home and started up on my treatments. The patch went under my armpit, where it dispensed its magic into my bloodstream through the skin. The liquid stuff I was supposed to take once at the beginning, and then a teaspoonful once a week, sort of a booster thing, I think.
I poured it out into the measuring cup thing, and must say it looked rather, well, creepy. It seemed almost alive, somehow, a living liquid. It was but a bit of insensate viscosity lying at the bottom of the measuring cup, but it didn’t seem as insensate as it should have been. You’ll know what I’m talking about – a bit of steel or iron seems quite lifeless. A plant, much less so. We know in a very primal way that the plant is alive – our bodies know it, instantly, even if we can’t explain why we know it with our brains.
And so it was with this viscous thing I was about to swallow. It wasn’t a teaspoon of water or whiskey. It was something else, and my throat clenched tight when I saw it lying in that tiny cup.
`Oh, the nausea is quite common,’ they all said to me. `You’ll get over it.’
Well, I never did, but I swallowed it down anyway. Once a week, each week, until it was gone.
The results were not immediate, but when they did come, about forty eight hours after my first dosage, they were pretty remarkable. I found myself feeling feelings I hadn’t felt in over eighty years. I began to feel boyish. The first loosening tooth, and the soreness of it, filled me with the kind of anticipation I remembered feeling when I was only six years old – and how those old memories surged up and inundated me!
Happiness. Boyish happiness, the kind that makes kids squeal with excitement and go careening down stairs, bumping into walls and spinning in circles on the lawn until they fall from dizziness. That kind of boyish, unabashed happiness we feel, only when we’re young enough not to have been burdened by life and grief, came rushing up on me and gushing through me, and when each old and ancient tooth fell out, I felt an exhilaration – I wanted to go show off the gap in my mouth to everyone I knew.
The only off note was the headaches – or, I should say, the single headache that came and went. It started in my forehead, just a small dull pain, something I could add to my list of aches and ignore. Sometimes it came, sometimes it went. Sometimes it waxed and sometimes it waned. But, like the dull pain in my shoulder that had come to be my constant companion a bit after my fiftieth birthday, it was always there.
The new teeth came right in, and just as my dentist had said, and the novelty of them too, took my attention away from the dull ache in my skull. They were strong and young. My dentist insisted I come in once a month so he could check the progress, which I did, and with each visit, I proudly showed off each new gap, and each new sprouting tooth.
And six months later, it was all done. My old teeth were gone, every last one, and my new teeth were in, strong and sturdy. And I went on something of a binge, gorging myself on the kinds of foods that I hadn’t tasted in decade or two.
“Putting on some weight there, eh?” those who knew me remarked when they saw me.
But I have to say I was pretty happy, and didn’t care about the remarks.
And all went well for those first few months. I was thinking about trying out some of the other genetic marvels on the market. Maybe a bit of hair to cover this balding dome of mine, and some younger eyes might be nice, too. I was tired of constantly misplacing my glasses.
And then, early one morning, when I was dead asleep, a huge, sharp, sudden and biting pain in my head woke me right up. This headache was like no other I’d ever felt before.
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