A mad rapping on our apartment door sounds. Our maid, Eva, scoots to answer it, saying to me, “keep practising your violin… you are not finished yet!” I make half-hearted sawing motions with the bow, meanwhile keeping an ear out for what is happening in the hall-way. Karolyka bursts in, all excited, and orders me to pack up my case, we have an adventure to begin. Eva is displeased with this turn of events and makes noises about how I am to properly finish my practise. I bring out the big gun, a threat to tell on her to Mother! (The previous evening, while she was baby-sitting Ildiko and me, she brought her boyfriend Zoli in to keep her company. This was verboten, we knew it, and threatened to tattle on her unless Zoli permitted us to spend some considerable time combing and styling his beautiful blonde hair. Naturally, we got our way. He sat there, looking miserable, as Ildiko and I worked him over with a number of hilarious hair variations. Zoli never got a chance to steal a kiss from Eva, as we kept him thoroughly occupied!) Naturally, Eva is terrified of being on the end of Mother’s sharp tongue, so reluctant, allows me to run off to find Ildiko. We kids make our escape from the apartment.
We run down the stairs, noisy, and decide to call out Tibi who lives one floor down, and Marta, the Gynaecologist’s daughter who lives across the hall from Tibi. Tibi’s father, an Ear Nose and Throat specialist and his wife, along with the rest of our parents, are off for the day at a tennis tournament. This means that all of us kids are left in the care of various maids, in other words, are basically left to our own devices and without any sort of adult interference. This is good! it leaves us a clear playing field, largely undisturbed.
(Most of the families living in our apartment house have parents who are medical specialists. Our father is a Pediatrician, Tibi’s an ENT doctor. Marta’s father, a Gynaecologist, has the most mysterious job. We are largely ignorant as to what exactly his work entails, and only know that he has only women patients come to his surgery. Karolyka’s father is a Dentist. He is a humourless man who we all rather dislike as he works on all of our teeth. However, he has the most wonderful, arcane equipment in his surgery, very science-fiction scary.)
We gather on the stairwell outside Marta’s and Tibi’s apartment to determine what we will follow as our play for the morning. Karolyka, being the oldest, is our main instigator and leader. He proposes that we play doctor and patients. So we troop back to our apartment, where, while I keep a lookout for Eva (she is in the kitchen whistling away) we sneak into Father’s surgery. Ildiko, as self-important as ever, declares that she is the Pediatrician. The rest of us line up, ready and waiting for her to come at us with the hypodermic needle. At the last moment, before she is to plunge the needle in Tibi’s arm, we break out in an argument. Needles hurt, and we have largely changed our minds about allowing her to be doctor. Whispering loudly we hash out that the most realistic doctor play is one which allows for maximum tool usage, and minimum pain. Karolyka boasts that his father has the most wonderful tools and the most exotic surgery – drills, a patient chair which goes up and down, picks, probes and little mirrors to stick inside mouths – and that he, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps as dentist, has been noting carefully what is done in that surgery.
We charge out of the apartment, and run down several flights to Karolyka’s apartment. Erzsike, their maid, is an older woman, very pleasant, but hard-of-hearing. She is out on their back balcony doing washing, so we are safe to sneak into the dental surgery. Karolyka, to look official, puts on his father’s white office coat and rolls up the sleeves. Fully in the role, he seats us in the waiting room and tells us that he will see us each, shortly and in turn. He decides that the sequence of seeing us patients is youngest first to the oldest. I like this, as I am the youngest and my trial will be over with first. Tibi, then Marta, and finally Ildiko will then take their turn in the chair.
Karolyka leads me into the surgery, covers me with a green sheet and sits me down in the chair which he then laboriously pumps with his foot to raise. Commanding me to open my mouth, he shines a light around inside it and pokes away with a probe near my back molars. “Hmmm… this filling doesn’t look right”, he announces, “it will have to come out!” He picks away at a tooth for some considerable time, then makes me take a small drink of water to swish out my mouth. Proudly, he shows me with a small mirror the repair he has made, rubs his hands together, lowers the chair and whips off the green sheet from my shoulders and escorts me back to the waiting room.
“Next patient, please!” he calls out. Tibi, reluctant, walks inside to meet his fate. We, in the waiting room, play our parts well. We sit and read newspapers, and don’t converse. Being at the dentist is not a social occasion, and certain social form must be kept. Soon it is Marta’s turn. She goes inside as Tibi comes out. His cheek is puffed out, a bit of cotton batting escapes at the corner of his mouth. He looks a bit unhappy, but ignoring us grabs a paper and begins to read. Ildiko is starting to get nervous. She fidgets and heaves big sighs and occasionally mutters “Oh dear!” We ignore her in our best waiting-room fashion.
Finally, Marta emerges cradling her face, and Ildiko shuffles into the surgery like a lamb to slaughter. Karolyka, in full dentist swing, welcomes her by rubbing his hands together in anticipation. Sure, he is eager and happy, no-one is poking around inside HIS mouth! Time ticks by slowly for us in the waiting room. An occasional “Ow” sounds from inside the surgery. Iloko’s teeth must be particularly bad, as it seems to take forever for her to be “treated”. After a long while, Ildiko walks out into the waiting room, her face full of tears. Proud, she reports to us that she was a most difficult case for Karolyka, but he has done a very good job and her teeth are like brand new now. I am quite suspicious of Ildiko, she seems to want to have suffered greater trials than any other person. True to form, she goes into great detail about all that Karolyka had done to her teeth, and seems pleased that he activated the drill to help clear out some problem fillings.
Karolyka takes a long time in tidying up the surgery, while we cool our heels in the waiting room. Erzsike comes in and asks us why we are there, sitting around. We tell her we are bored and hungry and want snacks of lard bread. She herds us into the kitchen, prepares and hands around slices. I wolf mine down. Tibi pulls the cotton batting from his mouth and tries to eat his slice. Very slow going for him. Marta sucks on her bread slowly, making little headway in the eating. In her lofty fashion, Ildiko graciously refuses her bread. Karolyka has worked up a good appetite and gladly munches on her portion as well as his. After eating, we disband. We have had enough play for the day, and some of us don’t feel too comfortable.
Ildiko and I climb the stairs, go inside the apartment and into our room. She lies down with her teddy bear, while I dig out my favourite book, on the head-hunters of New Guinea. I while away the time until supper imagining how to roast portions of my most hated schoolmate, a la New Guinea Native woman.
Later on, Mother and Father return from their tennis tournament. Eva serves a light supper. I am famished, having worked up a good appetite thinking at length about the victory feast in New Guinea, especially how good a roast of an enemy’s leg would taste so delicious. Ildiko refuses to eat anything. She seems uncomfortable drinking her tea. Mother, concerned, asks her what is wrong. Ildiko makes motions toward her mouth and says her teeth are sore. Mother makes her open her mouth and looks inside.
“Oh, my God, Bela… come and see this!” she calls to Father. Father gets up to look. He shakes his head in amazement and asks “How did this happen?” Ildiko, in full Catholic confessional mode, tells all. “Karolyka did this to me” she admits. My mouth is the next to get a full looking over, but I get off lightly, only one of my fillings is missing. Ildiko, on the other hand, had the thorough dental treatment, she has not one filling left in her teeth.
Mother and Father disappear downstairs to confer with Karolyka’s parents. The full extent of our day’s play at dentist comes to light. All of us are in deepest trouble, especially Karolyka, whose father must now fix up all the fillings cleaned out by his son from the mouths of all the playmates. The whole apartment building is in an uproar, buzzing with news of what rotten children we all are and how we must be carefully watched in the future.
And four of us kids had to endure future visits with Karolyka’s dentist father. This was definitely not as much fun as playing at dentist.
Karolyka never followed in his father’s footsteps as a dentist. Last I heard of him, he was a Rock musician in Berlin.