Dementia Questionnaire

[An engagement with Salvatore Difalco’s “The Teeth” (a short fiction previously excerpted in Flânerie 2), written on the fourth anniversary, give or take a day, of my father’s passing.]

Please answer Yes or No to the following questions. Remember, there are no right or wrong answers.

1.  Does the man whose two front teeth were extracted overnight have any reason to suspect the demented man living upstairs of having been the perpetrator?

2.  If the demented man is in fact responsible for committing this indecency on his downstairs neighbor, would he remember having done so?

3.  In performing the operation would he have used his pocket comb, an instrument that as the dementia extends its reach has proven more pluripotent than a Swiss Army knife, functioning equally well as a car key and as a telephone for conversing with his long-dead mother?

4.  During prep did the comb-wielding surgeon administer one of those newfangled anesthetics in which the patient remains conscious throughout the procedure but loses all memory of its having been performed?

5.  Has our ambulatory surgeon become a vector of forgetfulness, on his rounds through the boardinghouse infecting/blessing all of the residents with his malady/gift?

6.  Has the surgeon healed himself, having extracted his own teeth but in his deluded postoperative state confusing himself with his downstairs neighbor?

7.  Is the rooming house the surgeon’s memory palace, a method of loci for visualizing past events devised and practiced by the ancient Greeks and Romans, its rooms crumbling now, their contents scrambling into disarray, conflating that day more than seventy years ago when he placed his still-bloody two front teeth, knocked out of their shallow sockets by the opposing shortstop’s knee sliding (safely!) into second base, under his pillow in accord with accepted Tooth Fairy protocol with the present state of his old-man teeth, deteriorating along with the rest of him?

8.  Preserving teeth in a glass of milk and then drinking it — is this not another scene from the memory palace, a childhood reminder of enamel-strengthening oral hygiene reenacted now in degraded form, the reinforced but uprooted teeth having lodged themselves in the throat, necessitating their second removal?

9.  As the surgeon descends toward the kitchen, his long white hair trailing behind him like a veil, followed in turn by his toothless patient, is the memory palace not attempting to reveal to the patient the truth that he is himself the surgeon, their convergent identity veiled by the dementia enshrouding his brain?

10.  If tonight the demented old man were to go to sleep for the last time, would his tombstone record the date of his death as today, when the night manager of the nursing home feels for his pulse and breath but comes up empty, or tomorrow, when in the predawn hours the hospice nurse arrives at the facility and confirms the manager’s diagnosis, sending for the morticians to take him away?

11.  On what basis would the old man’s son, being informed by the mortician that he could choose the date to be recorded on the Certificate, render his decision?

12.  Would the son subsequently, and too late, wonder whether he had chosen wisely but not shrewdly?

13.  Does the old man’s memory palace survive him somewhere, perhaps in a storage room at the nursing home, perhaps in the columbarium where his cremains await the resurrection, perhaps in a niche in a chamber in the son’s memory palace?

14.  Without looking, do you remember question 1?


One thought on “Dementia Questionnaire

  1. This post, a kind of fan fiction, is an experiment in engaging with fictional texts and their authors. Sal Difalco is the only Flâneries-excerpted author actually to comment on this site, which is one of the main reasons his story has taken up residency in my own memory palace. Plus I like the story.


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