Aurelio Escovar is introduced as a poor dentist without a degree. He is busy polishing false teeth early one morning when the mayor arrives to see him. At first he refuses to see this would-be patient, until the mayor, who has been suffering severe toothache for five days and is desperate, threatens to shoot him. Eventually the dentist lets him in, examines him, and then removes the infected wisdom tooth, without anesthesia.

We realize that the dentist has deliberately made the mayor suffer all this time, and he gives the reason as he pulls out the tooth, saying "Now you’ll pay for our twenty dead men." When the mayor has recovered and wiped his tears, he leaves, telling the dentist to send the bill. When Escovar asks whether to send the bill "To you or the town?," the mayor replies, "It’s the same damn thing."


Marquez captures the peculiar nature of medical (or in this case dental) power in this tale of manipulation. Escovar the dentist is not a powerful man in this town; he is not wealthy and his office is poorly supplied and dirty. The mayor is the epitome of apparently corrupt, even murderous, political power. But the infection entirely reverses this hierarchy, placing the mayor at the dentist’s mercy.

The power is profound, but temporary, for as soon as Escovar has removed the tooth, the mayor is released from him--looking at the extracted tooth, the mayor "failed to understand his torture of the five previous nights"--and when he leaves, the mayor reiterates that he and the town are "the same thing," that his power extends beyond himself. Nonetheless, we are left with a strong reminder of the democracy of at least some kinds of bodily suffering, and of the access this gives the medical professions to an extraordinary kind of control over the experiences of others.

Finally it is as if the dentist, no longer able to withhold treatment (not because the mayor threatens to shoot him, but simply because he is a dentist and a professional), tells himself that hurting the mayor will affirm his own power for revenge or political resistance. In fact, though, his treatment is so effective that he releases the mayor both from the pain and from his grasp and restores the very situation he, the dentist, abhors. As the title implies, though, he seems to have learnt something new about his own power, that "one of these days . . . . " A short and pithy story which would be interesting to use along with William Carlos Williams’s The Use of Force (annotated by Felice Aull, also annotated by Pamela Moore and Jack Coulehan)-or even hated--patient.


First published in Spanish in 1962. Translated from the Spanish by Gregory Rabassa and J. S. Bernstein.

Primary Source

Collected Stories


Harper Perennial

Place Published

New York



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