My sister sometimes overdoes the empathy. "He comes from Greece and you know the problems they're having," she tells me over a fried egg breakfast in her home. "He probably sends money back every month to his mum and dad and their dog."
"That's hardly your problem Helen," I tell her, trying to sound like the sensible elder brother I should have been. "He's your dentist not your responsibility."
"I feel sorry for him," she says. "I don't think he's a great dentist. He's clumsy. He drops things. He bumps into people. And his equipment. And the walls."
I stare at her and shake my head.
"I know. I know," she says. "He's a nice guy though. Got this lovely accent."
"Which he uses to say 'Oops'?" I suggest. "And 'Pardon me for stabbing you in the throat, madam.'"
"Also I don't think he's done much root canal work and that's what I'm booked in for tomorrow."
I shake my head and chew my egg roll, one of those you pop in the oven for a few minutes and it comes out warm and doughy. "This is lovely," I tell her. "You buy fried eggs in a café they're half raw and run down your chin. These are firm but not crisp. Perfect."
"You think I'm nuts." she says. "Don't you?"
"Because you're having a dyspraxic dentist do root canal work on the only teeth you'll ever have?" I say. "Nah.
"What is root canal, anyway?" I ask her. "People talk about it, but it means nothing to me."
"It's the part of a tooth's root that carries nerves and blood vessels," she says. "The dentist drills down, scrapes all that out with little files because it's infected and replaces it with artificial stuff. The tooth's dead then but gives you no pain. He was very good at explaining it to me."
"In his lovely Greek accent?"
"While bumping into things?"
"He smacked himself in the eye with the back of his hand while doing the scraping action."
I shake my head.
"I know. I know," she says. "But he's NHS and it's so hard to get one these days. The job would cost £1000 if I went private."
"But you would have the use of your face afterwards," I point out. "Your jugular would be unsevered and you wouldn't have a scalpel sticking out your forehead."
"Once he's working on your teeth he seems less clumsy," she says.
"How can you tell? Your head's numb. He's probably dropping drills, tweezers and cups of tea into your mouth and you can't feel it. I bet they're still there. Let me look."
She tops my mug up with fresh coffee and ignores me. "It's good service here," I tell her. "Reasonable prices too. I'll recommend you to my friends."
"Don't you dare," she says. "I've met your friends."
"You like Al," I say.
"I want to mother him," she says. "There's a sadness in his eyes. You think I'm mad, don't you?"
"Nah, I want to mother him too."
"I mean about my dentist."
I sip the coffee. Piping hot, just how I like it. "If we had a who's the most sensible person in this room contest, Helen, you'd lose. That's how far you've come from any semblance of sanity."
"I know. I know," she says. "What do you think I should do?"
"Dump him. Get a better dentist."
"What about his mum and dad?"
"He's an orphan."
"What about his dog?"
"It's being looked after by his best friend on an orange farm in Attica."
"Will it upset him if he loses me?
"He's your dentist Helen, not your lover."
"I'll do it. You've got me all fired up. I'll do it," she says, banging her egg roll on the table and making the cat jump.
"Right after I keep this appointment tomorrow," she says.
I shake my head.
"I know. I know," she says.