TINGE Magazine - http://www.tingemagazine.org

Issue 1

As People Do

 · Fiction

My dentist died. It was a single-car accident on a stretch of gravel road near the man-made lake. The car burned for twenty minutes before anyone came by, and so my dentist’s body was fairly well unrecognizable by the time it was pulled out. The authorities had to identify him by way of his dental records, and, sad to say, the man was harboring several fairly deep cavities.

The senior hygienist, Jenny, told me about this over ham and eggs at the café that was next door to the dentist’s practice. Over the last year and a half, I had endured two root canals, three regular fillings, and the problematic installation of a veneer, so everyone in the practice knew me pretty well. I preferred the eight a.m. appointment, and I usually stopped at the café beforehand for waffles and sausage. Jenny was often there at the same time, and, as people do, we made it a tradition to eat together before one of my procedures. We had five breakfasts together before she convinced me to stop putting syrup on everything.

“Vernon, the practice is closing,” Jenny told me in the days A.D.D. (After Dentist Death). “It was stipulated in his will that no one carry on the practice without him.”

“What should I do about the refilling of my fillings?” I asked. Two of my fillings had recently popped out during a bout of culinary capitulation that involved half of a pecan pie.

“Call your insurance,” Jenny said. “Or just go to Dr. Damon. You know he’d take you.” She grabbed the dispenser of hot syrup and poured a puddle on her plate. “I think I might try to get a job at Dr. Damon’s, eventually.”

“What are you going to do between now and eventually?”

“I’m glad you asked, Vernon.” Jenny dragged a piece of ham through the puddle of syrup. “I’m going to take the dentist’s ashes to the School of Dental Medicine at Tufts University. And from there, I’m going to get a ticket to Bangkok and spend a few weeks there. I’ve always wanted to go.”

“I heard Bangkok is dangerous for single women,” I said, staring longingly at her syrup puddle. “If you wait until Christmastime, I could go with you. It’d be no problem.”

“No, no,” Jenny said. “I’ve researched it for years. I know exactly where I want to stay, what neighborhoods to go to. I’ll be fine.”

* * *

Jenny left with the ashes. The dentist’s practice was converted into a yoga studio within two weeks of her departure. I went to Dr. Damon’s office to get my fillings replaced; Kat was the assistant during the procedure. Afterwards, I cornered her in the x-ray bay and asked if she’d like to meet me for breakfast sometime. She smiled with her delightful porcelain bridges. The rumor at the old practice was that Kat’s first husband had knocked out four of her front teeth.

“At the Sunrise Café by the new yoga studio?” she said.

“Exactly,” I said.

* * *

Kat met me for breakfast on a Tuesday. She wore seasonal scrubs, as usual. These particular ones depicted Santa Claus faces — watery-smiled cartoonish ones, not the ruddy cheeks and dishonest eyes of the Coca-Cola Santa. Kat had transferred from the old practice to Dr. Damon’s place within a week A.D.D.

“The dentist loved me,” she said, sobbing. “He never said it, but I know he did. I should have done something about it, though. I kept waiting, thinking we had time to be close friends before getting together, you know? And now it’ll never happen. I just — who would drive out to that stupid lake by himself late at night? It’s like he was getting loaded out there all alone. Who does that?”

Her voice broke. She had a bit of basil from her omelet stuck on her top porcelain bridge. Indeed, it was possible that the dentist had loved Kat. The only reason most of us knew about her delightful bridges was because the dentist had often showed them off as examples of his “best work.”

I smiled in the direction of the cheerful Santas. “Would you like to meet me again after work sometime?”

* * *

Kissing Kat was frightening. Her condo was freezing, and her bridges kept clamping down on my tongue.

“Vernon.” Her breath touched my ear. “Did you ever think of becoming a dentist?”

“No,” I said. “I always wanted to work in banking.”

“That’s so lovely,” Kat said.

* * *

Jenny wrote me an email:

Bangkok is grand. I have eaten some terrifying street food. I’m thinking of staying here through Christmas if you’d like to join me. I was able to rent an apartment for the equivalent of about $50 a week.

* * *

I looked up plane fares to Bangkok. I bought Kat a space heater and kissed her some more. I had a follow-up with Dr. Damon, who recommended getting a couple of my back teeth pulled before they disintegrated completely. I said I would take it under advisement. I had always wanted to say that.

What I did, though, instead of having a seventy-five-degree Christmas in Bangkok, was to find the road out by the lake where the dentist had perished. A silent place fanned by pine trees and barely accessible in my cranky old Buick, it still bore the scars of the dentist’s incineration. I left my Buick among the charred pines and braved the rest of the area in my loafers.

I didn’t have to walk far before I found it — a wooden shed with a tiny window, and, inside, a floor cushion and a table holding a bottle of bourbon and a Tufts University alumni magazine. The dentist’s hideout. I couldn’t get the door open, nor could I bring myself to break the window. Instead, I sat on the carpet of wet leaves in front of the shed and imagined myself inside, living and dying alone. Exactly as the dentist had done.


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