My dentist is late. I’m on time despite several detours from hell, then speeding and careening around slow moving vehicles to make my appointment. Jumping from the car and rushing toward the building, punching the elevator button a bunch of times, cursing, before it creaks its slow ass up to two. And he’s the one who’s late.

I’m fuming on the couch in the reception area. Then the door to his office suite swings open and in he steps. Doctor Dapper I’m thinking. Sort of surprised. Taking in his glove-leather chocolate-brown bomber jacket with its slightly curly yellow-white collar. He looks flushed like he rode a motorcycle to work. He smiles, says Hi and moves past me. Into his salum sanctorum. Where I have shed much blood, much misery.

His new look has got me feeling unsettled. Dental being one of my nervous areas. I’m used to seeing him prepped and ready in standard white dentist coat. Well, once he wore a perky, dotted little bow-tie that showed above the coat V and seemed to wink at me while he drilled. The next time the bow-tie was gone. I wanted to ask about it, but that seemed too personal, like for instance asking: What happened between you and your first wife?

Not that I have a clue about his personal life. Not that I care. I think he has a little crush on me because he always comes into the room sounding way too casual, too Mister Hip. His tone like a guy trying to pick you up in a bar. By then I’m already reclined way back in the chair looking up at him looking down on me. Feeling infantile wearing the inadequately sized paper bib his assistant straps on before he enters.

Speaking of the chair. With its too short arm grippers. Picturing it I become immediately tense and think about taking a magazine from the pile to calm myself. Everyone knows the arm grippers have to be long enough to grip during the hideous process. Also there’s the problem with his spit sinks. Way too shallow. My spit, despite perfect aim, always splashes on the floor. Then I have to apologize for my spit. He should apologize for having those stupid shallow sinks in the first place.

One of his hygienists, a squat little woman, told me: Only a man would install sinks like these.

It is an interesting theory.

His receptionist slides open the glass window. Our eyes meet. Her teeth gleaming like swords: “Patti he’s ready for you.”

Photography ©John Gagan

Photography ©John Gagan

Susan Tepper is the author of a new novella, dear Petrov, and five other published books.

John Gagan is a writer and painter and photographer. He lived for many years in Revere MA and drew inspiration from the old house he lived in and the sea. He now lives in Arlington, MA.