The Fifth Dentist by Vincent Scarpa
Isobel, the hygienist, is sleeping with four out of five dentists in her office, and their last names are all colors teeth should never be: Brown, Green, Black, Grey. They warmed her bed in winter, but now that the light comes early to her gauzy curtains and wisteria petals turn the sidewalks velvet, Isobel is convinced that the charm has worn off each of them. Who she wants is Dr. White, but he’s told her time and time again that he can’t, he just can’t, he wants to, believe him, but he’s a family man. Isobel has met Dr. White’s family at staff potlucks—his wife, a diabetic with emphysema; his son, who pumps gasoline and whose face is pocked with acne scars; and their dog, a blind labrador who falls down the stairs every morning—and she did not see anything worth loving there. Isobel has held herself up to the light for years, looking for flaws, and has yet to find one.
It’s spring, and sap and pollen cover the windows of the examination rooms, making the world outside look like the surface of the sun. On her smoke break, Isobel walks the perimeter of Milmay Dental, the trees like tall chaperones with arms outstretched. When she passes Dr. White’s room, she sees him performing a root canal on a fat woman who has been numbed with novocaine. Isobel knocks softly on the window to get his attention and, when she has it, traces a heart through the yellow film. Then, as if to prove a point about her irresistibility, she brings her lips to the glass and closes her eyes, leaving behind a translucent kiss Dr. White will have to look through if he wants to see the world outside without a flaxen filter.
Isobel wonders about winter—when the lawns in the town look like beds with blankets made of snow and the waiting room fills up with Christmas cavities, when she’ll have worn down Dr. White, worn him down and into her bed. She thinks that when she finally gets what she wants, when all five dentists agree, it will be because of this moment: the heart in the window, her fingers yellowed and sticky with sap, the light she kissed into the room.
Vincent Scarpa recently graduated with a BFA in writing from Emerson College. His stories and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Little Fiction, The Baltimore Review, and plain china: Best Undergraduate Writing 2011.