Is it so wrong for a dentist to feel a human feeling, a feeling of lust? Or maybe even a greater feeling, this feeling we call love? But at the very least, here and now, definitely lust? A lust that could someday blossom, blossom into the love feeling? Is that so wrong? This is what I asked my patient.
Mffphplb, she said.
I think what she was trying to say was, We are all human.
It may not have been clear to the layman, but I have dentist ears. This is something you may not know about dentists: we have dentist ears. Some call us the fruit bats of the dental industry. Some call fruit bats the dentists of the bat industry. Most people cannot have a chat with someone while they stick their fingers in their mouth. Dentists do it every day.
She had blue hair. Not millennial blue, that sort of vibrantly insecure blue that sat atop my daughter’s head. It was a soft eggshell blue, the kind that said, I buy blue eggs. It was the kind that said, did you know that eggs came in blue? Because this is the color, the blue color of those eggs. Maybe she made blue egg omelets, or blue egg muffins. Breakfast food, mostly. She had the kind of hair that said, I like breakfast food.
You have great teeth, I said.
It was not a complete truth, really. She had several unidentified cavities. But I would like to think of teeth as a subjective field. To me, they were great teeth. Dentistry allows for this kind of flexibility. We dentists try to see the dimensions behind the teeth. A bad dentist will tell you that your teeth have holes. A good dentist will tell you that your teeth have personality.
We had been seeing each other for several years now. She always scheduled Wednesdays. I wondered what kind of career would allow her the luxury of dental checkups on Wednesdays. Freelance journalist, I concluded. She was a freelance journalist. She had too much empathy to be anything else. I wondered how many dying African children she’s held so gently, and how many more she’s photographed. I wondered what hard-hitting questions she’s asked important men, maybe even the Pope. Most journalists would be too soft to be hard on the Pope, but not her. She would ask vague, threatening questions like, How many more must die? And then he’d sputter some excuse, and she’d slap him. Not too hard to damage his gentle, papal face, but hard enough. And two burly men would grab her by the arms, and she’d kick at the Pope, demanding answers. She wouldn’t stop kicking until they tossed her out of the Vatican. But even with a lifestyle like that, she needed me. Her dentist.
I took my fingers out of her mouth.
What color toothbrush do you want? I asked. She would say blue.
Blue, she said.
I had stopped stocking toothbrushes other than blue. A lot of kids demanded green, and this one kid would always ask for orange, and I would nod, and give them blue. She must’ve had seven or eight blue toothbrushes. Maybe they reminded her of me.
You’re my favorite patient, I said. And I meant it.