Matt An­drew

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Matt is a re­tired US Marine of­fi­cer who de­ployed in sup­port of com­bat op­er­a­tions in Afghanistan and Kosovo. He cur­rently lives and works near Dal­las, Texas. His fic­tion can be read in Thuglit, Pan­theon Mag­a­zine, and Blight Di­gest, among oth­ers.

Bianca showed me a pic­ture of the dead kid, telling me I’d end up like him.

“Dios mio,” she mut­tered. “Look at this poor boy, Charles.” Bianca held her iphone in my face while I stood floss­ing over the sink. “Look at him.”

An African-amer­i­can boy in a pee­wee foot­ball uni­form smiled at me on her phone’s news feed.

The stain­less steel hook at­tached to my polypropy­lene transradial pros­the­sis—com­pli­ments of a booby-trap four decades ear­lier in Quang-tri prov­ince—gripped the end of the mint green strand. I whisked the floss be­tween my teeth, dis­lodg­ing en­trenched bits of Chicken Kiev from the crevices.

“It started out like yours. The kid’s mom never took him to the den­tist.” She shook her head. “Turned into a brain tu­mour the size of a grape­fruit.”

The floss bit deep into my gums while I looked at him. Thick, bloody saliva welled up be­tween my teeth and I spit into the sink.

My wife looked at me in the mir­ror. “Oh, viejo,” she said, rub­bing my back. “Even with all your brush­ing and floss­ing, you can’t avoid it for­ever.”

The burns that cov­ered the right side of my face and neck — from the same VC am­bush that took my arm — was the mood ring my wife used to read me. The puck­ered, pale scar tis­sue pulsed pink in time with my heart­beat while I thought about my two op­tions.

It didn’t make sense. I brushed and flossed af­ter I ate any­thing, all in a fu­tile ef­fort to avoid what WE­BMD said was prob­a­bly a pocket of pus eat­ing away at the root of my num­ber thir­teen bi­cus­pid.

If I had an af­ter-din­ner mint, I’d use one of those plas­tic dis­pos­able tooth­brushes with the pod of tooth­paste in the bris­tles. Tea with my bank’s re­gional man­ager called for a gar­gle of Lis­ter­ine. Bianca’s carne asada? Ten min­utes with the credit card-shaped floss dis­penser that fit neatly be­tween my Amer­i­can Ex­press Gold and Yacht Club Pre­ferred Mem­ber cards.

Just a few min­utes with bits of food wedged be­tween my teeth and I could prac­ti­cally feel the strep­to­coc­cus mu­tans and por­phy­romonas gin­gi­valis breed­ing and grow­ing in the dark, wet cav­ern un­der my nose. What they say about the mouths of Ko­modo dragons and stray cats are old wives’ tales. Go ahead and punch a hu­man mouth, break the skin of your knuck­les on their teeth, and not get it cleaned out right away; if Lady Luck isn’t with you, two days later your hand will be a pus-filled sac of gan­grene.

“Even with all your brush­ing and floss­ing, you can’t avoid it for­ever.” Af­ter voic­ing her opin­ion, Bianca walked away, leav­ing the lin­ger­ing si­lence be­hind with my thoughts. She rum­maged

through the draw­ers of her sink on the op­po­site side of the bath­room. Her eyes as­sessed me through her mir­ror as she ap­plied her pea green fa­cial mask.

I brushed tiny cir­cles over my teeth with the soft-bris­tled brush. My steel hook was per­fect for ap­ply­ing the right amount of pres­sure. Scrap­ing away the enamel with a tense fist­ful of tooth­brush would only ne­ces­si­tate more trips to the den­tist.

“I put the ap­point­ment re­minder in your phone,” Bianca said. “The den­tist is just across the street from your of­fice. I picked Doc­tor Siko­rski. Bishop Tower. Eighth floor.” She looked like a Gor­gon in the mir­ror, her scalp bulging with curlers—sent not to turn me to stone, but to nag me to death. Her voice sped up, in­ter­laced with Span­ish, as her in­struc­tions be­came more au­thor­i­ta­tive. “Just across the street from your of­fice, mijo.” She shook her fin­ger at my re­flec­tion in her mir­ror. “Don’t make me miss my meet­ing to check on you to­mor­row, por fa­vor.” She rolled her eyes. “Ay yai yai … you’re go­ing to make me miss my meet­ing, aren’t you?”

“No, dear,” I said. My shoul­ders sagged un­der the weight of both my pros­the­sis and the cu­mu­la­tive dis­ap­point­ment of the Man­hat­tan Women’s Club.

I closed my eyes while erad­i­cat­ing the sta­phy­lo­coc­cus epi­der­mis with anti-bac­te­rial paste. I van­quished the hordes of strep­to­coc­cus sali­var­ius while hum­ming “Happy Birth­day” three times in my head.

The cold wa­ter I swished ac­ci­den­tally washed over the bad tooth — it felt like I’d bit­ten down on an alu­minum foil sand­wich. I tried not to wince and Bianca sucked her teeth.

Af­ter my evening den­tal hygiene rou­tine — and right around the time (po­lice would tell me later) that Dr Siko­rski’s wife was be­ing lobotomized on her din­ing room ta­ble—i lay in bed, try­ing to pay at­ten­tion to a Time ar­ti­cle on Colom­bia’s ris­ing GDP. But what lin­gered in the back of my mind was the two hours I’d spend the next morn­ing be­ing drilled and scraped with steel in­stru­ments that looked sus­pi­ciously like tiny tools of the In­qui­si­tion.

My ex­ec­u­tive as­sis­tant told me how tired I looked as I en­tered the lobby the next morn­ing. “Let me get you some coffee.” He took my coat and opened the door to my cor­ner of­fice. “You’re gonna need it, Mister Do­bry. Tokyo has called three times al­ready. Hope you had a nice week­end — It’s gonna be a long day.”

I sat down be­hind my desk, fac­ing twenty-six new emails from our strug­gling Far East af­fil­i­ates, plus the am­ber voice­mail light blink­ing on my of­fice phone. My in­ter­nal count­down to Fri­day had al­ready be­gun.

While skim­ming the first email from my fran­tic col­leagues across the Pa­cific, my cell phone buzzed, vi­brat­ing across my glass desk­top. It looked like the nov­elty teeth that you wind up and turn loose to chat­ter in a blind cir­cle. I pulled it to­ward me with my steel hook to read the cal­en­dar no­ti­fi­ca­tion.

DEN­TIST

11:00

I’d for­got­ten about Doc­tor Siko­rski in my pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with hedge funds, P&E ra­tios, and quar­terly earn­ings es­ti­mates. I sighed, al­ready tast­ing vinyl fin­gers jammed in my mouth. My jaw cramped, an­tic­i­pat­ing the rubber block that would hold my mouth open. Like a veg­etable, I’d drool down a bib fas­tened by al­li­ga­tor clips while try­ing to spit into a suck­ing straw.

As soon as I dis­missed the alarm, the “Im­pe­rial March” played at full vol­ume — an in­com­ing text from Bianca. Don’t be late! I pushed away from the com­puter and poured a scotch on the rocks. Nor­mally, I saved the hard stuff for Fri­day af­ter­noons, but with a root canal and a Tokyo IPO flop, I fig­ured I rated a glass. Or two.

I’d been in the habit of chew­ing and drink­ing on the right side of my mouth, but a bit of the ice-cold scotch sloshed onto the bad tooth. It felt like an ici­cle ham­mered into my si­nus cav­ity. I set the glass down hard.

Next to my wet bar and the north-fac­ing of­fice win­dow stood a Ce­le­stron brass tele­scope — a gift from Bianca. A 31-inch op­ti­cal tube mounted on a ma­hogany tri­pod. Good for stargaz­ing, but in my down­town of­fice, even bet­ter for Bianca to peo­ple-watch when she came to have lunch on Mon­days be­fore her Women’s Club meet­ings.

Bishop Tower rose above 38th Street, straight across from my of­fice win­dow, over the stream of beep­ing taxis and buses. I looked through the tele­scope viewfinder and counted up from the street to the eighth floor.

A par­tial view of the lobby ap­peared, so clear it ap­peared to be just an arm’s length away. A chunky woman with a bob cut sat be­hind the re­cep­tion desk fil­ing her nails. Her neck was cocked with the of­fice phone wedged be­tween her ear and shoul­der.

Only two men in suits oc­cu­pied the spa­cious lobby. Not enough peo­ple to war­rant a resched­ule.

“Charles, you could have at least showed up,” Bianca would say that night. She’d make me an­other ap­point­ment with the same guy and hound me un­til it got done. More text re­minders and missed work.

I scanned the rest of the floor. A few win­dows over from the lobby, a fig­ure in a white coat, his back to me, sat hunched over some­body in an exam chair. The pa­tient’s feet twitched. The den­tist looked over his shoul­der, a scowl­ing old man with white hair and a tired, slack face. He drew a cur­tain across the win­dow.

I walked back to my desk and sat down. My tooth still pulsed from the er­rant sip of scotch. I punched in my as­sis­tant’s in­ter­com num­ber with the point of my hook, told him I’d be step­ping out at lunch.

My cell phone rang—a Tokyo num­ber—but I leaned my head back in my seat and won­dered if my feet would be twitch­ing in the exam chair, too.

Down a dim, eighth-floor hall­way—past the of­fices of a psy­chol­o­gist, an empty space for lease, and a di­vorce lawyer — and

into the lobby for Maxim Siko­rski, DDS. A stan­dard wait­ing room of taupe walls and vinyl guest chairs. Dog-eared is­sues of For­tune and Time were fanned over the coffee ta­ble. The day’s stock news played at low vol­ume on a flat screen mounted high in one cor­ner.

The only other pa­tient — an His­panic man in a suit — walked by me and con­tin­ued into the hall­way to­ward the exam rooms.

“Good morn­ing. Mister Do­bry?” The chubby, short-haired re­cep­tion­ist peered at me over a high, mar­quee-style sta­tion. She held a phone to her ear, cov­er­ing the mouth­piece with her hand, and smacked a pale nugget of chew­ing gum as she spoke. “I’m so glad your wife called on Fri­day. She sounds like a won­der­ful woman. Now you have a seat and we’ll get to you soon, okay? Just as soon he’s done with Mister Reyes.”

I turned back to the empty lobby and picked a seat as far from her desk as I could. The woman con­tin­ued her phone con­ver­sa­tion, whis­pers punc­tu­ated with high-pitched cack­les.

As soon as I sat down, the “Im­pe­rial March” emit­ted from my phone. How’s the new den­tist, honey? I turned the phone off. With my head lean­ing back slightly against the wall, I be­gan think­ing through in­vest­ment cal­cu­la­tions, try­ing to fig­ure out what was go­ing wrong across the Pa­cific: al­phas, be­tas, CAPMS, price splits, sys­tem­atic risk. I dozed off with those fi­nan­cial lul­la­bies float­ing through my head.

“Mister Do­bry? He’s ready for you.”

When I opened my eyes, the den­tist was stand­ing by the re­cep­tion­ist’s sta­tion, star­ing at me.

My watch read 11:53. Time bet­ter spent putting out our Far East fi­nan­cial fires was slip­ping away like yen into a canned-noo­dle vend­ing ma­chine.

Doc­tor Siko­rski tow­ered over the sec­re­tary’s desk, with shoul­ders al­most as broad as the hall en­try­way. A white shock of hair stuck up from the top of his head, his comb-over gone awry in ob­tuse an­gles. Old, but solid, he could have been a pro foot­ball linebacker who’d played back when they wore leather hel­mets.

The re­cep­tion­ist looked up at him while she filed her nails. “You’re done with Mister Reyes, al­ready? I didn’t no­tice him leave.”

“Yes, he is done,” Siko­rski an­swered in a thick, Slavic ac­cent. The man’s eyes were hooded and droop­ing, with gray, baggy skin hang­ing un­der them. As I walked up, he looked at my pros­thetic arm and fa­cial burns, his thin lips drop­ping open slightly like he was think­ing ‘Eureka’.

“Yes,” he whis­pered. “It is you.” A smile curled up one side of his thin lips. A line of drool threat­ened to es­cape from the cor­ner, but he wiped it away with a hand the size of a catcher’s mitt.

“Yes, it’s me,” I said. “And my ap­point­ment was at eleven sharp.” I looked at my watch and tapped my foot.

Siko­rski bent down—he stood a whole head taller than me—and peered at my burn like he was as­sess­ing a sci­ence ex­per­i­ment. He wrapped his fin­gers around my plas­tic wrist del­i­cately, as if hold­ing a woman’s dainty hand.

“Yes,” he said. “I knew you would come.” Never be­fore had some­one so boldly touched my polypropy­lene arm. Most peo­ple avoided mak­ing eye con­tact, like my in­juries were some kind of barn­yard pornog­ra­phy that would siz­zle the eyes right out of their sock­ets. I snatched my arm out of his grip. His brow fur­rowed and he pulled his hand back as if burned. “Look,” I said “I don’t know what kind of place you’re run­ning here.”

I looked to the re­cep­tion­ist, but she picked up a call, smack­ing her gum ev­ery few words. Her laugh felt like some­one was run­ning a file over my bad tooth.

Siko­rski shot an ir­ri­tated glance at the woman. He looked back at me and held up his hands. “No, I am sorry. Please. Come,” he ges­tured to­ward the back, al­ready hur­ry­ing down the hall to the exam rooms. “We don’t have much time.”

He led me down the hall, ur­gent with his long stride, push­ing me to keep up. The empty hall­way was bathed in ster­ile flu­o­res­cent light­ing, and clas­si­cal mu­sic floated down the hall. A broom closet and sev­eral exam rooms lined each side.

A few of the rooms were al­ready oc­cu­pied by pa­tients. From over the chair backs, I could see the tops of their heads and their feet.

Siko­rski was al­ready perched on a wheeled stool when I en­tered the last cu­bi­cle. Be­hind him, a wide en­try­way con­nected to the ad­join­ing exam room. The den­tist mo­tioned with his spindly arms for me to sit.

I slid into the room and hung my jacket on a coat rack by the door. Next to Siko­rski, a metal tray held a va­ri­ety of steel files, picks, and mir­rors, as well as a hand-held drill and UV light gun.

And a shiny hy­po­der­mic sy­ringe, big enough to se­date all of my of­fice’s de­riv­a­tives an­a­lysts.

Sweat slid down my fore­head. My knees felt ready to un­hinge and buckle un­der my weight. I grabbed the arm­rest to keep my­self upright as I eased into the chair.

Lean­ing back at that awk­ward slant, where my feet were just higher than my head, al­ways re­minded me of sto­ries my grand­fa­ther — an un­der­taker in Croa­tia — used to tell about how they’d dump dead bod­ies into an in­cin­er­a­tor for mass cre­ma­tion.

I clenched the vinyl arm­rest with my left hand while my hook lay use­less on the other. Con­trol your breath­ing. Clear your mind. That’s what Bianca would tell me to do. I closed my eyes and opened my mouth, wait­ing for the in­va­sion of rubber, la­tex and steel.

“Let’s put you to sleep first, why don’t we?” he whis­pered, just au­di­ble above the dirge-like cham­ber mu­sic play­ing on an old stereo in the cor­ner.

I re­laxed and opened my eyes. “Don’t you need to see the dam­age first, Doc?” I forced out a laugh and waited for the air to lighten. It didn’t. In­stead, he licked his lips and bent to­ward a col­lec­tion of coiled hoses looped next to the chair. His hands shook while he

fid­dled with knobs and switches. The den­tist held up two masks. “Would you like the pink,” he said, “or the blue?” I just stared at him, want­ing to ask if he was se­ri­ous. “Don’t worry,” he said, drop­ping the pink mask and mov­ing the blue one to­ward my face. “It will be over soon.”

I cringed away from the hiss­ing mask. The rubber open­ing was like a python mov­ing in to swal­low me whole. The mask was so close I could smell the rubber and the sweet, felt-tip pen odour of the gas.

Laugh­ter echoed again down the hall and Siko­rski froze. High­pitched chuck­les were fol­lowed by a snort.

Siko­rski mut­tered some­thing in his Slavic tongue, clench­ing his jaw and scowl­ing. “Sit still,” he said. The den­tist turned a valve and the hiss­ing stopped. He dropped the mask and left the room. Af­ter a few more spurts of laugh­ter, it halted mid-guf­faw. Then, just Vi­valdi — his “Four Sea­sons,” I think. Next, rubber scraped along the vinyl floor of the hall­way, louder as it drew nearer. squee, squee, squee, squee Like a squeegee on a wind­shield, into the exam room next to me.

Some­thing soft but heavy dropped to the ground in the next room.

“Doc­tor Siko­rski,” I called. “How about I come back an­other time?”

No re­sponse but his low mut­ter­ing.

I stood and put my coat back on. A drawer full of uten­sils slammed shut. In the ad­join­ing room, where the thump had come from, an­other pa­tient lay in the chair. He was vis­i­ble up to his knees — shaded leather lace-ups and a pair of pin­striped pants—but the wall ob­scured the rest. His legs shook and trem­bled. One foot slipped off the seat and thumped onto the floor.

I don’t know why I walked in there. Prob­a­bly felt guilty leav­ing with­out at least let­ting him know I’d resched­ule, that it looked like he had his hands full.

I stood there, frozen in the middle of but­ton­ing my jacket, with Siko­rski hunched over the re­cep­tion­ist. She sat splayed on the floor, propped up in the cor­ner next to the hall en­try­way. Her neck was bent so far side­ways that her ear touched her shoul­der. Bro­ken ver­te­brae pushed through the skin and she stared walleyed at the ceil­ing. The woman’s tongue poked from be­tween her teeth and a trickle of blood slid down her nose and over her up­per lip.

My first in­stinct was that she’d fallen, so I took a step to­ward them to help.

But I stopped when I re­al­ized Siko­rski was pulling at her teeth with a pair of pli­ers. “Proch!” said the den­tist as he yanked a mo­lar from the woman’s mouth. “Proch, you! Proch!”

The His­panic busi­ness­man in the chair shook, again. His eyes were rolled up in his head, show­ing only the whites, and his mouth hung open. Blood oozed from the craters in his gums where his teeth used to be. The teeth lay in a pile on the in­stru­ment tray, a moun­tain of thirty-two bloody white Chi­clets.

A neat row of drip­ping holes, no big­ger than pin­heads, formed a dot­ted line across his fore­head. The den­tal drill was still in­serted into his skull through his tem­ple, hang­ing from the last hole as if the den­tist were in­ter­rupted in his task. I backed away. My heel hit a stool be­hind me. Its wheels creaked as it rolled into an­other in­stru­ment tray.

Siko­rski stood and looked up at me through his nar­row, baggy eyes. “I told you to stay,” he said, still hold­ing the pli­ers, which were clamped down on one of the woman’s ex­tracted teeth. The pli­ers clat­tered to the ground as he grabbed a hand­ful of his white hair in each hand and screamed. “I said to stay still!”

His fran­tic scream snapped me out of the sur­real im­age be­fore me, and I backed into the exam room he’d left me in.

“You must sit! They will awaken soon!” He kicked the stool out of his way and lunged af­ter me.

I leaped over my exam chair, just to get some dis­tance be­tween us. The mo­men­tum car­ried me into the counter. Plas­ter teeth and a com­puter key­board crashed to the floor.

Siko­rski fol­lowed a split se­cond be­hind, and we ended up a cramped pile of arms and legs be­tween the chair and desk. He yelled an­other Slavic ex­cla­ma­tion and reached out, his grasp brush­ing against my back as I skit­tered to­ward the en­try­way on my hands and knees. I pushed my­self to my feet and dashed down the hall. His foot­falls stomped af­ter me. “Come back!” In one exam room a woman in scrubs slouched tight in a

cor­ner, vis­i­ble only to some­one com­ing back down the hall to­ward the lobby. She had the same holes drilled in her fore­head and a mouth­ful of what looked like straw­berry syrup pour­ing down the front of her baby blue scrubs.

The of­fice’s main door seemed so far away; a dog­leg set of turns, with chairs and a coffee ta­ble to ma­noeu­vre around be­fore I could hit the exit.

“Stop, be­fore it’s too late!” he called out be­hind me. His voice had grown louder, his stride catch­ing mine.

The broom closet door was open a crack, just enough that I could fling it open and slam it shut be­fore he could grab me.

The den­tist’s fists be­gan beat­ing on the out­side. “Come out! Come out!”

Lean­ing back with all my weight, I held the door shut with my hook while I used my good hand to dig for my cell phone in my jacket pocket.

Siko­rski panted on the other side, but he’d stopped pound­ing. “Please. It is okay,” he whis­pered. “Let me help you.”

The curved steel hook was good for grasp­ing small ob­jects, but it fit loosely be­tween the lever and the door, threat­en­ing to slip out if he pulled hard enough.

Siko­rski twisted the han­dle on his side, just enough to test it. “It won’t hurt,” he said. “I can still save us. I must!”

I man­aged to get my phone out, but I had to turn it back on. I held the but­ton down to be­gin the startup. An up­lift­ing chime sounded, fol­lowed by the mad­den­ing rain­bow of colours that an­nounced the phone was pow­er­ing up.

Siko­rski pounded again, pulling the door harder. “Come out,” he shouted as he jerked the han­dle. “It must be done!”

A sting­ing drop of sweat fell into the cor­ner of my eye while the phone’s home screen ap­peared.

“It must!” He pulled hard, us­ing his weight to try to pry the door open. “Mankind is at stake!”

My hook slipped from be­hind the han­dle. The can­vas strap that held that pros­thetic in place with a fig­ure-eight loop around my shoul­der loos­ened. I bent down to pull the han­dle with the crook of my el­bow while try­ing to hold the phone, but it only length­ened the slack.

The lit­tle an­ten­nae icon on the home screen was still re­fresh­ing. My arm shook while the lever bit into my el­bow as he jerked the han­dle. The phone slipped from my grasp and clat­tered onto the floor. I leaned down, still pulling the door han­dle with my hook’s loose grip, and fum­bled on the floor to pick up my life­line.

My loos­ened grip was all it took for Siko­rski’s weight to win and wedge the door open.

The har­ness pulled com­pletely loose and the pros­thetic was yanked out of my sleeve. It hung from the door han­dle, as use­less as a flac­cid pe­nis.

The den­tist lunged to­ward me, catch­ing me in an awk­ward half crouch. His fist caught the bridge of my nose, send­ing a shower of sparks and tears into my eyes. My good arm shot up to block my face and the den­tist jerked me up like a child, lift­ing me right off my feet and out of the closet.

The phone buzzed on the floor, telling me it was ready to use.

I flailed my fist at him, hop­ing to con­nect as he dragged me back down the hall­way. I caught him in the face, but the man didn’t seem to no­tice. In­stead, he jabbed again. My nose gave way with a watery crack and my eyes slammed shut.

He hauled me back into the exam room while I kicked and screamed. I lashed out with one arm at the door frame. He squeezed my nose, just a pinch across the bridge, and my hand flew up to my face again as I howled. The clas­si­cal mu­sic was in crescendo, the rag­ing strings and clang­ing tim­pani drown­ing out our strug­gle.

Siko­rski flipped me into the chair and was on me be­fore I could push my­self up with the arm­rests. He strad­dled my chest, squeez­ing my lungs tight. I tried to scream, but it came out as an asth­matic wheeze.

He fum­bled with the tangle of hoses and valves and brought the blue mask to my face. The hose is­sued its steady stream of liquorice-smelling gas and he clamped it down tight over my nose and mouth, lean­ing down with his weight as I beat at his fore­arms and shoul­ders.

I grap­pled for a weapon among the scalpels and picks lit­ter­ing the floor, but couldn’t get my fin­gers to work. They felt like lead weights at­tached to my wrists. My fist fell with the force of a child’s and the nub of my am­pu­tated arm struck at him im­po­tently.

A cloud floated be­tween my eye­lids and my body lifted up on a light cush­ion. I was com­fort­able, de­spite the state of things. It was like tak­ing a nap on a cold day, wrapped in a warm com­forter.

Siko­rski’s wide eyes were the last thing I saw. Drool leaked over his lower lip and I felt the warm drib­ble on my cheek as the lights went out. He stroked my fore­head, push­ing my hair back out of my eyes, whis­per­ing for­eign words in a sooth­ing tone.

My own words of com­fort scrolled in front of my eyes like a screen­saver: sta­phy­lo­coc­cus epi­der­mis, strep­to­coc­cus sali­var­ius, strep­to­coc­cus mu­tans, por­phy­romonas gingi …

I awoke, still flat on my back. Black, fuzzy sil­hou­ettes sur­rounded me. It felt like cot­ton was stuffed in my brain cav­ity. My thick, dry tongue couldn’t form the words to ask where I was.

My mind tried to back­track to where I’d been, why I was so groggy.

I sat up and felt my gums — the re­as­sur­ing, rigid shapes of a mouth­ful of teeth. No blood or holes on my fore­head. I took a deep breath and wanted to laugh. My vi­sion cleared. The shapes around me be­came men, seated, wear­ing suits with patched el­bows and hold­ing flip-top note­books. A uni­formed po­lice­man stood be­hind them. “Where’s Bianca?” I asked. “You’re a lucky man, Mister Do­bry. She’s quite a lady,” said one of the suited men.

“Where is she?”

“She’s out­side.” He wrote in his note­book, not look­ing up as he spoke. “Last I heard she was ques­tion­ing the doc about whether or not you were show­ing any signs of stage four anaes­the­sia over­dose.” They all chuck­led and the uni­formed cop rolled his eyes. Once I’d awak­ened, the room be­gan to buzz with nurses and doc­tors flit­ting be­tween the stiff homi­cide de­tec­tives to check my heart rate and IV. The po­lice in­ter­viewed me be­tween the hos­pi­tal staff’s con­stant check of my vitals.

They knew by then what Maxim Siko­rski had been up to in the days lead­ing up to my root canal ap­point­ment.

They’d found his wife in their home, splayed out on their din­ing room ta­ble. No teeth, and her brain cut into neat slices like deli cold cuts. The next day, four of his pa­tients, two den­tal techs, and a re­cep­tion­ist, dead of blood loss and brain trauma.

Maxim Siko­rski had left a jour­nal of his find­ings, dated the night be­fore his ram­page. There were aliens in peo­ple’s teeth, he’d de­clared, us­ing our brains as in­ter­plan­e­tary an­ten­nae to co­or­di­nate an at­tack on Earth.

“Dear God,” I said. As a life­long athe­ist, it seemed just the thing to say af­ter hear­ing news like that.

One of the de­tec­tives in­formed me that Maxim Siko­rski was hunched over my head with his drill when Bianca buried a den­tal scalpel into the base of his skull. “How did she know?” I asked. “The tele­scope,” said the cop. “She was in your of­fice wait­ing for you. Looked through it to see if you were at your ap­point­ment

and saw him chas­ing you out of the exam room. Lady called 911 and then ran over there.” Don’t make me come check on you, Charles. I laughed, an awk­ward guf­faw. The cops looked at me as if I’d gone nuts.

Bianca sat next to me while I flipped through the hos­pi­tal TV chan­nels.

I sipped ice wa­ter from the Sty­ro­foam cup while I held her hand. One of the ice chips found its way onto my num­ber thir­teen bi­cus­pid. An­other jolt­ing bite from the live power ca­ble. I winced and Bianca squeezed my hand. “It’ll be okay, dear.” But I wasn’t think­ing about my ap­point­ment with Maxim Siko­rski. I just wanted to get back home with my wife.

“Oh, dear. I think you have an ap­point­ment for a phys­i­cal on Fri­day with Doc­tor Ladis­law.” She looked at me over the top of her glasses while she flipped through Bet­ter Homes and Gar­dens. “When’s the last time you’ve had your prostate checked?” I shut my eyes and sighed. “Don’t worry, mijo. I’ll go with you.”

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