The Night Dentist

The night dentist has one cold hand held near his heart. He wakes to taillights on the Longfellow Bridge. He rides above the water on the day’s first Red Line run. Subway brakes scream. Mirror fingers flex frigid—bone white. His eyes burn. He blames his patients. He seethes silently: feared, resented, ill-conceived. He dreams of bicycles. Professionals in flight. In transition. His face mirrored in the window is not the face he remembers.

He is not prone to accumulation. He is accustomed to a captive audience, a mouth frozen open, admitting his hands (one warm, one cold), his increasingly sterile tools. The burden of conversation, the opportunity, is his. He has questions he wants to ask: why it is always dark; why he is sentenced to nostrils stained from antiseptic mouthwash. Thoughts and half-truths: no man achieves all he wants; we all make some accommodation with the night. A thin band of orange light burns at the horizon. Faces not his reflected in the pre-dawn window.

The night dentist protests innocence. Untucked misfit in a middle school library no different at 51. Why do you hunger for what does not satisfy? He dreams of fish scales. Electric fence games. To caress a cheek. A tender gum line.

If you were to commit crimes, what crimes would you commit, and why.

He tires of latex and cynicism. He longs for fresh fruit, non-nutritional salt snacks, fried fish. All night, every night, he fingers sterile tools. Flexes for circulation. Coveted warmth that always, somehow, eludes him. He surrounds himself with half-lies, rusted metal, sheared plastic. Quasi-recyclable. Translucent technology he can trade in at a moment’s notice. He prefers slippery sentences that leave room for escape. He sits sifting among the spoils. Eats recycled chicken from a paper tub.

The night dentist’s tools include, but are not limited to: reamer, burnisher, merlam pliers (serrated), forceps (standard), carver, excavator, universal tofflemire.

A man across the aisle talks into a cell phone. Unshaven. Insistent: i want them in one bag, and they have to not be moving. you have to figure out a way to pack them so they’re not moving. Silverfish crawl into cavities. Frigid fingers flex, bone-white in harsh fluorescence. The smell of wet cement. Tired cynicism. A woman in the next row faces forward, says to some hidden camera: flight is the country i came from. The train presses forward, darkness to darkness. Through the window, the night dentist sees fruit trees. Well-greased bicycles welded weightlessly in flight. In formation.

Alone in a fruit field, he dreams of soft tissue, silverfish, sound sleep. The night dentist says, “these are the things I keep in my heart.” The night dentist says, “open wide.” The night dentist says, “this won’t hurt a bit.”