|What charmed Dorrie most about Bryant was not his jokey manner
or long-lashed eyes, nor even his dimples or athletic grace. All of
these were characteristics which Dorrie recognized as conventionally
charming but they vaguely alarmed her, like staticky air. Rather,
Dorrie was charmed by Bryant's egotism and scattershot chatter. She
enjoyed his brooding, which was more revealing than he probably knew.
Perhaps because he'd projected some kinship onto her sympathetic
passivity over the years ("Open, please . . . Wider, please . . .
Thank you . . ."), Bryant had taken to sharing his career doubts with
her, strange musings.
"The angst of dentistry! It's a terrible profession. Do you
know that dentists have the highest rate of suicide of any profession
"Why ish zhat?" Bryant hooked a de-salivating device over her
lower teeth, wadding her molars with cotton. He stepped back to
admire his handiwork.
"Because dentists cause people pain. Everybody hates us. It
takes a toll."
But everybody probably didn't keep up their end of the gape-
mouthed dialogue like Dorrie did after she noticed how much Bryant
craved instant appreciation and sympathetic responses. It excited
her to keep him talking, examining him in close-up, just as he was
"Buh sho do doctorsh," she tried to smile.
"Totally different. Doctors have glamour. People think of
dentists as frustrated sadists and control freaks who've found a
socially acceptable outlet for their anal aggressions. Nobody takes
a dentist seriously. It's all dentists talk about when we get
together at parties. How we're the butt of bad jokes. Imagine what
it must be like at a proctologist's convention."
"Ouch!" She couldn't help squirming.
"Did I hurt you?" He looked annoyed. "Your teeth are shifting
from age. Mouths change."
She focused on a Daumier print of a grotesquely grinning dentist
applying a pliers to a cringing patient. The pain intensified. He
poked as if her teeth were shifting, behaving shiftily under his
dental tools, right now. She switched to a narrow view of the East
River out the window, gray and serene.
His voice was taking on a gruff edge, confidential, too personal
despite his flirtations, for such a noncommittal room.
"Take me, for instance. Most dentists don't start out to be
dentists . . . . Wider, please . . . "
She looked up his nostrils, clipped nose hairs her immediate
view. She suddenly imagined putting together a small grid-like
series of quivering nostril paintings based on Bryant. They would
hang next to her recent hermit crab canvases. His nostrils would
flare pink and vein-y, pressing foggily against the glass. Her
latest idea was for paintings that all caught parts of people,
frozen, defenseless, off-guard.
Then Bryant told her again how he'd gone into dentistry as a
safe profession his parents would support when he was in college and
the woman who would become his first wife got pregnant. "I used to
want to be a writer, or an intellectual. But the mind is over-
rated," he said, winking, pressing close. She minced him mentally,
and envisioned her paintings. Question-mark shaped ears, a smirk,