FILLING • by Lindsey Barlow

This patient always came in very late, she remarked. Exquisitely attired, smelling of pure ice cold cologne, a thin black tie dividing him perfectly in half, and late.

Not only this, but every time he would leave before the work could be done.

After the third time, she realized it was fear. Most people despised the feelings of scrapes and gnawing against their teeth, the scream of the drill, the smell of bone shavings thrust into the air. It made most people turn round inside. There never was a philosopher, or even a butcher, that could stand this place.

He had left too many times now, though. It was upsetting. So, she finally coerced him sweetly one night, like one would a child, back into the supple chair. There was almost nothing she wouldn’t do for a new patient.

She waited until the other patients and employees were gone and turned off most of the electricity in the office so that he would not hear the dreaded tools humming and tinkling along. There was perfect silence. Just two people. It was finally human, yes, or as human as medicine could get.

When they were both settled in the first room, she gazed along his lean body lying like a stone in his reclined seat and spoke truthfully, “You look dressed to kill.”

She watched his thin lips curl into a smile.

“I know how difficult it can be, especially for the tougher ones. The drill isn’t a friend to anyone.”

“The drill and I have much in common, then,” he said, and she scoffed, while for the first time noticing that his voice sounded rough. It was a roughness, though, that held a hint of something smooth, like silk that a cat had chewed, like sweet pumice.

“I won’t know until the x-ray if you will need work, but I want to take a look inside. That’s all. Just a look.” She picked up the mirror and waved it like a magic wand in front of him. “This is all I’ll use,” she promised, “for now.”

She pulled her mask over her nose and dipped the mirror in the soft tissue beneath his pink tongue. She realized, tracing the metal along the base of his teeth, that this was a moment she would remember forever. This man had perfect teeth. Only dentures came like this, she marveled, only veneers, only crowns. She tapped his teeth. Click! Click! Click! Bone. Impeccable, gorgeous bone.

Beautiful, she thought.

There was no point in this man coming into her office, she realized, except to impress her. That did not, of course, mean no work would be done. There were other reasons to drill. She thought back on the bills that lingered in her office — bills to keep the nitrous hissing, the pills popping, the amalgam mixing, the gold melting. Yes, the drill was there to remove more than just cavities, to save more than just teeth.

“I believe I see a few stress fractures here,” she lied to the man, “and a few spots that… well, the x-rays will tell us for sure. They never lie.”

She was smiling inside now, her new patient and capital captured, but then something tiny wilted that smile. These teeth were perfect, yes, but… she wasn’t quite sure just what was happening, if it was a moment of dizziness, or a speck of shine from the overhead light wavering over the perfect ridges of bone, but she paused.

She watched as the canines of his teeth slid down, pressing against the bicuspids and incisors, squeezing them back, until those tiny sharp canines touched his bottom lip and pricked the skin. They drew blood.

She closed her eyes and shook her head, and when she looked again, there were no impossibly long canines. His teeth were normal. Terror, nevertheless, stuck in the warm red wax of her heart.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked and smiled, but to her these words were faded by a sudden buzzing, as though the electricity was flipped on, and the tools were rattling, prattling, frightened, the drills screaming.

When she spoke, her mouth felt full of cotton. “You need to leave.”

“But Madam,” he whispered softly, “you said there is work to be done. I would prefer we get to it.” The stone of a man shifted towards her, like a predator suddenly inheriting a kill, and his marble fingers wrapped about her swanlike neck. She saw the flicker of a knife in the corner of his grin.

In just a second’s time, she realized who was really the patient, who the doctor. He had evaded her to get her alone. He had known from the very beginning she would do anything for a new patient, a new cavity, a fresh tooth to drill.

“This could be painful; you weren’t wrong,” he growled.

“Who are you?” she asked.

“I told you before. The drill and I have much in common. We find decay and carve it out, and my dear, I sense much decay in you. So many patients, so many useless operations. Well, time for a change. Though x-rays cannot see this particular mark, I can. My operations are never useless, I always slice deep enough to get it all, and I, unlike you, never choke perfection.”

He drew her close, and she smelled his breath as it fell on her like grit and sugar, and then in one blinding whirl, she was in the chair, and he was blocking all light. There was the faint smell of blood, a little bone. In this room, however, that was not unusual. Not a soul could have understood the difference.

If one had cared to listen, just the right distance away, he would have heard it — the high-pitched squeal, not unlike that of a drill, but heightened somehow, as though it belonged in a slaughterhouse. Then again, depending on the office, the night, the city, not a soul may have understood the difference.

Lindsey Barlow is a graduate student at the University of Texas at Arlington, and she is currently an Adjunct Professor of Writing and Grammar at Cedar Valley Community College. She recently released her first book, Pivot, on Amazon. In addition, her short story “The Trade” was published in Oak Bend Review, and her non-fiction article titled “Driven by the Spirit: The Alcoholism of Man in Boardwalk Empire” was published in Popular Culture Review. She currently lives in Dallas, Texas.

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