Kyle Morton, D.D.S., sorts through his postcards, the ones sent as reminders of upcoming appointments. There are cartoon smiles, kittens, and beach scenes. Usually his receptionist takes care of this, but he wants to be sure that Karen Blau, wife, mother of two, part-time florist, gets the proper card. She’s always been nervous. When she first came to him it’d been seven years without dental work. Her mouth was a mess. Dr. Morton spoke just above a whisper: “we can fix this.”
When she receives the card, a New England autumn, she interprets it as their destination, and wears a tight but tasteful wool sweater. She’s fidgeting with her wedding band when he enters the room, but his voice defuses the nerves. He places his hand on her shoulder (never does for other patients). Asks about the kids.
She hates the novocaine the most. It takes an unreasonable amount of time. The needle’s in for a full minute. Why? Her eyes are closed and Dr. Morton notices the tensed muscles. He places his hand on her knee, maybe a little higher, but nothing blatant. He asks, “I love apple picking in the fall, don’t you?”
She can’t answer of course, the needle in her jaw, but she thinks of the postcard, a B&B, the smell of woodsmoke, all those clichés. The muscles on the working-side of her face produce a lopsided smile. Reaching for the drill, he pauses to examine his hands. People dread those hands, but not Karen.