Katherine Carney checked her watch impatiently, tapping her shoe on the worn brown carpet as she waited for her name to be called for her half-yearly teeth cleaning. She should have brought a book. Woman’s Day and Sports Illustrated weren’t going to do it for her. Why didn’t they subscribe to Martha Stewart Living or Vogue? she thought petulantly.
After what seemed like an hour, but was actually five minutes, a woman wearing an ugly blue smock with some sort of design called her name.
“Yes, I’m Mrs. Carney. Where’s Adele? Adele cleans my teeth. She has for the last five years.”
“I’m Tessa. Adele is away for a month. Illness in her family,” the woman replied almost apologetically.
“Do I have a choice? Maybe one of the other girls I’ve seen around here?”
“I’m afraid you’re scheduled with me, and unless you want to come back another day, you’re stuck,” Tessa said gently.
Katherine sighed. “If I have no other choice, I guess it will have to be you. I assume you’ve had experience. You look old enough to have some years behind you.”
They walked to the room in the back where Adele usually cleaned Katherine Carney’s teeth. Katherine liked the dentist – and Adele – but she was never pleased with what she considered to be a shabby office. The instruments were up to date, but the office could have used, well, Martha Stewart. Ordinarily, the tattered look of the place would be enough to put her off and send her to a sleek newer dental office, but maybe they deserved her loyalty. Probably not, she thought, but why start over?
“What’s the matter that Adele has to take off for a month?” Katherine asked Tessa.
“I’m not sure. I believe her husband has taken ill.”
“Oh, dear. My husband was ill all last year, and it was such a burden for me, so I commiserate with her,” Katherine said, while Tessa laid the drool bib on, sticking it perfectly to Katherine’s beige cashmere sweater.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Tessa. “What was his problem?”
Katherine looked at her as if to say, Why are you interested in my husband’s health?
“Nothing serious. He’s a bit of a baby. Aren’t all men?”
“I don’t have any men in my life. I never married,” said Tessa.
Katherine looked at her more intently. A woman of about her age – 50ish – she guessed, never married? She supposed it wasn’t that odd, but this woman was quite attractive: wavy blond hair shot with grey, strong white teeth, good skin, in much better physical shape than she was.
“Maybe you didn’t miss much,” Katherine said.
“The love of a good man, children, comfort of a home?” asked Tessa.
“It’s not all that it’s cracked up to be.”
Tessa noticed the diamond ring on her patient’s finger and the fine gold necklace with two entwined circles – one gold, one inset with diamonds.
“Do you have children, Mrs. Carney?” asked Tessa, as she viewed the computer’s x-ray images of her patient’s teeth.
“How lovely,” said Tessa.
“The teen years were a bitch, but the kids are out of my hair now. Still, they’re never without something they need or want. Monty – Montgomery – wants to be an artist, for God’s sake. But thank goodness Blake has some sense; she’s dating an attorney.”
“How’s your husband? Did he recover?”
“Recover? Oh yes. They said he had a nervous breakdown or what I think of as a nervous breakdown. Some kind of mid-life crisis, I’m sure. They didn’t call it that though. He’s on meds now. At least he’s gone back to work. If you think it’s easy having your husband home twenty-four seven, think again.”
“I’m sure it’s been very hard for you to deal with your husband’s emotional issues,” Tessa said, finally getting down to business and looking into Katherine’s mouth. “Any issues with your teeth since you’ve last been here?” she asked.
Katherine shook her head from side to side.
“Open wide,” Tessa instructed.
As Tessa examined each tooth with a long stainless steel pick and a little round mirror for the back of the teeth, she kept up the conversational patter.
“Have you always lived in Key Line City?” asked Tessa.