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The Good Samaritan

“What’s your birthday?”

“May 9th, 1969.”

A dental assistant is going through the usual routine with a new patient, a forty-eight year old man, clean shaven with a buzz cut, red hair flecked with white, a bald spot on the crown of his head, and dressed nicely with a pastel blue button up shirt, black slacks, a leather belt and shiny black leather dress shoes. He’s sitting in the dentist’s chair, reclined— the cuffs of his pants are hiked up, and the dental assistant can see even his socks are nice dress socks, dark blue argyle. But the man isn’t nice, she can see that clearly enough. Not to say that he’s mean, but he isn’t nice as in nicely dressed. This dentist’s office mostly gets poor people, people on state insurance. The man may be nicely dressed but he’s actually a bum, one that’s been taken in by some religious do-gooder who’s gotten him cleaned up, dressed up, and on state insurance, amongst other things. Their hope for him is that, if they can get him on his feet, he’ll be able to walk, so to speak, but unfortunately they’re wrong, in this case. The man may be kind, and gentle, and clean, as in not a drug addict, but he’s been on his feet before and each time winded up indigent. He’s dressed nicely but his face is weathered and he has the mannerisms of a prey animal, so nobody would be fooled.

“Are you taking any prescription medications?”

The man shakes his head no.

“Are you currently experiencing any tooth pain?”

The man again shakes his head no.

She fastens a cuff around his left wrist to measure his blood pressure. She instructs him to uncross his ankles, which he does, then she places his hand over his right shoulder and starts the machine. His blood pressure is on the high end of the normal range. She raises his chair, and he jumps. She apologizes for startling him, and explains she’s going to take some x-rays. She leaves the room for a moment and returns with a lead vest that she drapes over his torso and shoulders. She prepares a film for the first x-ray, wrapping it in plastic.

“Open”, she says, and the man does. He has no teeth. In place of teeth he has bits of gravel, shards of glass, screws and springs embedded in his gums, which are oozing bright red, fresh blood.

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