Paul Lerner looked forward to his quarterly dental check-up with
the same enthusiasm, he thought, as going to, well, as going to the dentist.
But at his age, late seventies, fighting a rear-guard action against receding
gums (as well as against a host of other calamities), he supposed his teeth had
to be examined every few months no matter how he felt.
On this visit, he had a new dental hygienist. Her name, he saw
by the badge on her white uniform, was Ruth. She was young, not that most
people didnt seem young to him nowadays, but she couldnt have been
any more than 20 or 21. Ruth. That had been the name of Pauls secretary
when he worked. And, like that Ruth, this one had blonde hair worn in what he
supposed was a pageboy and was very pretty. Paul had lost touch with his
secretary after hed retired, then somebody else whod worked in
their office had called to tell him that she was in the hospital and hed
gone to see her. Hed known that Ruth had diabetes and now she had some
rare related disease.
Paul had been saddened to see how puffed-up Ruths face had
become. Her voice was also very weak. Hed stayed for an hour, trying his
best to make conversation. He went to see her again and this time she seemed a
little better, but then hed gotten a phone call from Ruths sister,
telling him that shed suddenly passed away. Ruth had been about 15 years
younger than him and Paul had been shocked and then saddened.
Ruth, the dental hygienist, installed Paul in the dentists
chair and asked him if thered been any change in his health since his
last visit. No, answered Paul. Just keep on getting older and
Oh, you dont look decrepit, she said. She
asked him if he still lived at the same address, Sun City Roseville, which was
a retirement community just outside of Sacramento, the capital of California.
He asked her if she lived in Roseville and she told him
shed just moved there. How do you like it?
Oh, its great, I found a great apartment and
theres so many things to do.
Paul wondered what there was to do in Roseville, not much of a
place for young people, hed have thought,, although its population had
soared in recent years. He would have asked, but it was time for the cleaning
and he had to sit there, his mouth open, while she scraped away at his gums,
something hed always hated.
He thought back; his secretary Ruths death had been about
five years ago and he realized he hadnt really thought about her since
that time. God, how quickly people forget. During his time at the retirement
community, any number of residents hed known had passed away, guys
hed played golf with, persons whod organized clubs, those
whod served on committees with him. Now he played golf with different
people; the clubs and the committees went on with different members.
He was thinking more and more about his own mortality lately and
wondered how many people would remember him after he was gone. His wife, his
sons, maybe his grandchildren for a while. His friends at the retirement
community? Theyd come to his memorial service and then, after a short
while, hed have faded away with all the others.
If he didnt show up for his next check-up, how would this
Ruth remember him? As a set of not especially good teeth? That is, if she
remembered him at all. What could he do to make her remember him. He could tell
her how pretty he thought she was and
Dont you dare, Mr. Lerner.
I said were all through here. Did you doze
No, I was just thinking about something.
Well, you seem to be holding your own. Keep flossing.
Ill see you in three months.
Three months. Right.
* * *
The way back to Sun City passed Rosevilles mall, the
Galleria, and since it was only mid-morning Paul stopped there. He went into
Borders, the book store, got a latte in their coffee shop and went to a
table by the window. Outside, the sun shone brightly. It was the kind of day
that when he was younger would have made him wish he was on the tennis courts.
Now he managed to play golf once a week. He raised his latte and said to
himself, Heres to you, Ruth. Ill try not to forget you
again. He drank and put down his cup. Hed try, at least every now
and then, to also remember the others whod passed on. Hed never
told the dental hygienist how pretty he thought she was. And hed never
really completed the image in his mind of how hed follow up on this. He
smiled to himself. What hed half-imagined would really make her remember
him. It would also get him a slap in the face and hed have to find a new
dentist. Well, the prospect of seeing pretty Ruth again gave him an incentive
to hang on for another three months