John was sitting in the dentist’s chair. He called it that in his mind, even though he was the one sitting in it, and the dentist sat in another chair; a stool, really.
In the dental cavern next to him, a woman was having her teeth cleaned. Or John assumed that was what she was doing; he couldn’t see her, but he could hear her. She was the kind of woman you hope has holiday-themed earrings, even for Flag Day. Her hygienist, from what he could hear, was a hygienist.
Q: “Would you like us to send you a text reminder for your next visit?”
A: “You can send it. But I won’t get it. I don’t text. I wish it had never been invented.”
A: “Texting is a vice. My vices are Coke, Dr. Pepper, and chocolate, leave me alone!”
Q: “Okay, we’ll email you.”
John had not had such a memorable interaction with his hygienist, although they had gotten close when she asked him if he had done anything big over the holidays.
“Some friends over,” he lied.
“That’s so much better than schlepping around, isn’t it? Having people over. I schlepped around.” She giggled. “That sounds funny, doesn’t it? I schlepped around. Ever schlepped around?”
“Only in college.”
But now it was raining and he just looked at the window, waiting for the dentist to roll in. John hadn’t been to the dentist in years. “No insurance,” he always planned on telling them if they asked. They never asked. It was a lie anyway.
It was raining and the wind was blowing hard, the trees were waving like some kind of old cartoon, where the trees wave. You have to have seen the one John has seen to know what it meant to him.
Three days ago, Donald Trump was inaugurated President. Gladys, John’s wife, had voted for him. John understood, without her telling him, that this was because she wanted to be killed. She didn’t want the world to end: that had already happened, and she was still here. She didn’t want to move to Canada: she had already gone to the moon, with John, which is like the ultimate Canada, and she was still here. You’re here on the moon like you’re here anywhere else, and you don’t get as many channels, so they came back. She didn’t want to kill herself: John had done that, and he was still here. So she wanted to be killed. So she voted accordingly.
John didn’t vote. In order to cancel her vote, he planned on telling her if she asked. She never asked.
The reason she wanted to be killed is because their son Albert had died some time ago, and in the intervening days and weeks and eras neither of them had come up with a really good reason for life. Not for living, but for life. It wasn’t because they fell to pieces remembering bouncy chairs and ultrasounds. It was because something, the thing that kept their interest in the world, had fractured like a milkless collar bone, split, a hair, and would not fuse back together.
So he went to the dentist. To cancel your vote, he planned on telling her if she asked.
“John your teeth could live to be a hundred and twelve,” his dentist told him. “Golf much?”
“Only in college.”
The hygienist laughed like John had just cracked a joke in church. She had a little gray around the temples and it was unclear if she was alone.
John was driving the dental hygienist back to his house a few minutes later, after he paid for his cleaning and the receptionist handed him a cookie and he said, “What are you trying to do, KILL ME?”
“We’ll text you.”
On the drive with the hygienist he said, “Do you like Laurie Anderson?”
She said, “Was she Aunt Jackie on Roseanne?”
John had liked Laurie Anderson in college. “She was married to Lou Reed,” he said. “Or they were partners, or whatever it is free people do. People who aren’t, I mean…people who live in New York. And maybe you read, you know, Lou Reed, he died, I think she was holding his head in her lap, and they were chanting Buddhist mantras. I think that’s what I read. And it was just this wonderful thing. I mean to read about. A real nice death. Maybe the best. The best of all possible deaths.”
The hygienist drank some of her Dr. Pepper.
“I just worry, sometimes, that I won’t live up to that. Which is dumb. Like, Lou Reed didn’t bequeath his death to me, to continue and passing on, like some wedding suit.”
He turned onto the driveway.
“But still sometimes I can’t help thinking, when I’m lying in my twin bed at night: maybe he did?”
They looked at each other. Gladys tapped on the driver window. John rolled it down.
“Your godfather’s here.”
“John, please don’t make me confirm what you’ve clearly heard.”
“I have a godfather?”
A man in a flecked gray overcoat extended a gloved hand to John. “You may not remember me. My name is Saint Vincent. That’s Saint spelled out, you see, like a name. Anyway I’m your godfather. My children died last week. Sorry: not together. The last of them died. Manny. Cancer. Stomach. So you have to take care of me now.”
Then he burped. “Sorry. Carbonation makes me gassy. I mean just seeing other people imbibe it. I have a very thin skin. What I see you do, I feel.”
John looked at Gladys. “Is that how it works?”
“You mean godfathers or carbonation?”
“I think so,” she said.