The waiting room was empty. It had been empty all day, in blatant defiance of Carlie's meticulous records. These showed back-to-back appointments scheduled from eight in the morning through at least three in the afternoon.
No one had called to cancel. The phone hadn't rung, not once.
Round about eight-fifteen, Carlie had tried to call the first no-show. Anita Schlessinger, the eight o'clock had been. Anita "no relation" Schlessinger, she joked, "because everyone's gotta say something about my sharing a name with Dr. Laura." Carlie had laughed at this. She had also blushed, deciding she'd never admit, even under threat of torture, that she'd been about to ask. Anita was so high-strung you could practically hear her twanging across the room. She tried, self-consciously, to mitigate the effect with a plastered-on layer of cheerfulness that fooled pretty much no one. Yet she never seemed afraid, which fascinated Carlie. Anita was absolutely fearless, a noticeable advantage during dental appointments and also, as it turned out, in beekeeping.
Someone like Anita wouldn't just fail to show up. She'd call ahead to cancel her appointment. She'd apologize grovelingly. And she'd sound oddly absentminded while she apologized, as though her worries were already moving on to the next item on her agenda. Carlie dialed her number with a certain amount of trepidation at what could keep her incommunicado.
The phone rang and rang. Anita didn't pick up. Neither did her voice mail.
The hygienists seemed spookily disinterested. Carlie would say something like, "Weird that Anita didn't show, right?" and Sarah or Bobbie would say, "Mm, yeah," and float off to--what? What were they doing with their time? There were no patients' teeth to scrape, no gums to probe, no hands to hold. Just once, around two-thirty, Carlie followed Bobbie back to an exam cubicle (her guilty feeling for leaving the front desk was pure habit) to see what was keeping her so busy. She watched Bobbie settle in beside the empty chair, watched her extract a measure of dental floss from the square package, watched her clean the teeth of an imaginary or invisible patient. She seemed to be talking to someone--the sterile mask covered her mouth, but the movements of her jaw suggested speech--but her words came out like a badly tuned radio playing softly in the next room.
Carlie went back to the front desk and stared out the window, trying her hardest not to think.
Full-length fictionette (1420 words) appears in PDF and audio formats for Patrons pledging from $1/month and $3/month respectively.
Cover art incorporates original photography by Nicole J. LeBoeuf, who found some keys somewhere and doesn't know what they open. Could be anything.