The Seventh Red "X" Part I
Six dates on my wall calendar are marked with an “X,” made with the same toxic, red ink marker I now hold in my unsteady hand. Spanning several months, each “X” follows the prior one by exactly twenty-eight days. That twenty-nine days have passed since my last marking means something has gone wrong.
I’m fidgeting, staring at my landline, unsure of whether I want it to ring or not.
A ringing phone means that I’ve been called into service, which I don’t want; a silent phone means my services are no longer needed. No longer being needed means Dr. Finn’s scheme finally worked, and I definitely don’t want that. Being left with two bad options is the outcome of bad decisions.
The phone rings. It’s ten minutes before midnight.
“Hello,” I say. “Okay. When. Now? Right now?”
Dr. Finn hangs up.
Perhaps I should bring you up to speed.
My affair with Dr. Finn began several months ago, in the spring of '05. In fairness, I can’t accept blame for our first transgression, mostly because the sleeping gas hadn’t even worn off. Besides, a blood-spotted bib stretching across my chest, dividing the upper and lower halves of my body, created an illusion: it was someone else’s pants being taking off someone else’s legs; my arousal was someone else’s arousal; Dr. Finn had climbed atop some other patient, and so on. I barely remembered any of it afterwards, and thus had no reason to mark the date on my calendar.
Yes, I was aware that I’d been a victim of a crime, not to mention several medical ethics violations. Had this happened to someone else, a woman, for instance, I’d have been outraged. But because it happened to me—someone who held others in higher regard than myself—and because I misunderstood why it happened to me, I looked the other way.
I should also be excused for our second transgression, at least partly. I hadn’t been gassed, so I was of sound mind and body, but it just happened so fast. I had only been in the dentist’s chair for a few minutes, with minty foam spilling over my lips and soaking into my shirt collar, when Dr. Finn shimmied out of her light blue scrubs and straddled me. I returned home quite pleased with myself—my life hadn’t been heading in a good direction, and this was just what I needed, or thought I needed—still not thinking about marking up my calendar.
In between the second and third transgressions (for which I accept my share of responsibility, which is to say, exactly half of all responsibility), I dropped by Dr. Finn’s office unannounced. Behind the open sliding glass window, she hovered behind her receptionist. "Hi, Isabelle," I said, drawing her eyes from the office appointment book spread out before her.
"I prefer to be called Doctor Finn," she replied coldly, drawing out her last name for effect. "Is there a problem, Mr. Dane?" I stood speechless long enough for her to grow impatient. She came out from behind the desk and led me through the waiting room and out the front door, with a firm grip on my upper arm.
“Isabelle?” she complained, in the hallway outside Smile Dentistry’s office. “Are you nuts dropping by like this? You want him to find out about us?” She said “him” casually, as if I’d met “him,” which I hadn’t. In fact, I had forgotten there even was a “him,” he who gave Dr. Finn her last name. “Don’t come back until your next appointment,” she added threateningly.
It was a few days later that my friend, Jacob, came into my kitchen to find me drawing red “X”s on my wall calendar, marking the dates of my three most recent appointments with Dr. Finn.
“Nothing,” I said, when he asked what I was doing. After splitting a six-pack, he asked again. “You won’t believe me..." I began.
And I didn’t think he did, even while scrutinizing my calendar, tapping each day with his finger. “Strange, don’t you think?” he said.
“I don’t know if strange is the word I’d use,” I started to say.
“You don’t find it strange that these 'X's are exactly twenty-eight days apart?"
I needed to count for myself, and once I did, said, “You’re right, that is strange.”
After a moment of contemplation, Jacob said, “Actually, it’s not strange.”
By age twenty-four, a man should know what ovulation means; and I did, more or less, but Jared explained how it applied to my current predicament. “Nah,” I disagreed, “she had her tubes tied.”
"She told you that?” Jacob said, eyebrows raised.
My recently installed home internet (still considered a luxury) would soon allow me to learn everything I needed to know about ovulation, except why it had anything to do with me. The answer, it turned out, wouldn’t be found on the World Wide Web.
My fourth transgression with Dr. Finn turned out to be precisely twenty-eight days from the one prior, just as Jacob had predicted. So it was much to my surprise when I found the other Dr. Finn, also known as “him,” stationed at the reception desk, muddling through paperwork. “Hello, do you have an appointment?” he asked. Marcus Dane wasn’t a name he recognized. “Ah, here you are. My wife will be with you shortly. Please have a seat.”
“We need to talk,” I said to Isabelle, upon entering the treatment room. She agreed, and after closing the door, we did talk— we talked while she pounded me into the reclined vinyl chair as if it were wet sand—in ways I had never talked with anyone before, let alone my dentist.
Afterward, while making my way to the exit with my head down, the other Dr. Finn said, “Mr. Dane?” Some pretty horrible thoughts raced through my head, until he continued, “Shall we schedule your next appointment?” Then, some pretty interesting thoughts raced through my head.
“Yes! We shall!” I exclaimed. Then I lied. “Dr. Finn said to come back in a week.”
He handed me an appointment reminder card and smiled. “See you then.”
I walked home thinking about his smile. If we had been in England, his teeth would be considered substandard, but not worth mentioning; but in America, especially here in Los Angeles, I could only assume they solicited unapologetic, lingering stares. In a Santa Monica dentist’s office, they must have whiplashed a neck or two. Arriving home I recalled my former college roommate saying to me, “I hated you when we first met. Those teeth! What prep school did this asshole come from?”
Inside my apartment, I gazed into a mirror at what I’d always taken for granted—teeth so perfect they looked fake; in L.A., everyone assumed they were, but in the Midwest, where I grew up, people marveled at them but never questioned their authenticity. It was there that, in my community theater debut (a low-budget performance of Oklahoma!), the director said, “You should go to Hollywood.”
Flattered, I said, “You think I’m good enough?”
Squinting, he said, “Your teeth are.”
I guess I proved him right, sort of. I landed two roles within a week of my arrival in L.A.: Man in bank and Man walking dog. Shortly thereafter: Man in taxi and Joe’s friend #3. All my lines were cut, but they kept the shots of the man in the background with a smile plastered to his face. I realized my expensive-looking smile was being bought for cheap, and that I’d been typecast. So, I took up smoking and doubled my coffee intake.
Before my teeth had a chance to lose much of their luster, I landed another role: Jessica’s ex-boyfriend. While shooting my first scene, I played it heavy and brooding throughout, much to the dismay of the director. “Cut!” he shouted, before slithering out of his high-back chair and trotting gaily toward me. “Martin, Martin, Martin...”
“Right....Marcus. I’m envisioning more of an upbeat ex-boyfriend. A fellow who feels lucky to even have had a chance with Jessica. So work on that, and while you’re at it, get those caps shined up.”
“They’re not caps—”
“Whatever you say, Martin.”
Afraid I'd lose the role, I went home and scheduled my first appointment at Smile Dentistry.
Now, several months later and having drawn a fourth “X” on my calendar with my recently acquired knowledge about the topic of ovulation, I guessed Isabelle to be in her mid-thirties. She had fawned over my teeth—“so beautiful and perfect,” she said on many occasions—that Jacob’s theory seemed credible: Isabelle desired to conceive a child, discreetly, with a superior-toothed man to her husband.
She was not happy to see me when I arrived for the appointment her husband penciled in without her knowledge. The first thirty minutes were filled with scraping, poking and bleeding, and the only words she said were, “Hurts, doesn’t it?” and “Don’t you ever, EVER, try this again.” But when Isabelle called again three weeks later, all had been forgotten, and Jacob had been proven right.
And yet, I went anyway. And for that fifth “X” I deserved more than half the blame. As for the sixth, I had nothing to say for myself.
You’ve been brought up to speed.