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Tallahassee, Florida – 1956

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By: Maggie Clancy

“Record time,” my father says. Saliva drips from his still-gloved hands and threaten to drop in the mint bowl. I slide it away.

“He looks pretty good for just having a root canal, huh?” My father was talking about Ronald Huber, the ruddy man with a mouthful of gauze sitting in the reception area.

“I can’t really tell from here,” I say. I busy myself with the appointment book.

“Well, I guess you should go over there and talk to him,” he says. I anxiously looked around my reception area, looking for anything – anything – else to do.

“Part of your job is making sure clients are comfortable. Why don’t you offer him a glass of water?” I looked back over at Ronald. He offered me a weak, cotton-ball smile. My father cleared his throat and tapped his fingers near my unadorned left hand. He developed this habit about a year ago, a few days after my thirtieth birthday. It’s a habit I have tried to ignore, but others have developed habits as well. One of my mother’s favorite pastimes is reading the marriage announcements in The Herald during breakfast. She especially likes to point out how young the brides-to-be are. My younger sister, Theresa, has been going steady with Thomas Reiff for about six months. She’s only 21 – a miracle baby, according to my parents – so I forgive some of her rose-tinted concepts of courting and romance. She’ll earnestly tell me I will find someone, that goopy glow of young love in her eyes. Even though she’s the least malicious, it hurts the most.

My father clears his throat once more. I know that my only option is to walk over to Ronald and try to strike up a conversation. I grab my glasses from my desk and put them on.

“You look so much prettier without those, Betsy,” my father says. I force a grin and keep my glasses in my hand as I grab a Dixie cup of water with the other.

Ronald’s eyes go wide as I walk over. He’s not what you would call unattractive. He’s tall, his hairline is only slightly receding. His hands seem strong. I am told that is something to look for in a man.

I was told to look for a clean-shaven, well-defined jawline. Blue eyes and a salaried job by the age of 22. An All-American Man. I’ve seen these men before. I’ve been on dates with these types of men before. I just never felt that feeling Theresa describes.

I guess I can just settle for Ronald.

“Water, sir?” I hand him the cup and he offers me a garbled thank you. I start to walk away but my father’s throat clearing has reached a high and I stop in my tracks, awkwardly staring at Ronald. I search for topics of conversation, but there really isn’t much dialogue to be had between a reluctant woman and a man whose cheeks are as swollen as a chipmunk’s. A tiny drop of spit hangs off of his bottom lip. I put on my glasses to make sure. It’s bloody.

“Ronald told me he would love to take you to dinner, even with those ridiculous glasses” says my father, who is suddenly standing next to me. Ronald nods eagerly. I can’t tell if it’s earnest or the residual laughing gas. I fidget with my glasses nervously and adjust them when I hear the bell above the front door ring as a customer enters. A customer I haven’t seen before.

Suddenly, I think I understand that feeling Theresa is always talking about. The cotton-mouth for no apparent reason. I think my stomach literally jumped about an inch inside me. I felt myself blushing.

My father approaches the reception desk, motioning for me to keep talking with Ronald. “I’ve got this,” I say. I push my glasses up and sit up straight behind my desk.

“Do you have an appointment, Miss?”

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