“The Miami Conference is different than other conferences,” Dr. Hines told me one day, when he came to my dental parlor for a new crown on his second molar. “The heat just gets into your pores. Everybody goes a little crazy. I saw a well-respected oral surgeon from Ohio run off with some woman’s Pomeranian. I guess he took it back to his hotel room and fed it an entire pizza.”
“Pomeranians aren’t supposed to eat pizza,” I said.
“Not that one, anyway.”
I first became acquainted with Dr. Hines in the fall of 1934, at the North Dakota School of Dentistry. I do not know whether it was luck or pure coincidence which led us both to begin our practices in Chicago, but he allowed no one but myself to perform dentistry on him, and, at the time, I was newly divorced and grateful for the company.
I removed the temporary crown, and used my shaving instrument to reduce the size of the molar by a fraction of a millimeter. I then applied the cement fixative, and placed the permanent crown. “Bite down, hard,” I said, scraping off the excess fixative. On the wall of my parlor, there is a painting of a flower, a purple morning glory blooming by the sea, upon which Dr. Hines had often remarked. I thought it odd that, on this particular day he paid no attention to it, but in every other way was himself. An automobile pulled out of the medical center parking area. We both watched it leave.
“I did meet someone interesting by the pool one day,” Dr. Hines told me, once the crown had been set. “It was the morning after my presentation, and I woke up with a bad hangover. I decided to go down to the pool for a swim. It was crowded down there, and it wasn’t long before a woman came over and sat on the chair next to me.
“She was younger than me, but not too much younger. We started up a conversation, and it turns out, she came to the hotel every morning just to use the pool. We ended up spending the rest of the day together. I bought her lunch, and we went snorkeling on the reef. She was artist, and she invited me to her studio. Did I mention her teeth? She had the cutest orthodontia abnormality I have ever seen. She had an elephant tooth.”
“An elephant tooth?” I asked. My brief tenure at a dental clinic in London had acquainted me with some of the more grotesque anatomical abnormalities, but I’d never heard of any such a thing.
“Just one large tooth in the place of her upper incisors,” my colleague said.
“And her dentition was normal otherwise?” I asked.
“Completely normal. I’m telling you, as an oral surgeon and a friend, there is nothing sexier on a woman than an elephant tooth.” He then stopped briefly, lowering his voice. “She took me to her art studio in East Miami. Inside it was immaculate. Canvases were stretched across every surface, leaning against the walls, on top of a sofa, and stacked waist high in a corner—really interesting stuff too. She only used three colors. She had a real vision.”
“An elephant tooth,” I said, incredulous.
“So I’m looking around,” Dr. Hines said, “and the next thing you know, she was leading me by the hand to the loft where she sleeps. You’re probably wondering if we slept together.”
“I don’t think I want to know,” I said.
“We made love right there in her loft,” Dr. Hines said. “Have you ever made love with an artist, William? There was a real passion. Right outside the window was a trolley station, and the whistle blew just as I climaxed. It was a very Miami moment. And that’s not all.” He pulled up his shirt to reveal a fresh wound on the surface of his flesh, just below the right nipple.
“Is that what I think it is?” I asked
“She was an animal, William.” He let his shirt down. “We were supposed to meet up for lunch the next day, but I got roped into a panel discussion. I boarded a train Sunday, thinking that was the end of it. But then, when I got home, there was a package. I don’t know how she found me, but she did. Naturally, I don’t need to be receiving packages in the post from some crazy Floridian.”
“What is in the package?” I asked.
“I’m afraid to open it,” Dr. Hines said. “It’s in the trunk of my Plymouth.”
“Aren’t you curious?”
“It’s too big to be an ear, but it could be an animal.”
“What if she sent you a snake?”
“I’d chop its head off,” Dr. Hines replied.
We removed the box from the trunk and carried it up the stairs. The sun was going down, and most of the other automobiles had left. The package was heavy, and we had to turn it sideways to fit it through the door. We set it on the floor, when Dr. Hines’s wife telephoned. He put the telephone to his ear with a grimace. A minute later, he was grabbing his coat and hat.
“Abigail says I’m supposed to drive her mother to the train station,” he said.
“What about the package?” I asked, somewhat flummoxed.
“Not now. She’s getting surly.”
“You can’t just leave it here.”
“Can you watch it for me?” he asked, knowing I was unable say no.
“You’re a good man, William,” he said, patting me on the back.
I dragged the package into the supply room and went about cleaning up for the night. I gargled mouthwash, for we had been drinking absinthe, and hung up my white smock. I thought of Dr. Hines, and how little he had changed throughout the years. My colleague lacked bedside manner, spoke too much and too loudly, and made the young women blush, yet he was much more successful than me. For all of my hard work, I struggled to establish a regular base of clients at my practice, and after my divorce settlement, I could barely afford my one-bedroom apartment beside the clattering L-train.
I made up my mind to open the package. I cut into the box with a scalpel, and removed many layers of padding meant to protects its contents. To my amazement, inside, there was a bell jar approximately twenty-four inches in height, made up of thick glass. Mounted above a bed of crushed red velvet, there it was, the elephant tooth.
What more is there to say? I took the elephant tooth to a bearded man down by the river who traded in esoteric and unusual items. In exchange, he gave me a gray monkey from the Indian subcontinent, which remained a fine companion for many years. I called the monkey Mortimer, named after my unscrupulous friend Dr. Mortimer Hines, and after he died of an infected rat bite one summer evening, I decided to have him stuffed, which is how he came to be in the position which you see him today, there on my mantle.
James Smith’s work has been published in the Sierra Nevada Review, A Critical Flame and other small publications. Smith lives in Tacoma, WA.