Excerpt from Compromising Positions
As they would murmur at his funeral, Dr M. Bruce Fleckstein was one of the finest periodontists on Long Island. And so good-looking. But as he turned his muscular, white-coated back for the last time, he had no notion that he had shot his final wad of Novocaine, probed his ultimate gum. No, he simply turned for an instant, perhaps out of boredom, perhaps to hide the slight smirk that passed over his thin, firm lips. It was an unfortunate turn; his companion seized the moment to withdraw a thin, sharp weapon and plunge it into the base of Fleckstein’s skull.
That was on the evening of Valentine’s Day. My children lay on the floor of the den, watching television, unusually amicable; they were probably too engorged, too leaden, with the day’s excess of Valentine’s confections to raise even a whimper, much less a clenched fist. I sat alone, waiting for my husband, my finger tracing hearts pierced with nonlethal arrows on the frosted window near the kitchen table.
Fleckstein lay on the floor of his office. It must have been quiet there too, for his murderer stayed only ten minutes, taking time to make sure there was no tell-tale twitch of life, to grab a few tissues to wipe off the weapon and to search the office. Of course, even if Fleckstein had been able to give one last shriek of protest, one last howl of dismay, I would not have heard him. His office, Suite 305 in the Shorehaven Colonial Professional Building, was ten minutes from my house, a ten-room Tudor in Shore ..
haven Acres. Actually, Shorehaven Half-Acres would be more precise, but the developers of Nassau County’s North Shore insist on perpetuating the area’s reputation as the Gold Coast, the Playland of the Robber Barons. So, minutes from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s East Egg, we have Shorehaven Estates, split-levels on sixty by one hundred foot plots; Shorecastle, a red-brick sprawl of upper middle-income garden apartments on the once-lush grounds of a nineteenth-century railroad tycoon; Shorehaven Mansions, a group of forty colonials, aluminum-sided mini-Taras, competing with a few sparse junipers for a place in the sun.
I learned of Fleckstein’s death about two hours after it happened, as I listened to all-news radio station broadcasting from Manhattan, thirty miles away.
‘We have a report from Duke Gray, our Long Island correspondent,’ the voice said. I listened. Bob’s train might be late, the switches might have frozen.
‘Yes, Jim,’ came a second voice, crackling over the wire like Edward R. Murrow reporting the Battle of Britain. ‘I’m speaking to you from the suburb of Shorehaven, where a little more than an hour ago, the body of Dr Marvin Bruce Fleckstein, a dentist, was discovered, brutally murdered, on the floor of his office.’ The voice droned on, reporting that there seemed to be no definite leads, but that an official from the Nassau County Police Department would try to issue a statement later in the evening. ‘And that’s it for now from Shorehaven, Jim.’
‘God,’ I thought, turning off the radio. ‘I knew him.’ I had seen Fleckstein in line waiting for a movie and at Parents Night at school. I had even consulted with him once, about six months into my pregnancy with Joey. I had been peering into the mirror, studying my face, the only part of my body not bloated, gazing into my slightly almond-shaped eyes, staring at my high cheekbones, mementos, doubtless, of a Mongol invader who had passed through my great-great-grandmother’s shtetl en route to besiege Minsk. I smiled at my reflection and saw it: tiny rivulets of blood oozing out of puffy gums. My dentist told me to see a periodontist like Dr Fleckstein. I did.
He gave me a friendly greeting. ‘Hi, Judy.’ ‘Judith,’ I replied automatically.
‘Okay, Judith it is.’ By that time, I realized I had lost the opportunity to be brilliantly assertive, to establish my adult credentials. I could have said coolly, ‘Mrs Singer,’ or, better still, ‘Ms Singer,’ or even ‘Ms Bernstein-¬Singer.’ Instead, I sat passively, mouth agape, a napkin resting under my chin, a bib to soak up my infantile dribble. My eyes darted from the word ‘Castle’ on Fleckstein’s adjustable light to his princely, large ¬featured face. He probed, he scraped with one of those ghastly pointed metal dental picks, stopping at intervals so I could rinse my bloodied mouth with Lavoris and water.
‘You haven’t been using unwaxed dental floss, have
you?’ he asked, although he knew the answer. ‘No, but I will.’
‘You really should. Do you have a Water Pik?’
‘Yes,’ I muttered, the draining tube making crude slurping noises in the bottom of my mouth.
‘Well, use it. It doesn’t do you any good sitting on the sink, does it, Judith?’ He sounded sad and weary, a prophet unheeded by a decadent, self-indulgent people.
‘No, I guess not.’ I felt humiliated, as I always do with professionals who catch me in my sloppy, unroutinized ways. Periodically, I remind myself that I haven’t taken my vitamin-mineral supplement, that my toenails have grown curved and jagged, that another month has passed without a self-examination of my breasts.
But Fleckstein wasn’t too bad. He gave me some medicine for my gums and told me to massage them regularly. Then, looking at my belly, he said: ‘Good luck.’
‘Is this your first?’
‘No, my second. We have a three-year-old daughter, Katherine. We call her Kate.’
‘Very nice. Well, good seeing you. Good luck.’
‘Dr Fleckstein,’ I said, ‘about your fee. How much … ?’
‘Speak to my nurse about it.’ He smiled and left the room.