The New You

1. The Dentist

The day after the riots at the Capitol, I’m frazzled, and while walking to my new dentist’s office, I wonder if he may be a Trumper and will somehow recognize me as a Democrat, then decide to pull a few of my teeth as revenge. His office is in a dumpy building near my dumpy neighborhood. Conscientious about the pandemic, I’m the only person allowed inside his no-frills office. Only one hanger for one coat. Not one chair in waiting room. Not one photo of someone with perfect teeth on the wall. A man of virtually no words, the dentist looks at the x-rays I have brought with me, then looks at my teeth, and simply starts cleaning my teeth. Since we have never bothered wasting time on introductions, I’m wondering if he’s the hygienist, but then I realize that a dental hygienist would be considered another frill. He didn’t even give me a toothbrush or toothpaste after the last visit. As I calm down, I think about how strange it is to be touched, though not actually by his hands, and I find myself wondering if he may be single, if he has a sense of humor, if the austerity of his dental practice  continues in his real life. But then the cleaning is over. His final, and basically only words, are to continue whatever I have been doing because it’s working, and I wonder if he means about my teeth or if he somehow knows the thoughts going through my head. Just like that he goes from potential Proud Boy to potential boyfriend. 

2. The Christmas Lights

Ten months into this pandemic, I now dread going to bed.  Winters are long and dark in Michigan.  Fewer friends are gathering outside by a fire, or if they are, no one is inviting me. In my old pre-pandemic life, I’d fall asleep fairly easily while reading, then remain asleep throughout the night. No longer.  If I do fall asleep reading, two hours later, I wake, heart pounding.  I read for another hour or two breathing deeply in and out hoping I’ll fall asleep again. I take Melatonin. Then Tylenol PM. I pace. In the morning, I get whiney and ask the neighbors to unplug their Christmas lights when they go to bed so I can open my shades a bit and feel somewhat connected to the nocturnal rhythms of the long wintry nights, perhaps have a chance see the glow of the moon or an owl or the Big Dipper. They look at me as if I’m an idiot and I wonder why I provided so much unnecessary information. Their Christmas lights never go on again nor do they ever speak to me again. I imagine their conversations about their grumpy neighbor woman going on and on with all her big words about wanting to see a damn owl at night while she practically begged them to turn off their beautiful Christmas lights. I cringe thinking about how they laugh knowing how badly I need to get laid and how they also know that will never happen.  

3. The Rabbit

Once again, my daughter reminds me that people who spend too much time alone develop dementia earlier.  “Just try Tinder,” she once again pleads.  She claims that her friend, who is half my age, recently moved and is meeting all kinds of men. No need to meet for coffee or a beer. You just jump right into a Zoom chat safe from home, then apparently, if all goes well, zoom into bed. Last night, even the dog nipped at my foot after getting out of bed so many times, ruining her sleep. The Rabbit with dead batteries lies ignored in my bedside drawer, next to the  dusty bottle of K-Y, while I lie awake obsessing over if my teeth are grinding instead of inviting someone to bed for some healthy grinding.

4. The Grocery Store

I go to the grocery store and become impatient waiting for a cashier, so I do the dreaded self-checkout. Within minutes, the dude whose job it is to patrol this area zooms over in his wheelchair, exasperated at whatever I have done to make the screen not work and tells me to go to the next one. I continue having troubles and he spins over infuriated with my inability to complete this mundane task of scanning my items properly. At one point, he races over with sanitizer wipes and says to use that for my hands, so I stop licking my fingers. A man my age, who seems to have mastered scanning, looks at me and laughs. I only pulled my mask off for a moment while removing a tomato from the produce bag because my glasses were fogging up so much I couldn’t see. I take the damn wipe and clean my hands, while he wipes the monitor with another sanitizer, looking at me with disgust. The two men nod at each other, sharing their bro moment about this woman who not only is unable to scan properly, but they are sure she’s unable to do other things properly. Their wink-wink moment. Finally finished with this tedious chore, Mr. Smug Inspector has to wheel over once again to verify that I’m over 21. I can’t leave well enough alone and just be relieved to be free of this store.  No, instead, I ask him why there are so few cashiers working today. He gets quite huffy and lets me know that he is a cashier, and I mumble, “Yeah, sorry, I meant a cashier who didn’t expect me to scan everything.” He groans, then looks at me as if I’m not only the ineptest person but the most uncompassionate person in the store. I walk to my car and wonder how I’ve become Larry David, except he has sex.  I should have bought new batteries for that old Rabbit. 


  • Diane Payne is the author of Burning Tulips (Red Hen Press). Her work has been published in Watershed Review, Tishman Review, Whiskey Island, Kudzu House Quarterly, Superstition Review, Burrow Press, and Cheat River Review among many others. She is the MFA Director at University of Arkansas-Monticello.

  • These images are from a 1921 illustrated guide to figure skating by Bror Myer, a Swedish skating champion. Meyer felt the guide necessary as in "latter years the art of skating has made such rapid strides." On his use of photography, he said: "To facilitate an easy interpretation of the text, as well as to show more clearly the various movements, I decided, after great consideration, to illustrate the work by means of photographs taken with a Cinematograph." From Public Domain Review