The Pits of the World

Daren Dean

Why haven’t you died? He had been asked this more than once. The sun cringed its tight white light, which made it difficult to see except between flashing eye-blinks. He shoved the Ruger SP101 in the pocket of his cargo shorts just against his knee where it clunked uncomfortably with each ill-considered step all the way to the front door of the dentist’s office. The agony of his infected teeth drove him to consider desperate acts against the Jolly bastard irresponsible for all his pain. Another root canal gone bad. That old familiar tale. It’s no wonder they shot cowards of his ilk. He put his Android in airplane mode and shoved it into his ass pocket. He meant business. He wanted not so much as a vibrating notification in his pants.

He knew the dentist had no class long before he had even met the old ivory trader. His office was in a brand-new brick subdivision for upscale businesses. He opened the trunk of his car and gazed at his hyper-fixation, an arsenal of old tennis racquets from the golden era: the Don Budge Finalist, Jack Kramer Autograph, Maxply Fort, Donnay Borg Pro, Head Vilas, Connor’s Wilson T2000, Solomon’s Rossignol Strato, and finally with a reluctance, a firmness about his mouth, he slammed the hatch. The very air he breathed as he crossed the threshold of the dentist’s front door was golden. The waiting room decor was smart and progressive, and one felt it was a haven of respectability and lent the place a kind of professional vim. It smelled of fresh coffee and a heavily scented lavender plug-in. Even walking into the office, with its cheap wall art and overpriced tiki furniture, it gave one a comforting feeling that a man’s choppers would be well-polished, taken care of, and filed down to the very nub if rot was discovered and rebuilt with film star veneers as pure as white-washed tombs. This was to say nothing of the throbbing walrus penis bone displayed on a faux altar like a Samurai sword. It was a potent conversation starter for this who had some inkling of what they were gazing upon. He imagined thrusting the penis bone into the dentist’s sternum and gutting him all the way down to his asshole.

He loved that this was not a dentist for children either. The first thing the blonde receptionist did, after first making a photocopy of your driver’s license and insurance card, was to offer you a cup of hazelnut coffee. She even wore a little pin with her name on it: Peyton. The redemptive bean juice was poured in an aesthetically pleasing white porcelain cup with artistically beveled sides that suggested squareness while retaining the familiar round shape of a classic coffee cup. Even if coffee was damaging to the teeth, it was still damn fine of Peyton to offer. He accepted and sipped the slightly bitter, appropriately expensive, 100% Arabica coffee. It was quite funny to him that coffee bragged about its origins, and yet they all claimed this same lineage. He was a cretin anyway; he drank drip coffee.

Even though he had always thought of dentists as little Satans with their undergraduate degrees in Business and their slight two-year educations in dentistry, he couldn’t help admiring a nominally professional man who surrounded himself with beautiful, exclusively and excessively blonde, dental assistants and hygienists. They looked good and smelled even better. He wondered if the dentist rounded them up at strip joints, taking them right off the pole, or if they were former makeup counter cosmetics salesclerks. Their slightest touch on a hand or shoulder an undeniably loin-burgeoning promise, nay invitation, to join them in the Tiger Room in back. Even when they slid the hunks of plastic in his mouth for the X-rays, he couldn’t help but think of turning the tables and sliding his own hulking member into their mouths. He wondered if he shouldn’t install his own platinum beauty at a desk in the currently unmanned front office of his own practice. Instead, his office was impersonal, private, and he liked to think democratic. A little button was installed for patients to push for assistance to summon him. As if his patients belonged to a rather obscure religious cult of therapy over which he alone presided. He imagined his patients expressing, if not love, a kind of obsequious spiritual devotion to his sessions. If only he could have a yellow-haired beauty inserting psychological instruments between their lips before they sat in his darkened office awaiting his probing questions and inspiring a cult of therapeutic evangelism. Such a psychological instrument that might illuminate some dark neurosis. There weren’t many tools to work with as much as he studied the dark side of the moon, but maybe one day it would occur to him. A way to satisfy the inherent oral fixations of all clients everywhere, desires they might not even realize they had, or ardent thoughts they wouldn’t admit to, that might resonate within as they approved direct deposits from a reclining position on his Victorian fainting couch. The edifice of power for his kind, though sadly, not insertable. His fantasy goal was to curate not only a pharmaceutical delight, but to provide a state of being one could only conceive of as ecstasy.

He smiled as he looked around the waiting room, imagining the dentist trying to sell him on a golden crown or some other little financial checkmate. A thunderbolt of pain shot from his gums sending a thunderbolt through his cheek. He grabbed his own jaw as if he might remove it from its hinge himself. He wondered if the balding man drove a nicer car than his own. He himself favored a classic, olive-green Jaguar. He assumed Dr. Jolly drove a little red convertible lady’s car like the gallivanting cliché he was. He looked like a man who would eagerly, longingly even, take it up the butt though all the while surrounded ironically by his harem of perfect “hygienists” because he wanted to dress in their lovely clothes, wear makeup, and smile secret smiles like them.

The receptionist opened the door to the inner sanctum. He marinated briefly in the humidity of her perfume. The light beyond the veil an impossibly fluorescent white, blinded him for a moment. A flash of leg as she slammed the door open with her rump for him. He didn’t just notice the blue dress. Nay, he had noticed. The towering inferno high heels. Dig it. Her platinum hair, almost gold, or honeyed, was so touchable and untouchable that one wondered if it was hers at all. Perhaps it had been rented or newly bought in a wig shop down in the New Orleans French Quarter where they served champagne as she tried one after another. She must have seen where his eyes had wandered.

“Have you ever been Vidal Sassooned?”

What a question, thought he. “I’ll play along,” he said, “No more tears?”

There was something of a violent officer in her Kurtzian manner. She was an alpha female. A great swallower of men, but not like one would hope. No, the dentist (he overheard a Latina mistakenly address him as “doctor”) had installed her in this office as La Jefa. The man was no doctor. Yet, La Jefa was most likely Austrian, or of aristocratic German stock.


They took their dozen X-rays, their pound of celluloid-digital flesh, to charge my insurance out the wazoo instead of simply cleaning my teeth. Dentist Keel Jolly’s father had owned the business before him. The clientele was Junior’s inheritance from the old man who I had known from the tennis courts of the Country Club and at the University courts. I remember when he stopped playing singles, unless it was with young college coeds that he would hit with in his charming mustache. That damn mustache! How I envied it! Even back in the nineties he was still using his old Dunlop Maxply Fort. Later, he only played doubles. Then, one day I saw him standing against the fence at the old courts along College Avenue watching people hitting. He looked over his shoulder at me looking forlorn, his eyes red-rimmed with tears. “I’m a golfer now,” he shrugged indifferently, “I’ve grown too old for this game.” He was about 70-years old at that time. His name was Ralph Jolly and I wept for the man later. I shed a tear of relief that I could still play. I always thought he looked like an ancient black and white photograph I had seen in an old issue of Tennis Magazine of Rene Lacoste, The Crocodile, one of The Four Musketeers who played Davis Cup for France in the 1920s and 30s. In the photo, Lacoste was slicing his eternal backhand on an approach shot at Roland Garros. The red clay in the picture looked like a Midwestern dirt road, rendered sepia by the photographer. Well, that was how he liked to think of Ralph Jolly. He had been a fine dentist too. More concerned with his clients and his relationships with them. How had he escaped the bastard fate of most dentists? He left it all to his Philistine son who had probably never played the Sport of Kings once in his entire life.

“Your molars are in bad shape,” Dentist Phillip Keel Jolly shook his head with remorse. Yes, Keel was the name he went by! What a moniker! The name smelled of men’s locker rooms and cheap aerosol foot spray. I assumed it had been their retriever’s name. “Looks like an old man’s teeth who has been making stressful backroom deals his entire life. You’ve ground them down to nubs.”

“They’uh infecta, you basta!” I attempted to curse, but the hygienist had given him a pain-inducing-numbing shot of possibly morphine and shoved the instruments of dentistry into mymouth. Her empathy had withered. Her disappointing, um, experiences with the dentist had turned her into a sadist. “I came heah to kil yuh.” I wanted to scream into his eyeball and chew off his near earlobe.

“What’s that?” Dr. Jolly asked, eyeing me over his Jeffrey Dahmer spectacles. “Wait just a moment. I know it’s not fair to ask questions under these circumstances.”

The blonde (Jolly called her Ms. Lightfoot) Eva Braun leaned down to my face where I could see a nice shot of her healthy cleavage, “You should get a cat to kick.”

“Wut?” I blinked, distracted by her fresh double mint breath. “Get a cat to lick?”

“You need to de-stress,” Hitler’s mistress laughed to reveal a bank of impossibly white teeth. They were all veneers. I bet they were a real mess before Jolly here did a number on her in more ways than one. There were pictures on a little shelf of his family. He and his plump, cow-eyed wife and her perfect choppers, on a cruise to Jamaica. His overgrazed, towhead children beamed glorious smiles as they snuck peaks down at their iPhones even as the photographer snapped their pics. The wife looked nothing like his assistant. She was a familial legacy. Proud of her blue hair. A supermarket dowager. A wide-load dame.

Eva Braun removed the instruments, “Here we go! Now you can talk! Talk!” Her voice seemed to echo in the room. Her tongue was red like blood in her lizard mouth. She was the sort of woman who might throw her tail if you grabbed her too fast.

Wood thee outta fo dentist agwee?” I wondered aloud. “I mein, who is dis dissenter numba fo? Why is he so disagweeable? What make him tho thpecial?” 

“What are you saying?” Jolly cocked his head like a dog who has just heard an unusual, high-pitched sound? He pricked up his ears. He looked like Piglet now.

“It might take a little time before he can—”

“Come out my caar,” I said. “I have thomething I wood like to thow you?”

“What is it?” Eva Braun asked. In her high heels, she towered over Jolly and his average height. Her hand was on his shoulder like she might work her own instrumentation in his ass and start making him squeal. She was an angelic hitman, hit-person, a she-her in a land of they-thems or theyms, about to give new orders under the white hot florescent lighting. We all looked sick, jaundiced, and hopeless specimens. Dentist Jolly, the younger, looked at his Amazon Prime queen with the delicious apprehension of getting the belt later.

Just never you mind, my little nosy piggy, I thought I said. I narrowed my eyes when I said it. Wishing I could lay her down on the dentist chair where I was and give her a taste of her own nitrous oxide. Oh, how we would laugh and laugh! Hunch, thrust, and laugh. Her eyes rolling into the back of her head in afternoon delight. It wouldn’t be terrible.

Oh my, but she was ostentatiously silent. You wouldn’t believe the silence. It came out of her eyes like lasers. Her eyes narrower than Melania Trump’s. She would have stabbed me with the Walrus penis out in the waiting room, had it been handy. Eva Braun was about to bloom as a flowering Adolphus Hitleranus. Luckily, she knew herself already superior to me in money, looks intellect, and morality as she left the office with a breezy aplomb. Most likely, something told me, she had smugly invested heavily in cryptocurrency. She went through a little side door that led to a small room where I spied a Nazis flag on the wall for an instant before the door shut. I imagined Ms. Braun dressed in a feminine SS Nazi suit that the Fuhrer, a renowned queen, himself could have conceivably worn in his underground bunker as he awaited his fate.

“I will leave you two alone,” she said through a crack in the door.

Itth man thtuff, suga britthes,” I snorted hogishly at the boss lady. “You wouldn’t understanth.”

“It’s the drugs,” Sir Keel said to placate the evil spirit.

“You baffle me,” she said, but I knew that was a lie because she blew me a kiss as she shut the door.

“Oh, you don’t want to tangle with that one, Mr. Moody,” said the Keel of Dentistry. The hands of the clock on the wall pointed at me. My eyelids grew heavy. I rested my eyes for a few seconds. Minutes on the clock spun by. When I opened my eyes again, I realized I had drooled all over myself like a St. Bernard after too many martinis in the Western Alps.

Dentist Keel Jolly turned to look at me with a wistful smile on his lips until he saw me struggle to yank the gun out of the pocket of my cargo shorts, as it snagged on the thick khaki cloth. His eyes widened in surprise until he saw the barrel pointed at his pasty-fleshed face. Even the liver spots on his face turned a deep maroon engorged with blood, and fright.

“Mr. Moody! What are you doing?” His knees, rubbery and buckling, seemed to give way in his extreme fear and he genuflected in a heap beneath the chair, so that I could no longer see any part of him until I leaned forward to observe him weeping in terror. The evil genius had brought all of this upon himself.

“Now see hear!” I said, control of my tongue suddenly restored, “No one likes to be ripped off for all those ostentatious X-rays! Not the insurance companies, and not me! It’s the principle of the thing, not just the money.” I was frothing at the mouth a bit now, but my Irish was up, and I was an emotional as a teenaged girl considering her first prom.

I leapt out of the dentist’s chair, all thrusting-pelvis and awkward to land on my feet with the business end of the revolver pointing at my own crotch until I levelled it at his face once again. He was hyperventilating now. I bet he hadn’t acted that way when his right-hand boss lady nurse was stroking him in this very room on her lunch hour. It was plain to me he had had every one of those blondes, and the idea of it was making me quake with envy. The revolver waggled in front of his face where he knelt like a little bitch so I pushed the tip against his lips, his nose, and even his forehead just like he had surely done the same with his own tip.

“Wh-wh-what are you going to do to me?” He bleated.

“I could put you out and pull all of your teeth out! That would be fitting, but instead I’m going to take you out of here, Keel. Off your turf. On your feet, fool. You’re not half the man your father was! Oh, I wish he was here now. I bet I know what he would want me to do. I want to show you something you will never forget!”

“Where?” He gasped. “What is going to become of me?”

“Become of you? What a funny way to put it! Get up now, see?”

He managed to gain his feet like a newborn foal staggering around in post holes. His gin-blossom complexion going a deep hue as of embarrassment or it might even be a neurotic, conniption fit. A boss man who needs, nay craves, privation discipline even humiliation.

“Call Eva Braun, that hotshit blonde, back in here! She’s coming with us.”

“Us?” His voice broke like an adolescent’s.

“Us That’s right, us. You’re going to love it.” I was beginning to whisper in a growling, sanctimonious voice. “And take off that white lab coat It’s ridiculous on you.”

He awkwardly stripped it off.

“Give it to me,” I growled. “I want to wear it.” He handed the garment to me. I put it on. I lifted his crown of instrumentation from his head and placed it on my own. I turned on the little light. I felt most credible and enlightened all at once. The crown, like the King James Version of the Bible, had bequeathed upon me moral authority, spirituality, and poetry. “Now call her back in.”

I handed him the business end of the phone, “Miss Lightfoot, could you step back in here for a moment?”

I spy with my little eye something pill-shaped, on the silver tray, just waiting for me to ingest and swallow dry. To rave, to gesture, to emancipate my manhood at the dentist’s office, but I sufficed myself with a devious yank of the crank. I still had my hand hard upon the devil’s own appendage. As soon as she walked in, her eyes went to my hand and then gun. One is for pleasure, and one is for fun. I pointed the Ruger at her and hustled them both down the hallway to the back door, and the glorious white-hot sunlight.

I instructed Miss Braun to drive. Dentist Keel Jolly was struggling next to me in backseat of my green Jaguar to remain in solid form, and not simply backslide to liquid or vegetable. She kept looking up at me all eyes in the rearview mirror. I pointed the gun at her back. Instead of fear, something had snapped inside of her, and the look was unadulterated passion. When she lowered her Egyptian-painted eyes to the gun, she bit her lower lip and her eyelids blinked shut for a hard, slow heartbeat.

“Do you know what this is?” I asked Jolly, casually picking up the Dunlop tennis racquet I had planted there for just such a speech. “No?”

He shook his head. His eyes fastened with horror on my revolver. It was a strange mix of fear and probably hope that I would pull the trigger.

“I don’t mean the weapon,” I said. “But look here at the last of its kind. It’s the Dunlop Maxply McEnroe. As far as I can tell it’s ostensibly the original Maxply Fort, only the lamination of this racquet is glorious. I mean, just look at it. A work of art. It represents the death of the pure spirit of the game before Howard Head came along and ruined the game forever with his Prince-ipalities and powers of evil.

“My Dad loved tennis,” Dentist Keel Jolly sniveled, “but I was indifferent to the sport myself. He never forgave me for not being any good at it. I’m-I’m—that is to say—I know you played together. He was always going on about your lovely backhand. That was his word, not mine. He said you could do anything with it. I think he might be proud of me now since I’ve taken up Pickleball twice a week.”

Yet, I resented him for his disappointment. I felt a kind of rage. Even after I tried to win his approval by becoming a dentist and inheriting the practice from him. I could hear the sniveler’s thoughts. It was most disquieting.

“For all your fine teeth,” I began. “You are not an articulate man. What has passed through the bar of your mouth I’ve had to guess at. Ralph was a man of honor. A swashbuckler on the court. You swindler! You hoaxer! You sober driver! You Pickleballer! Pickleball represents all that is wrong with this country. All that is wrong with the country today. It’s why I’m here. Pickleball is the bone cancer of America.”

Eva Braun found her voice, “I can’t believe you would say this to poor Keel! I am SO offended for him! That you would make such insensitive remarks about his Pickleball.” She licked her tongue along the edge of her red lips. When had she reapplied her lipstick?

I laughed mightily at that, “Ha! If it is anyone’s Pickleball, it is Trump’s Pickleball! It is Hillary’s Pickleball! Now they are Biden’s Pickleballs! We need a new political party, a closed third, not interested in Pickballing at all!”

The dynamic duo gawked at me.

I felt nothing. Only my executive dysfunction to set these Philistines straight. To appoint myself a modern Jeremiah. I am not insane, not completely I’m not. This is not some fool’s gambit. Put thy foot hard upon the footfeed, and fly!

When we arrived at Highland Park’s Tennis Center, the courts were full of Pickleball players with their tiny, ineffectual racquets. They reminded me of oversized ping pong paddles. We parked in the lot in the penumbra of the towering live oaks, which were about 250 years old, dripping with Spanish moss. Being a dilettante of Louisiana history, I knew that Don Luis de Unzaga, was colonel of the regiment of Havana, and was confirmed as governor of Louisiana, by a royal schedule in August of 1772 with a salary of $6000 when these live oaks were just sprouting from the earth. Every age group was represented on the tennis courts. Young and old could play this sport. The coordinated and slow were just as likely to be passably good as a superior athlete with actual hand-eye coordination. Pickleball was very egalitarian in that sense. The professional tennis player in my soul wept.

“The big man with a gun is crying?” Eva Braun asked contemptuously. “What’s wrong with you?”

The irony was that it was basically a lady’s gun these days by own estimation.

“You don’t understand!” I rolled down the window and pointed its snout down at the courts. I pulled the trigger once, the metallic snap, and an empty chamber. I could see the headlines now, The Highland Park Sniper.

Jolly and his assistant gasped as one.

“You brought us out here on false pretenses!” Jolly protest. “Your gun isn’t even loaded.”

“You terrible, terrible . . . beast! You fooled me!” Her face was so red, she was blushing.

“Oh, isn’t it though?” I squeezed the trigger and the revolver roared.

Someone down at the courts said, “My word? Was that a gunshot, David?” His voice echoed to where we sat in the car.

“Oh my gawd!” Braun said. “He is going to murder us. It was just a dumb affair. It’s over for Keel and me. We have a perfectly fine professional relationship again. I never meant it to go on as long as it did.”

“I still love you,” Jolly confessed. “I didn’t know how to tell you, but what does it matter now?” The fool had the money to keep her, but his balls weren’t full for any woman.

“That’s such an idiotic thing to say under the circumstances,” she glared from the rearview mirror. This gave her the moral advantage like a librarian looking over her reading glasses to say something condescending. All the while her pussy hummed a love song for me.

“Shush it up! Shush!” I bawled childishly. “Neither of you understand the undoing of our nation. I mean, look at them down there playing with their Pickleballs.”

“That is so childish!” She bitched. “What an adolescent joke!”

“Yes, please take us back to the office. Neither of us will breathe a word of this on my honor . . .” He even placed his right hand over his heart and his left hovered as though to swear an oath.

“Honor, you have no honor, sir!” I made as if to forehand both of them with all I could muster with McEnroe’s racquet. You cannot be serious! Chalk flew up! You’re the pits of the world! All of this and more came flooding into my mind. It had never left. I felt my own genius on the tennis courts that every mediocre weekend warrior can easily identify with. McEnroe’s rage had been my rage. We had been led down a garden path that made the sport so difficult with its technology that nobody was in the physical shape they needed to be in to wield these advanced racquets with their incredible strings, and even larger heads. A defection had been inevitable. The golden era was over. It had been over for some time. It seemed as unlikely as Wiffle Ball replacing baseball as the national pastime.

“Why did you bring us here?” Jolly asked. “Why? I have patients to attend, Mr. Moody.”

“Look . . . at . . . those courts!” I gestured casually with the revolver. “They’ve painted Pickleball lines over the old tennis courts. Tennis has died. It is dead. I fear I am nearly dead.”

“Why don’t you try Pickleball? You might love it. I quite enjoy—”

I swatted him, ineffectually I thought at first, with a left-handed backhand. The hard wood of the Maxply Fort clunked against his head. His hand went to his balding pate and he cried out. “Ooowww! I’m bleeding!”

“Oh my God, Keel! You’re bleeding!” Ms. Braun opened my glovebox and fished around to find some napkins and pressed them hard against his temple. “We have to apply pressure to stop the bleeding.”

Dentist Keel Jolly took the napkins from her with irritation, “It hurts! But it’s not like I’m going to bleed to death, Miss Lightfoot.”

“Now don’t you—”

“Tennis is serious business!” I snapped at them. “It has always had a bloody history. The Scottish King, James I, played tennis in the 1400s. He kept losing balls down a sewer near the court. He got so sick of it, he demanded that it be sealed up. When a gang of his noblemen came, bloodthirsty to kill him, he attempted to escape through the sewer which came out via the royal tennis court, but he forgot he himself had ordered it sealed. They caught him, stabbed him, murdered him. I mean, damn.”

“Maybe they weren’t tennis fans either. Is that what you’re going to tell us?—your light’s still on.” She nodded and touched the center of her own forehead with a coral fingernail like a swami.

I adjusted my orthodontic headgear on the crown of my head, “I hope I’m not blinding you with my light–”

“It’s just a game, man!” Dentist Keel Jolly shouted at me, then he put his palm out facing toward me, “Don’t shoot me!” He was really begging to be shot, only his thoughts swirled in his mind like an old country bird trap made from tobacco sticks. I looked at the useless gun in my hand and considered if it was my duty to make Dentist Keel Jolly aware of his own executive dysfunction.

Eva Braun was smiling at me with her eyes now. Her eyelashes blinked slowly like blackbirds in the corn. She was ready to eat me up, and I thought I might be ready to be consumed by such a ravenous woman. Yet, she knew I was no more planning to kill the handmaiden to dentistry in the southern provinces than I was likely to take up a new racquet sport. I wondered if this blonde creature would play from the baseline with a two-handed backhand or buck the trends and serve and volley like some Czechoslovakian throwback. She extended her arm over the backseat with her palm out, wiggling fingers. I placed the revolver firmly in her hand.

“I have a Billie Jean King autograph in the back,” I offered. “When we have matched our racquets to these Pickleballs, we shall restore tennis to its rightful glory.”

“You’re a fanatic! Where did love come from in tennis anyway?” She asked, with a flirty tilt to her head. She was bipolar with regards to yours truly. The Ruger disappeared into the bowels of her purse where I imagined it bulged lasciviously against the faux lambskin material.

“Nobody knows where love comes from,” I opined. “In fact, the scoring systems was based on the sextant for navigating by the stars.”

Daren Dean is the author of three novels and a short story collection. His fourth novel ROADS is forthcoming in February 2023. Dean earned his MFA from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. His work has been featured in Bloom, Ploughshares, and Huffpost. His short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times. The Black Harvest: A Novel of The American Civil War (University of West Alabama, 2021) was nominated for the Pen/Faulkner, the W. Y. Boyd Literary Award for Excellence in Military Fiction, Midlands Author Award, and shortlisted for the Missouri Author Award. Currently, he is an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Lincoln University of Missouri.