By Chelsea Stickle
I’m wiggling my loosest front tooth when Mom oh-so-casually says, “I think it’s really unattractive when front teeth come in separately. Remember Sally Treem? Wouldn’t it be nice if both of your front teeth came in together?” Every time Mom gets an idea, she gets this glint of desire in her sharp blue eyes and a smirk on her permanently lipsticked mouth. It’s like she’s going to a carnival, but I never know if I get to sit next to her or become part of the ride. She’s glinting and smirking and I know this time, I’m the ride. “You’d be so much prettier.” Disagreement isn’t an option. There wasn’t really a question in the first place. Mom only says one thing to get to another, forever leading me down a dark rabbit hole. “If you want, I can help you and pull them out.”
The sunlight streaming through the casement windows makes her nail polish look shiny like fresh blood. The noxious fumes of nail polish and remover forever assault me. She paints them in the car, in front of the tv, at her vanity. I try to remember when she last painted them, if the polish will wrinkle and catch on the ridges of my teeth like a discarded second skin. Underneath, her nails are yellow from the decades of dye that turned her nails into talons.
When I say, “I guess”, she leads me upstairs to her bed and gets me to lie down. She straddles me and starts pulling on the looser one. Her fingerpads are on either side, and I taste nail polish remover. My tooth’s not loose enough, but she’s diligent, determined to take it with her. “Keep your neck back,” she says as my head follows my tooth for the tenth time. Tears drip from the corners of my eyes. Enough force and the root snaps, leaving a trail of blood drops across her pillow. Mom triumphantly holds up my front tooth. I run my tongue over the empty grave in my mouth and it’s pulpy, bloody, fresh.
“Now for the next one.”
The next one is barely wiggling. Mom exerts more force, strengthened by her recent victory. I don’t know if it’s possible to have bruised gums, but I can feel one blooming under her care. Agony radiates from the front of my mouth. I moan and writhe, always aware of the blood trail just out of the corner of my eye. “Let me finish,” she says through a clenched jaw.
I freeze my body and step outside of it. The pain becomes an echo of itself. I forget who I am. I notice the detail in the metal-work headboard of my parents’ bed. How every surface is mirrored. The soft, plush carpet like a pink sea around me, one that won’t save me on this rocking ship.
The second tooth appears in Mom’s hand. My gum vibrates, and my tongue gravitates to the empty space. The iron of my blood is sharp, must fill the gap where my teeth were.
Mom rinses and dries off my bloody teeth before dropping them into the oval-shaped Limoges box where she keeps the rest of my baby teeth. She tries to protect them from the porcelain by including a tissue for padding, but the high-pitched clinking is unmistakable. The mother bunny on top of the box glares at me.
“Would you like some ice cream?” she asks. “I think we have chocolate chip.”
I nod, afraid of my voice, and she leaves me alone in a room that feels devoid of all humanity, like no one’s ever been here but me, sinking into the duvet and the bloody pillow. And I vanish.