Every time I go to the dentist they tell me that I need to brush twice a day. I tell them that I do, and they say I must be doing it wrong. Circles, they say, brush in circles. Then they poke at my gums with a metal prick and when blood is drawn they shake their head and try to sell me some ridiculous toothbrush that’s supposed to be super effective, thus making life for us stupid folk who can’t comprehend how to brush their teeth much easier.
“I’m not buying a three hundred dollar toothbrush,” I would say, “I have a perfectly good one that I got for eighty-five cents back at home.”
That was before they got a new dental assistant. Rachelle. See, since I’m so bad at brushing my teeth I go to the dentist once a month for a cleaning. I hated everybody at that office until I met Rachelle but I don’t feel bad about it because I’m sure they hated me too. It was a symbiotic relationship. They took my money, I caused them frustration. Give and take. It’s all about giving and taking.
I was propped back in a chair that I’m sure cost several thousand dollars with this plastic torture device stretching my mouth open so far that it felt like my cheeks would tear. I had these goofy orange shades on so that the UV lights they use wouldn’t blind me and my thinning hair was dangling loosely wherever it pleased. In she walked, a blonde lady carrying the energy of a metropolis condensed in her five foot frame.
“I’m Rachelle,” she said, “i’ll be performing your cleaning today.” And I said, “hnggguhshhhhullop,” because the plastic device had slammed my tongue into the recesses of my throat. This made her laugh, and that laugh did more for my well-being than any visit to the dentist ever had. Even through the orange tint, even though she was upside down on account of my position on the chair, I could tell that her teeth were perfect. She was perfect. I could also tell that she was pregnant, but I didn’t mind. I just wanted to make her laugh again– wasn’t looking for a date or anything like that.
She started pricking around with that hooked monstrosity and I could taste the copper hints of blood immediately. She frowned and leaned over me, her hair tickling my cheeks, “you’ve got bad gums,” she said. I shrugged my shoulders and mustered a “whalchugondo?” She shook her head, still smiling but trying to be serious. “Look down,” she said. And I did. When my mouth was full of water and needed draining, she knew, and I didn’t have to drown in my own saliva like so many times before. It was a wonderful connection.
After all the poking and brushing and flossing and special dental protectant hardened by UV lights were over with she sorted underneath a cabinet behind us, pulled out a familiar box.
“This is the-” but she couldn’t finish because I raised my finger to my lips in a shhhhh, no more, signal.
“It really would help you know.”
“Would it?” I asked. “Would it prevent all of my worldly problems, for just $300?” I smirked in a way that told her I was being an ass, but a reasonable ass. It was a smirk that said, “I can’t afford this, why do you think I won’t buy it? Why do you think I rely on the company dental insurance so much, why can’t they pay for it?”
“What do you do?”
“This and that. Mostly nothing.”
“I sell things. Over the phone. It’s very lucrative, very. . . prestigious. Almost like being a king, or a lawyer.”
She put one hand on her barely bulging womb and put the other on my shoulder. Of course I bought the toothbrush. Only a fool wouldn’t have. As I walked out of the door I turned to the back of the office where she was introducing herself to some other schmuck and I yelled past the receptionist, “I’ll see you next month Rachelle!”
That night I unwrapped the toothbrush from it’s box. The body was huge, at least nine inches long. It felt like a sturdy weapon in my hand. The goofy part was the head, which was roughly the size of my thumb nail. It was a laughable piece of technology. An expensive, laughable piece of technology.
I wet my mouth. Wet the brush. Applied the toothpaste. Wet the brush again. But when I turned the thing on it vibrated so intensely that the toothpaste immediately flew from the tiny bristles and splattered around my sink and mirror. After a couple tries I figured that I should turn it on inside of my mouth so that it would just splatter toothpaste all over my teeth, and not the bathroom. As soon as I pressed the large button to activate the vibrating brush it tore a hole in the roof of my mouth. It sure hurt a lot, this hole, but there wasn’t any blood. When I cocked my head in the mirror to look at it all I saw was a perfect circle, perfect blackness. I went to bed without brushing my teeth. I had a new fancy toothbrush after all, how much damage could one night do?
I woke up to a light tap tap on the inside of my teeth and rushed to the bathroom to see if maybe one of them was loosened by my visit. I pulled down on a brass cord and turned on the single, auburn light. When I opened my mouth a tiny man fell over across my bottom teeth. I could see him in the reflection of the mirror and he was wearing a tiny navy cap with a white shirt.
“Whew,” his tiny voice echoed in the empty room, “your breath smells man, what’s up with that?” Alarmed, but not scared, I lowered my mouth to the sink so that he could climb out.
“You’ve got to brush in circles,” the little man said, “in circles.”
Over the next couple of hours I questioned the little man. All he knew was that he had emerged in this world through the hole in my mouth. “I was nowhere,” he told me, strutting across the top of a Sport Illustrated, “and then, BAM, I was dangling from your mouth.” He was pretty cool, this little man. I gave him a thimble of beer and we talked about nothing. When we got tired I made him a little bed out of some cotton balls and cloth, put it on the nightstand next to my bed. But he didn’t want it, he wanted to sleep in my mouth cave. “It’s where I feel most at home,” he told me, “after all, I was born there.”
The next day at work I was on the phone with a customer, trying to sell him this new scooter even though he had never owned a scooter in his life. I was only able to do this because some shady charity he donated to, or possibly an organization whose petition he signed, sold us his phone number and email address. Today it was a scooter. Next week it will be flat top grill. Or kitchen sponges. Sometimes making cold calls made me feel guilty but then I would think who knows, maybe someday somebody will want a scooter or a flat top grill. I mean, I would buy them if I could afford it. The guy on the phone, Chuck, he didn’t want a scooter.
“You fucking fuck,” he seethed, “I am at work, do you know what work is?” And before I could tell him that I was at work and selling him a scooter was my job I felt a little tap tap on my teeth. I opened my mouth and the little man started, “Chuck, your name’s chuck right? How are you today Chuck?” And Chuck told the little man that he was having a really hard day, that his boss was cutting people left and right, and he didn’t appreciate the cold call one bit. Not one bit. “Look, Chuck, I’m sorry. Everybody has to make a living right? This is what I gotta do in order to eat, to feed myself.” I could hear Chuck sigh into the phone. “Hey, hey, hey, it’s alright. I know you’re frustrated okay? I get it. I’m going to let you go now. And hey, Chuck, if you ever need a scooter you just go ahead and give us a call.” Thumbs up.
The little man was smooth, he was understanding. I thanked him and he crawled back up into his cozy little mouth hole. Later that afternoon, I got a call from Chuck. Turns out his step daughter was starting college soon and she wanted a moped. When I told him we were selling manual scooters, “. . .like for kids,”as I put it, he said, “Well you know a birthday will come up sooner or later right? Nieces and nephews and all that.” So he bought two and I thanked him. I thanked the little man. At night I let the him out of my mouth so that I could brush my teeth.
“Circles,” the little man emulated the proper motion, standing on my shoulder, “yes! Circles, just like that.” I slept better that night than ever before, knowing my little man was tucked away, safe and cozy, in my very clean mouth.
Three more weeks passed. Work was a breeze with the little man there to help me. I bought him a barbie house, complete with plastic kitchen set and a plastic car, but he still refused to move out of my mouth. The night before my next dentist appointment I told him all about Rachelle, about her laugh and her perfect teeth. We chatted like two kids at a sleep over.
“She sounds lovely,” he said. And I told him that he didn’t know the half of it, but that he would see. “Just be cool,” I warned him playfully, “stay out of site.”
The following morning I walked into the dentist office, waved at the angry clerk who thrusted papers at me to sign. I sat in the waiting room with the mini fridge full of little water bottles. I drank some shitty coffee, ate some stale cookies. I smiled wide sat up straight, ready to see Rachelle. When they finally called my name I shot right up, walked myself back to the office. I sat myself down in my regular chair, popped on my orange tinted shades.
When she rounded the corner into the room Rachelle says, “Hey! Oh my gosh finally. I can’t believe it’s been a month already.”
“Right? I really hate that my gums haven’t bled for four whole weeks.” Smile but no laugh. “You’re so goofy,” she said, “now open up.” I did and she took a look at my teeth, pricked them with the metal hook. That time there was no copper. No blood.
“Wow! Your teeth look much better. I guess it was worth it for that stupid $300 brush, huh?”
“Yeah, yeah. It’s been a huge help. Circles, you have got to brush in circles.” I felt a light tap tap against my teeth and cleared my throat, signaling the little man to get back in his hole. He must have been proud of me, of us. I imagined the taps as a thumbs up and told myself that I would apologize to him later.
Upon further inspection she found that despite all of our efforts, the little man and mine, I needed a root canal. I had never had a root canal before but I wasn’t worried. The little man and I were undefeatable together. I signed paperwork, arranged a ride, and took some pills that were supposed to make me stupid high so that I wouldn’t feel anything. When I came to, Rachelle was standing above me.
“All done!” she said.
I looked around the room, still very groggy. “It wasn’t so bad, right?” I nodded. My tongue flicked up and felt rough stitching where the tiny man’s hole had been. I stood up, and, alarmed, Rachelle put her hands on my shoulders to lower me back down. “Woah, woah, woah, relax. Relax, okay?” But I couldn’t relax. I flicked my tongue back over the stitching.
“Thishez?” I was able to mutter.
“Yeah, there was this peculiar hole in the roof of your mouth so I sewed it shut before your root canal. Don’t worry, I won’t charge you for it.” She winked.
I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what to say. Calm tears started running down my face. She wiped them from my eyes and said, real delicately (because she could sense I was in pain), “would you want to see a movie sometime?” And I would have said yes if I could think about anything besides my little man hiding from the needle as it slowly stitched him back further and further until he was trapped. My ride showed up and Rachelle led me outside. She asked me if I was okay and I just got in the car, didn’t even look at her. When my cousin drove off I could see her in the rearview mirror, one hand on her bulging womb, a confused expression on her face.
When I got home I dug a razor blade out of my junk drawer and tried to sever the stitching. Laceration after laceration. There was no cavern. There was no little man. No tap tap. Just blood.
I never did call Rachelle, because when I thought of her smile I also thought about how she sewed me shut and locked my man away. I don’t even go to the dentist anymore, there’s no need. Whenever I brush my teeth I can still hear the little man, “Circles,” he says, “you have to brush in circles.”
Image: emyzario via Pixabay