Children used to bury their teeth in the frozen earth or placed them a hole in the wall still shivering with the fur and bones of ferrets and weasels right by the burning stove, or someplace out of reach from small animals, or placed them in the holes and knolls and knobs of oaks and maples and evergreens, or simply had them swallowed by the mother--disappearing down into her fleshy throat to the deep blue and grey juices of her soul. These treasures were always hidden with care, deliberation. And then they were quickly forgotten.
I almost drowned before I ever lost a tooth. I remember the stumble, the miss, the inch too far on the splintery pier, and then I was swallowed up by the Atlantic Ocean. With open eyes, I felt I was somersaulting out of control--round and round and round and round—but somehow the white hot circle of light always remained steadily above me between the ridges of sea. The salty water sank in through my mouth, seeping through my rows of baby teeth and trickling down my throat.
Then I was in my dad’s burnt prickly arms. We bobbed on the water with our teeth chattering, he pushed me above his head while we waited for help.
Older now it seemed like every game I played would end with a bloody taste in my mouth. Picture it: I stumble behind a flannel couch while my brother counts down from sixty. In this tense silence I taste pennies—I probe my empty gap in my smile, spit out blood on my sleeve. We stop the game and search the floors, combing the rug and tile and hardwood. I step away and rinse my mouth with tap water, lay my tongue down in the open space.
I stopped putting any under my pillow when the tooth fairy stopped coming. Instead I gathered my teeth into a little plastic treasure chest, where crumbling and cleaved and bloody canines and incisors sat bunched together like a hoard. Somedays I would open up the chest and line them up on my desk, from the most intact to the most broken. In my hands they don’t feel as familiar or large as they should, like they did all those years they were anchored inside me. I pick one up and try to fit it back into my smile.
My first summer back from university, I sat in the reclining dentist’s chair staring at the opaque picture of my skull. My little sister sits off the side swinging her legs back and forth as the dentist blinks at me. I am staring at the stone ghosts above my cuspids, grown up teeth that have never seen the light.
“Well look at that. Looks like you still have some teeth growing in,” the dentist laughs.
My hand touches front lip, above the two baby teeth still deep in my jaw, the tiny bits of me.
She tells me to come back, to figure out what to do about it, how we will dig out the new and discard the old.
I flash a smile. I do not come back.
If you look at them hard enough you’ll notice how they don’t quite fit in my mouth. They tightly secure themselves into my crowded jaw, but they don’t quite align with my gums, sticking out farther, more unevenly. They feel familiar in my mouth unless I think about it.
I don’t need you anymore, I could say. But instead I carry them with me because maybe they have tasted bubble gum and gold fish crackers, hide and seek and magic, salt water and blood and all the other things I don’t want to forgot.
About the Author: Sharon Rose is an English major from New Jersey. She loves drinking coffee, reading e.e. cummings, and petting any breed of dog. She has been published in The Door is Ajar, the Cedarville Review, the Magnolia Review, and Gravel.