Tassels sway from pillows and chairs are peaked with little gold balls. Plastic potted plants sit under hanging lamps with heavy golden chains. If I did not know better, I’d be convinced my periodontist was gay but he wears that wedding band like a badge. I figured as much anyway; football player’s shoulders, trim waist, huge forearms. I know he plays tennis; so deft at the net there is no hint of the savagery in his hands.
I enter the waiting room to find him pressed close to the receptionist behind the desk. I am convinced he is banging her between patients. He calls out a happy hello and I feel my tongue stiffen. He skates to his examining room and I follow for my monthly scraping.
“I don’t scrape,” Dr. Gilford says. “A gynecologist scrapes.”
He ties a blue bib around my neck and tilts me in the chair so I am sprawled before him. Piped music lullabyes us and the examination light oozes ultra violet sun tan rays. The walls are pink and the equipment, even the sink, is blue. Romantic paintings overhang instrument cabinets of teak. The leather on the chair is so soft, it caresses my ass deliciously.
I stretch my mouth wide and he probes with a sharp hook, plunging into my tender gums, measuring the depth of new damage. He grinds across the surface of my teeth with an excruciating noise, loosening the dirt in tiny swipes, spearing rotten food particles, forcing his way into the clogged spaces – pushing, pulling, tearing.
“Jesus! How could you get so stained in a single month? Look at this, it’s like a swamp in here. How do you expect me to get this all off?”
He looms over me so that I can stare up his nostrils. I see his bush of dark hairs dotted with wetness, the puffy pink skin filled with veins and the secret black holes leading into his body. When he criticizes me, my eyes fill with tears because I have such a crush on him.
“I see new pockets forming. They’re going to get re-infected, just like before. You keep up the coffee and cigarettes, I’ll have to cut away more gum.”
“Oh, Doctor Gilford, no!”
I have undergone four savage operations in the last three years. He has torn apart my mouth, ripped away tender, infected skin, patched me back together again. Each operation has taken forty minutes with my jaw and eyes wide open, my tongue weighted with cotton to absorb the flow of blood. Through the anaesthetic, I have felt the movement of his scissors, the tug of his pliers, the delicate pressure of his needle. He has made me stretch my mouth to the tearing point so he could shove his instruments into the back of my head. I could hear the skin being pulled free, feel the sudden spurt of blood, the angry pulsing of my body in rebellion against this rape.
Each month, I return to be scraped and, if I dare complain, he threatens me with more surgery. He has me at his command now. I am a rat being put through reflex training. And always, I come back for more.
“You’re going to lose every one of these teeth. That’s what will happen to you. By the time you’re thirty five. Because you don’t take proper care of yourself!”
I have pyorrhea and my gums are decaying, shriveling away from my teeth. Hot tobacco smoke, liquor, caffeine, bits of food have eroded my gums and are gnawing into the bone. I have ground my teeth too often, chewed too much, sucked too hard. I am eating myself up alive. My secrets, my fears, my poisoned saliva have turned my teeth loose and brown. They rattle in my mouth.
“Have you been brushing?”
“How many times a day do you brush?”
“Three,” I lie.
“And flossing afterwards?”
“Oh yeah?” he attacks. “How do you explain the egg on your teeth from this morning’s breakfast?”
All my secrets are exposed. Nobody knows me like he does.
When I was thirteen years old, I got trench mouth from blowing Carmine Mazzelli on the roof of our building and my gums have never stopped bleeding. The dentist smeared me purple and it disappeared. My mother warned me to keep my mouth shut but I did not listen. He could be found every night, hanging around the drugstore on the corner and every time he motioned me to the roof, I went. Soon enough, the trench mouth returned and the doctor smeared me purple again but, by that time, I was hanging around the corner, waiting for him.
Dr. Gilford’s hook has caused bleeding and I can feel the slimy ooze in my mouth, the creeping wetness that circles the roots of my teeth. He shoves cotton between my lip and my gum and I suck quickly on the grainy hide of his finger. He pretends not to notice. I pretend I didn’t do it.
Carmine was short and stocky, compact and muscular, dark haired, ugly, always squinting – perhaps he needed glasses. We were both poor. We lived in the projects. Glasses would have been a luxury to his parents just like, as my mother continually explained, my trench mouth was costing a fortune to mine.
His cock was like the rest of him, short but thick, always hard, red at the tip, ugly and tense. I tried not to look at it, or at him. I kept my eye closed. The sky was beautiful on the roof at night, so different from the ugly streets, from our depressing apartment, from the piss stained stairwells. Still, every time I saw him on the corner and followed him into the building, up the stairs to the roof, out onto the tar, hot in the summer, icy in winter, under the stars, without a word, I sank to my knees and he pulled it out. I shut my eyes so I missed all the beauty.
Dr. Gilford is digging out one ancient curdle after another and, with each discovery, he waves his tool in triumphant disgust.
The quiet on the roof was amazing. From the time we got there till the time he came – absolute silence. Maybe the noise from the street travelled up that far but I never heard it. Never, once, did I hear a fire engine screech while I was blowing Carmine. The world stopped.
In bed afterward, trying to sleep, I heard everything: my mother complaining, my father shouting, the flushing, the snorting, the farting, the whines, people on the streets, music from open windows, police sirens, dogs. My father complained to my mother – probably about me. My mother shushed him. Eventually, they fell asleep but, even then, I heard every sound, running my tongue up and down the inside ridges of my teeth which produced its own grating noise.
I jabbed my tongue into the spaces between teeth, playing that the tongue was locked in and trying to get out. I created suction and drew little pieces of lip into the cracks between the teeth, holding them there till it hurt. Sucking on saliva, I could taste blood from my irritated gums. I tore at myself in tiny bites until my mouth was a burning hellhole and red drool dripped on the pillow. Moaning, clamping a hand over my jaw, I held my mouth open to let the cool air in. In the morning, the sheet was stained. How was I supposed to hide it from my mother?
Dr. G. has a machine which grinds away at the stain in rapid whirls and, as he brings it toward me, it quivers in his hand like the tail of a rattlesnake. I press my elbow into the hardness of his belly and search for the mound where his pubic hair might start. He smells grainy and dark like Carmine did and a knot of desire forms in my groin.
There are sections of my teeth that have been worn so thin that the nerves show blue below the surface and, as he scoots over them with his treacherous toy, it is hard not to yelp from my seat. The noise sends shivers up my spine. I close my eyes but the friction causes smoke and the machine continually squirts cool water and I cannot ignore the stench of burning garbage wafting from my mouth.
“Wanna take a break?’ he asks. I am too paralyzed to answer. Despair blankets my vision. By my sob-like gasps for air, I express my gratitude for the reprieve.
“Wash out,” he says. Too pained to express desire, I turn my head limply toward his crotch and wish I could gulp mouthwash from his cock.
Edward M. Cohen‘s story collection, “Before Stonewall,” won the Awst Press Book Award and was published in June. His “A Visit to my Father with my Son” appears in Running Wild’s 2020 Novella Anthology. His novel, “$250,000,” was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons. His story, “Peroxide Blonde,” won the 2020 Key West Tennessee Williams Prize.