The dentist says, “Oh, oh…” her hands in my mouth while her assistant holds the suction gun limp-wristed, like a pencil she might use for doodling if the mood strikes her.
“Look,” the dentist continues, pointing with her rubber-gloved finger, the glove a faded turquoise, a color that does not appear in nature. “See that?”
“Um hum,” the assistant nearly yawns the word, then pops her gum. Should a dental assistant be chewing gum?
“What do you see?” Is this a quiz? Do they have time to use me as a prop?
“Looks like she is losing bone. Is that why the teeth have dropped, are falling?”
Falling? Did she say falling? Would one of them look at my whole face please; I have a face.
My mouth has been pried open, painfully wide in an exaggerated O, like Maria Callas front and center in an articulation of sorrow.
What would I sing with my mouth so? O Solo Mio? A song my father used to sing. I hum it in the back of my throat. They think I want them to squirt water into my mouth.
I hold the water high in my throat and continue to hum. O Solo Mio, an easy tremolo, makes me think of water bubbling up from a dry spring bed.
“They are going to have to go,” the dentist says as if commenting on a pair of old loafers.
She removes her hands and the utensils from my mouth and sits me up.
“I have bad news for you.” She is smiling, a small smile like Mona Lisa gone sadistic. Sympathy is difficult for her. “You are going to have to lose two teeth, one right in front, the other further back. We can do that today if you have time.” I think, what if we were talking about a finger, would they be so cavalier? After all there are nerves and blood vessels then bone beneath the surface of that tooth. Like a finger, the tooth is a part of me. The tooth, more importantly is up front, on my face.
“What happens if I do nothing right now?” my words impossibly steady as I try not to cry.
I hear part of an answer as I rise from the chair, something about how the good teeth will shift. I think tectonic plates—earthquake—but at this very moment I don’t care if the Rockies crumble. I remove the paper bib; tell her I will call her. I know that what I am doing will not stop the loss I must face. A loss. Not just a procedure. But not yet. The world spins, and I can’t change that. I will decide what they take and when.
On the drive home I think of a day in middle school. One of the popular boys calling me “Bucky” because of the protrusion of my two large front teeth. Braces were never an option, too expensive.
I have always been ashamed of my teeth, have always covered my mouth when I laugh, have always noticed other peoples’ perfect smiles.
But now, I glance at myself in the rearview mirror, my face, eyes, nose, and mouth, a disembodied cameo in quicksilver and suddenly, I love my face, my eyes, nose, all of my protruding, crooked teeth.
I sing, (changing the lyrics a bit)
Ma n’atu sole
Chiu’ bello oi ne’
O solo mio
E sul mio viso
I Translate, not a perfect translation, for the dentist, for that boy:
But another sun
That’s even brighter
It’s my own sun
That is on my face.
My face. A face with funny, crooked, large teeth. And, even if wrong- headed, I will keep these teeth just for now; will hold them like pearls when they fall.