Thursday, March 5, 2009


All of a sudden, at the age of 34, Marian discovered that her teeth were narrower at the tops than they were at the bottom.  She had several cascading thoughts about this.  The first was that she really ought to be more observant about her own physiognomy, though this wasn't the first time something like this had happened to her.  When she was in college a man had pointed out to her that her toes didn't curl under, but laid flat just like fingers, and that the second to last one was longer than the middle one.  She had stared for a few moments at her vampire finger toes and then put on her clothes, left the room and never had a one night stand with a man with gel in his hair again.

Marian's second observation was that she should take her fingers out of her mouth or people were going to start staring at her, if they hadn't already.  Besides which she had no idea what kind of turbo germs she had just communicated into her mouth via her fingernails, seeing as how just a moment before she had been absentmindedly scratching the side of the bus shelter.  It had an poster for the new Batman movie on it and when she looked over she had seen her fingers scraping across an enormous reproduction of Christian Bale's face, airbrushed free of pores or facial hair.  

Her third thought was that she wished she had a mirror so she could look closely at her triangle-shaped teeth and see what impact this freakish oddity had on her smile.  Casually she leaned closer to Batman's gigantic head and tried to catch her reflection in his dark hair, but she could not see whether her teeth looked any different without grimacing abnormally at herself.  She sucked her tongue and leaned back again.  

Finally, staring intently at the Bale head, she wished that it was a poster for a light romantic comedy, or Channel 5 News, or some other brightly-colored sea of smiling faces that she could inspect for tooth shape and at least get some idea of whether she would need to make a dentist appointment as soon as she got home.  She ran her tongue over the front and back of all of her teeth, but she could not feel the shape of them as well as she could with her fingernails, and she longed to be home where she could inspect herself in the mirror, wash her hands and stroke her teeth with her fingertips or turn on the television to look at the toothy faces.

Marian gazed around her, looking for someone to make face-contact, but everyone stared vaguely into the distance.  They were all dressed for fall--thin men in white shirts and dusky blue sweater vests, pudgy young women in peasant skirts and brightly-colored scarves tied artfully around their necks.  But the late afternoon was still summery warm, and the bus exhaust blew across them in waves, bringing jewels of sweat to the chins and foreheads of the well-dressed commuters.  Leaning her head back and away from the onslaught of traffic, a middle-aged woman got caught in Marian's stare.  She wore a teal tweed suit with a silk blouse--no doubt soaked through with sweat at the armpits by now.  Marian smiled at her.  The woman stared, looked quickly behind her and then checked her watch.  Terrified, Marian automatically stuck her fingers back into her mouth and felt her teeth.  That seemed to clinch it.  Something awful had happened to her gums during the course of the day and she was now wandering the streets grinning at strangers with a horrific triangle-toothed smile that was extremely off-putting.  Marian was sure she would remember if people had always had this reaction to her smiling at them.  

Or at least fairly sure.

That stopped her heart for a moment, and she added flipping through old photo albums to her list of things to do as soon as she got back.  The mentally ticked off the list; one: check the state of teeth and gums in the mirror.  Two: see how current teeth and gums compare to earlier teeth and gums, particularly as relates to happy pictures with other people in them also looking happy and not uncomfortable or afraid.  Addendum: people not related to me.  Three: compare current and past shape of teeth and gums to examples in film, television and magazines.  Addendum: research whether examples have had their teeth capped.  Marian took a deep breath.  With this list compiled she felt much more prepared for whatever might befall her.  Wincing, she added a possible fourth: call the dentist, oral surgeon or emergency room, whichever seemed appropriate given the situation.  Pulling out her wallet, she checked the amount of cash inside, stepped to the corner and hailed a cab.

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