Gail Louise Siegel ~ Mouth

As a child, my front teeth dan­gled over my low­er lip like escapees from den­tal prison. Braces fixed my over­bite, but not my diastema—the space between my front teeth—which men found allur­ing although I did not. Cosmetics aside, they were ser­vice­able teeth, up to the chal­lenge of corn­cobs and steak bones.

My col­lege room­mates were den­tal hygien­ists. They arranged a free clean­ing with a stu­dent hygien­ist. She noticed a ridge inside my cheek and con­sult­ed her super­vi­sor. “It’s prob­a­bly from oral sex,” I said, demon­strat­ing how suc­tion might wound the mouth’s soft flesh. The super­vi­sor blanched and left. The stu­dent finished.

My hus­band always flossed and brushed. He had quar­ter­ly clean­ings with a hygien­ist whose spe­cial equip­ment pre­vent­ed gag­ging. Yet he need­ed root canals, bridges, crowns and var­i­ous appli­ances, all pur­chased on time with a Care Credit account. When he died in November 2019, I owed on the lat­est $7,000 appli­ance, which he’d only worn twice. There was no mon­ey-back guar­an­tee. It’s in a blue plas­tic clamshell in his nightstand.

When my aunt had can­cer and need­ed den­tal work, she chose the cheap­er crown since she wouldn’t need it long.

In high school, my mom, broth­ers, sis­ter and I vis­it­ed Aunt with our dog Wink—her dog Monday’s sis­ter. In her yard, Aunt tied Wink to Monday’s lead. Monday raced into the path of a car and was killed. Aunt wrapped Monday in a blan­ket and dug a grave. She may nev­er have for­giv­en my moth­er, who nev­er for­gave her­self. Either the anger or guilt was redundant.

I keep a rat­ty beige Pendleton blan­ket of Aunt’s in my car’s trunk. Her fan­cy turquoise Pendleton blan­ket is in a cedar hope chest. A bur­gundy Pendleton blan­ket pro­tects my couch from my dog. The blan­kets have Indian designs. Aunt would wear bead­ed and fringed Plains Indian dress­es, call her­self Ogimaqua, and lec­ture chil­dren about life on her reser­va­tion. Aunt’s grand­par­ents were Russian and Lithuanian Jews. Her name was Helen.

After the November 2020 elec­tion, my col­leagues sent me a tin of Garrett’s pop­corn. The card said, “Even super­heroes need to eat.” I bit down on the caramel corn and broke a molar. I spent Election Day in my dentist’s chair. Her con­ge­nial hygien­ist passed the tools and poured me water. I admired the rebuilt tooth in my car’s rearview mir­ror before I watched the returns. Trump—destroyer of all I’d achieved—was lead­ing. I drank wine, chewed Xanax and ate a choco­late edi­ble, want­i­ng to wake up in Biden’s America. And like Dorothy and Toto, my world was pret­ti­er when I did.

Days lat­er, I walked my dog and fell on my face. Id tripped on the bro­ken pave­ment before, where the alley met the curb cut. I dropped the leash, made whooo­ing and hooo­ing nois­es through the pain. My dog did not run into the near­by busy thor­ough­fare. He stopped, puz­zled. We loped home through the alley, my COVID-era sur­gi­cal mask drenched red. I dragged my tongue across a jagged, bro­ken front tooth and tugged incisor shards out of my lip.

This time my den­tist worked solo. She’d fired the con­ge­nial hygien­ist, who’d been uncon­ge­nial­ly embez­zling mon­ey, although less cun­ning­ly than the last con­ge­nial hygien­ist, who paid for a wed­ding, Nordstrom’s mer­chan­dise, vaca­tions and food with my dentist’s cash. That case file lan­guish­es on a prosecutor’s desk, wait­ing for COVID to end.

This time my rearview revealed a nice new tooth, and torn, bloody lips. The tooth angled out but didn’t broach my sealed mouth. By evening my lip swelled. Next day I saw a nurse, who scold­ed me. I filled pre­scrip­tions and watched my cuts form giant scabs, like crusty old Milkduds. They dropped off one by one, as if their glue had evaporated.

My lips were fat and lumpy when a friend stopped by. A COVID mask obscured my injuries. A base­ball had smacked him in the mouth when he was ten, and he still has a lump in his lip. He grew up, kissed girls, got mar­ried, despite the lump.

Aunt’s lips had accor­dion folds from too much tobac­co and sun. My hus­band was sun-baked too, but his lips nev­er wrinkled.

No one had been home when I unlocked the door, my tooth cracked in half and askew, blood paint­ing my neck, my hus­band dead bare­ly a year. I found his cloth ice pack in the freez­er, stained with his own blood. I pressed it to my mouth.


Gail Louise Siegel’s short sto­ries, cre­ative non­fic­tion and flash fic­tion have appeared in jour­nals includ­ing Ascent, Post Road, StoryQuarterly, Wigleaf, Zoetrope All-Story Extra, FRiGG, Elm Leaves and, hap­pi­ly, New World Writing. She has an MFA from Bennington College and lives just out­side of Chicago.