by James Jacob Hatfield
The head and arms are wrapped with a high density plastic sleeve to protect the chair from any oral leakage. A metallic beaded chain (like the ones used for anchoring bank teller pens) nips at my neck hairs and is alligator clipped to a blue bib (also for spit). The paperwork I left with the receptionist details my checkered past with Lidocaine.
This is the only dentist that works at night.
I squint at the squeaky rubber sounds the ultrasonic cleaning tool makes when it hits my teeth.
He’s wearing a grey mechanic’s suit with maroon pinstripes. As he reaches over me to untangle a hose a patch with Heath embroidered in Bastarda cursive hovers above my face.
The light overhead is movable on an elbow joint.
What I was doing before this or what instigated my coming here escapes me. I don’t remember making an appointment. But I’ve been suffering from a receding gumline on my bottom row of teeth so I assume it’s just one of those absentminded things you plan then do.
He sticks his gloveless fingers in my mouth. They have a semi-dry ointment sensation and the foul taste of Vaseline and motor oil. He slides his index finger across the face of all my teeth.
“Mhm.” he says and nods.
With the light behind his head and the rest of the office pitch black (apart from the lamp at the receptionist’s desk) his face is impossible to make out. Small attributes flash over as he moves. An ear here. A cheek bone there. I try to make out his eyes but it’s almost like the light makes it harder to see.
“Worse than I expected, I’m afraid.” he grumbles. His voice is gritty but lubricated and bellowing as if the substance coating his hands was also lining his throat.
I attempt to ask him what he means but am incapable of talking. Attempting to speak makes my throat muscles spasm and contract (pulling down and tightening like a cow utter or a noose). My hands grip the arms of the chair as I am painlessly electrocuted under some kind of spell which he is commanding or I am dreaming.
Heath tilts his head back looking up at the ceiling. As if coming to terms with something. After a few moments of deep breathing I feel his grimy hand grab my forearm and pull his rolling chair over beside me.
He says “Let me see again.”
He reinserts his dingy finger in my mouth behind my bottom row of teeth and my tongue instinctively retreats from it. He adjusts the light above him. Pulls out a thick Expo marker. Makes a list of all the teeth he’s going to rip out. He uses violent symbols to depict the methods of extraction.
I’m really here. But here isn’t really a “place” in the way you think.
After finishing his list he scanned it for any mistakes. Nodded to himself for each “Mhm. Mhm. Mhm.” then he says “Alright so not a complete overhaul today, but you’re knocking a few out at once. I can respect that.”
There’s a twinkling in the darkness. All the air in the room gets sucked out. The syringe caught the light as he adjusted the overhead lamp again. And the man hesitates because my fear was visible.
Is he stalling for pleasure? Does he suffer with me?
(In hindsight) I wish I would have just enjoyed the hesitation and not wasted my time hoping to dodge the inevitable. The huge needle squirts some just as a test then the stalling is over.
He sends the metal syringe in between two soft palates. The muscle and tissue sunk as the needle entered without a sound. It penetrated shot and came out in four seconds.
But each second felt like years. Time moved slower than you could ever imagine.
The almighty privileged human faculty arrives just as the pain does and I retreat into memories like ducking into a mental getaway car.
My least favorite chore was brushing my teeth because I knew no matter what I did Mom was going to say I was doing it wrong. More so after I had to get a cavity filled.
I was the age when sick days were the best thing that could happen to you.
And I already knew she was going to tell me I wasn’t opening wide enough. So I learned to sandbag it and pretend I was trying my hardest when really I was only giving it 60%ish.
She’d say “Open it up. Let me see.”
Then I’d increase to maybe 67%.
She’d snatch my chin like I was a fish and grip me hard.
Then she’d wet my toothbrush under the faucet.
Shut off the water and whack the wet toothbrush on the sink’s rim the same way you swing a gavel.
tackit, tackit, tackit, tackit.
“Alright hold still.” she’d say.
Then she’d shove it deep in my throat. It felt like she was trying to force it out the back of my neck.
“I don’t want to have to keep doing this for you forever.” she’d say rushing the bristles against my soft pink gums “Don’t you want a girlfriend?”
She pulled the brush completely out and started rinsing it then she pulled my face down towards the sink so that when I gagged and spit it didn’t get on her.
I spit and catch my breath and say “But I’m a girl.”
Then mom pulled my jaw open and was nailing my throat again. Occasionally stabbing the bridge where my upper and lower jaw hinge. Right where they inject the Lidocaine.
“You shouldn’t even be thinking about girls. You’re not thinking about boys are you? Go on spit.”
I do six long hard coughs that sound like a dirt bike shifting gears. Even with nothing in there it still feels like I’m choking on it. “I don’t like anybody.” I say “That’s stupid.”
Every time mom brushed my teeth for me the wire under my tongue ripped just as the healing of yesterday’s tear was beginning.
“Because you’re kids. You don’t know what you’re doing! It ain’t gonna matter if you got jacked up teeth. And you don’t say ‘stupid’, you say ‘silly’. You might offend somebody.”
My mom used the word ‘jack’ to replace the word ‘fuck’. Always worried I was gonna jack up my teeth. Or have a jacked up life.
That year I made sure I did good enough in school so I could go to camp that summer.
When I got there I didn’t talk to anybody. And I didn’t brush my teeth. I wanted my tongue to heal while Mom wasn’t around. The counselors assumed I got dropped off at the wrong place. They bussed me to a mute camp down the street. Mute’s can spot fakes with their ears. They never seemed to need to clear their throats. The atrophied muscles collapsed from lack of use. The police came and asked me a lot of questions but I didn’t answer any of them. One officer asked me if I knew my mom’s number and I shook my head. Then she put me in a room. After a couple days the same officer came and got me after she found similarities between a recently published missing child report and me.
Maybe mom was worried I’d say something to the police about how she brushed my teeth and she’d be accused of some form of child abuse (but I’m not sure if that was a real risk in the 1990s). Not sure. But for whatever reason after I got home she never brushed my teeth again.
But I still kept my mouth shut. Not out of resentment. I was afraid the wire under my tongue was fragile and only used it in emergency situations (which were rare).
For years after I was mistaken as a mute. I only briefly spoke to a handful of people.
My father was one person I spoke to. But only to ask or answer questions. Never casual or pleasant.
Once in the garage. We were taking apart the engine of my dad’s Pontiac to replace the gasket manifold and with his head half way in the tank. He says “You having sex?”
I said “No.”
“You ain’t got nothing going on with that Vera girl across the way?” he waved his socket wrench in a circle toward the general direction of Vera’s house.
“Good.” he says “If you have sex one time, even one time. You’ll have yourself a baby. That’s how potent sperm is.”
“What about condoms, dad?”
“No good. It’ll break right through it. Some’s so hot it’ll dissolve it with it’s heat. That’s another thing about our family. We got hot sperm.” And pointed a very stiff and serious finger at his zipper.
Mom tried to talk to me when I passed through the kitchen which I rarely acknowledged. This ended up prolonging the issue. And I was afraid to hang out with mom alone because I knew eventually she’d bring up how much she missed me and then we’d have to talk about it. It’s infinite loop logic.
So I avoided her the best I could until college.
My dad would vouch for my tiredness and say “Look at him honey, he’s exhausted. Just talk to him later.” then he’d tell me to go ahead and get washed up.
And when I was in the shower I’d put conditioner in my hair then let it set for how ever long it took me to cum. I’d put only the outside of one leg under the hot water and think of Vera.
Mouth wedge-locked in a screaming position the needle pushes onward into my gums with the same slick resistance of a finger pushing into soil until it touches the rings and there I roll my eyes back to middle school.
In seventh grade. Our parents arranged a carpool situation where Vera’s mom would drive us both home since we stayed four houses down from each other.
My parents didn’t come home until six.
Vera’s parents didn’t go to church. They didn’t care if we hung out alone. They didn’t have blockers on their internet.
We were allowed to hang out in the computer room with the door shut. And for the most part. I think Vera’s mom forgot I was there.
We’d take turns in the rolling black mesh computer chair. Using our tiptoes to steer the wheels away from the edges of the stiff plastic mat that protected the carpet from indentions.
The whirring Dell tower heating the outside of one leg.
It was not unlike a brainstorming session discussing what we thought real sex was. An online search for facts that matched what we heard like data validating a hypothesis. At times: posing arguments. Other times: rebuttals. Her and I traded new porn we found on the internet.
This was during a time where no hubs existed. You could only go to the specific URLs (which were memorized) to websites with explicit content to watch two to five minute collages comprised of 480 pixels.
It was artful in the way we showed each other content that evoked confused delight. Hoping the other would feel the same when they saw it. I’d communicate my feelings by speaking through this visual language.
Something told me that if we watched enough together something would happen. I didn’t know what.
The videos Vera chose had lots of clapping sounds and not much talking and the men had faces. Her messages were hard to decode due to their simplicity.
She was disinterested in most of the videos I picked.
Vera’d fling her arms up “Ugh. Another lesbian video?!”
I needed a new strategy to get her attention.
A doctor with a PhD in Cognitive Behavioral Whatever would describe my actions and outcomes as a form of successful exposure therapy.
One afternoon I told her that I know it’s her turn but my parents were going to be back early so I wouldn’t have time to watch my favorites. But if she let me go first I’d let her watch two in a row.
I went to www.sheegobles.net then found my pre-planned showing.
I clicked and dragged to exactly to the part where the filmer interviews her about how she lost her virginity. Asks her if it hurt and if she liked it. Then the camera’s put on a waist-high tripod for a side profile view (go to 00:02:12).
The cameraman’s arm reached down toward the chick kneeling in front of him. His hand seem to descend down from out (of the heavens) of the frame and grab her entire bun of hair. And the man’s disembodied pixelated face says “Open up, let me see.”
I was woozy with nerves; everything was unreal. I hated these kinds of videos.
Vera’s eyes widened and she said nothing.
Her jaw opened. Eyes locked amazed with the lights trying to comprehend what was happening on the screen.
The dirty video reflected on the surface of her eyes and she was rolling her tongue. Imitating.
The screen went black.
And the light left her eyes. Vera didn’t look away from the computer. Her spine perfectly straight stiffened the balance her curled toes were holding on the clear plastic mat. She must have really liked it or maybe her brain shorted out for second.
I remember thinking: Fuck. Now I gotta go get her mom which means I’m gonna get in trouble.
As I dragged the mouse cursor to delete the history she grabbed my wrist and turned her head to look at me.
In a voice that sounded dead she said “I want to watch that again.”
For the next half an hour videos project on both our eyes until we had square pink and white irises. Zombified by pornography I slide my hands between her legs and rub in an undulating ellipse. She encourages it after I do it for a second. This doesn’t feel historically accurate but whatever.
I rub harder and the hot dampness seeps to the seams of her jean shorts. Suspended in the void I felt every twist in every fiber in every thread dyed Indigo. I’m slipping into a smoothed black hole in my mind.
She doesn’t sound like the girls on the screen. I don’t know if she actually likes this.
She’s quiet and quivering. This is so confusing.
Mind slips out of memory back to Heath’s ice cold knuckle-deep injection surging the nerves in my jaw and I eject my thoughts back to college.
I’d been convinced I wasn’t a chick by the time I got to University (and my irises returned to normal). And so I was very cautious and didn’t have sex. Because I knew I had inherited my father’s hot (potent) sperm.
And I (still) don’t eat pussy for two reasons:
- First: I did it once with Vera in high school and it really hurt my neck muscles and the little wire underneath my tongue ripped.
- Second: I don’t want to put my hard work at risk. I’m setting myself up for failure if I go down on a chick. She might not be able to control herself and force me to have sex with her. And no doubt she’ll get pregnant.
But I let chicks go down on me. And even that seems like it’s never enough. Even if you’re celibate you have to (in some way) put out.
After the first few dates they act like they’re fine with going slow. But to be sure. After like the fourth or fifth time I call her to go out…
She’s like “Or we could just hang out at my place?
Save some money?
Could be fun.” I always wondered if I was being a pushover or inauthentic because I (still) let chicks suck my dick even when I’m not in the mood for it.
It can’t be a good thing that on my way to get blown all I can think is: Fuck. Now I gotta go get my dick sucked.
One time my roommate and I watched re-runs of CSI (the one set in Las Vegas) and there was this episode where this chick turned her father’s used condoms inside out. She made herself pregnant with it. And it scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know you could do that.
After watching that I had to take further precautions.
In the brain spiral of sexual inspiration suggestions become commands. I learned that from Vera. You have to be careful. Be the first to assert dominance. Or else it will be asserted.
I didn’t talk much. I didn’t like to talk. I grew out of it.
Because I only did it when I had to it seemed to hold some kind of weight or power.
I’d be like “Show it to me.”
And she would.
Then I’d be like “Don’t swallow it.”
After I’d scrape it off her tongue with my pinky like a squeegee and run my index across the front of all her teeth. Then I’d dispose of it in a way so she can never get it. I’d make her spit any residual into my hand. Then (after my patently hot sperm had cooled down) I’d throw it back pill-like and lick my hands clean.
For sanity I’d double check to make sure she’s not bogarting any of my sperm.
I say “Lemme see again.”
Then she says “AHHHHHH.”
“Stick your tongue out. Let me see.”
Heath’s syringe grazes my tongue as it leaves my mouth and a tear rolls down my left cheek. The entire right side of my body is paralyzed in the chair. It’s like being crushed against a cold mirror.
I see his hand lay on my chest as he’s leaning away reaching for another tool. “Alright. Hold still.”
There’s no twinkle when Heath’s free hand disappears into the darkness this time. But it comes back at full speed. A pair of stainless steel wishbone pliers. He clamps so hard (I imagine a carboard package getting run over by an SUV).
I feel the sensation that a part of me is sinking. Being sucked out.
Until the suction pressure becomes too much. My head kicks back and squeaks on the plastic covering on the head of the chair.
Red specks tambourine into the air. I feel imbalanced.
He holds his tool to show me the removed tooth. Dropped it on the bib. There were intricate carvings on it’s surface that told a lifetime of stories like rings in a tree.
“Alright.” he says “Now that wasn’t so bad. Right?”
Then he says “Yeah really not much to it. I just wanted you to see what the procedure looked like before we did the actual procedure.”
His tone gets serious and he says “No. No. No. Don’t cry. Uh-uh. Nope. I don’t want to hear it. You earned this. Yes you did. Shh. Yes you did. The only reason you’re…” he grips my arms “You made the decisions that got you in this chair!”
His shouting made my spazzing muscles freeze. I halfway choke due to the half of my throat that’s still numb. As bile builds up and tears and snot roll out of half of my face.
Heath keeps lifting his hands up and down slowly. Like he’s exalting me. And sings a lullaby “It’s only gonna take a second. It’s only gonna take a second. Shh. It’s only gonna take one second. One second.”
Fuck dude I told them not to give me Lidocaine.
Time is slowing down again.
Here I go.
I’m smoking a pre-rolled I brought back from LA while I call my mom. We’re on the phone so long that my wife has to come check on me twice and make sure everything is okay. Usually we’re fighting if we’re talking this long. Or it’s an emergency. Somebody must’ve died.
This time it’s her mother. My grandma. Her nursing home became a petri dish and three days after contracting a virus she fell asleep.
Mom says she hasn’t been able to stop saying “Shit!” each time she remembers that her mom is dead. And that it’s so crazy.
Like those reCAPTCHA security checks (on the internet) where you have to find fire hydrants or crosswalks in the different pictures. In the same way she will recognize little parts of grandma in every new person’s face.
And I say “I can’t imagine.”
For once she’s not speaking in those pre-recorded messages. She’s a real person.
I tell her we want to have children soon. Usually I don’t ask her deep questions. But I was stoned enough to hope she wouldn’t crank out another generic sound byte she downloaded from one of her church’s podcast sermons.
I ask her if (in terms of child-rearing) there was one thing she would have done differently what would it have been.
She huffs like she’s mad that I guessed what she was thinking about in that moment.
She says “I just wish we would have played more.”
I say, “Beautiful.”
James Jacob Hatfield is a writer and curator of the Gemini Sessions Substack. His fiction has appeared in X-R-A-Y, Barely South Review, Maudlin House, and others. His ekphrastic poem ‘torrents of lahar, no. 36’ was published by the North Carolina Museum of Art. He reps Durham, NC. Twitter/Insta: @jamesjhatfield
Photo: Jon Tyson/Unsplash