Thursday, February 1, 2007

Fiction Fridays: The Memory Tooth

My Dear Petri Dish,

I am sorry that I have neglected you this week. You cannot possibly be hurting as much as I am from our separation. So, lets leave off on a good note and beckon the gods of Fiction Fridays back to your empty pages in waiting.

It was half the size that it should have been. It was like something that belonged on a tiny doll or a child. On the X-ray it showed up as opaque as a bullet would have, but it was a tooth. It was smaller than anyone had ever seen of the wisdom kind, denser than a diamond and living unassumingly in the back of my own embarrassingly unexplored mouth.

The lanky and gregarious dentist broke all the privacy rules that I had just read and signed 40 minutes prior and he called his assistant, the receptionist and a priest who was sitting in the waiting room, into the room to see it. They leaned around the X-ray screen and guffawed and joked and pointed and took turns snapping back into serious error laden speculation about what it really could be. And I sat there with my mouth ajar, uncomfortably drooling and worrying all over my blue paper bib. My eyes rolled over to the screen to look again and then back to the off white wall with a pipe running down it in front of me and then up to the grey and white poc marked ceiling, no view comforted me.

When I was 3, I came to the United States with my mother who died 5 and a half months after we reached our promised land. I always like to imagine that she died of sadness, because my father was not with us, but it was probably more likely the pneumonia that the doctors diagnosed. I only remember her from pictures or stories so I live each day of my life inventing and altering the illusion of who my mother was. To not know someone who existed so close to you is a powerful gaping hole of possibility. Pictures and stories cant recreate the gestures or voice or secret things about a person, so my mind has the pleasure and pain of filling in the gaps.

The Wizard of Oz like collection of people in the dentists room dispersed after a few nosy, chatty minutes and got back to what they were doing, probably not thinking ever again about my quiet tiny tooth. The dentist half-heartedly apologized for the commotion and shook his head while marveling again at my tooth. The session wrapped up with some serious no-fun talk of other teeth and I went home.

That night I had a dream about my mother. I dreamt that she was in the waiting room at the dentists office and when called in to inspect the curiousity in my mouth, she smiled knowingly.

Even though we werent pulling into New York harbor on a crowded boat into a depressed society, we were immigrants. The same infinite awe and bottomless fear clutched us tightly as we landed in JFK as had when throngs of people arrived via Ellis Island at the turn of the century. Our belongings were slim but important and our hearts strong. My mother wore a bracelet strung with alternating ivory beads and scarlet wooden ones. I pulled and plucked it as I fidgeted in my seat. Beads went spilling all over the asile and I laughed and laughed while my mother frantically tried to clean them up and not draw any more attention to us. A few beads were still in my hand and I promptly gobbled them up, as any 3 year old would. As she scooped up what seemed like hundreds of beads from the thin and industrial airline carpet my mother glanced over to see my newest attention getter and without hesitation she stuck her fingers in my slimy mouth to get them out. She got two out, but there were three that went in.

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