His teeth are piano keys. There is a small black one, shorter than the rest, elusive and shying from the light. The rest nearly touch but are too anxious. They like the proximity though, the idea of contact. One, a canine, has a wee, grey fissure through it, a trail pre-scouted for decay. The other eyetooth has a white spot, its own tiny pupil.
He learns to smile without letting them show. When he must, his cheeks pull tight. Dimples appear, but they’re not merry. Tired hinges for muscles pinched and straining to hold the door of his mouth open. He doesn’t like to open; something may slip out. He knows his ivories are out of tune and he doesn’t play them anymore.
It’s not all nature and forgetting to floss. There are cigarettes and the daily thermos of sugared coffee. In high school, ice hockey. The team picture still hangs over the television. Two neat rows of boys on bleachers, the squares of their Colgate white jerseys crooked, but shoulder to shoulder. Baby teeth enameled together and thirsty for their first bite. In it he’s all the way to the left, a molar. There he is, eyelids caught in a reflex, a terminal grin.
Now it’s regular work. There’s a cushy dental plan, but he lets it lapse. Doesn’t like the copays and the cable bill went up. Has to keep SportsCenter, definitive winners and losers in the end without fail; he likes that daily comfort. He is labor Monday through Friday. For the two and a half days that follow he’s liquid, poured sideways over his orange, tweed chair, barefoot but in the same week’s jeans. He calls the chair Lola because she goes back all the way.
Winter is always longer than he remembered. Life is a lot of waiting for things to get worse. His toes dangle from one of Lola’s arms. SportsCenter flashes blue over them. He stabs at his gums with a toothpick and watches a mote fall to the carpet, just the way a ballerina dies. When he gets ready for work Monday it will spin up and live again.
He thinks about moving sometimes, buying a Harley, fishing Alaska. But those thoughts only lead back to one place, the bank. He’s saving it all for a woman. He waits for her to knock. She’ll carry sheet music and smile with perfect pearls. She’s as tone-deaf as a hound. All she knows about teeth is the strength of a jaw.