I sit in the corner of the living room with my partner of two years. His legs barely touch the fabric of the sofa and his hands hide underneath his armpits. He clenches the muscles on his cheeks before directing his eyes to the mold spreading across the kitchen wall.
“Sean? What are you doing here?” I say. He’s supposed to be hiking through the North Georgia mountains with his old college buddies, taking some time away from whatever it is we have become.
“We need to talk.” He removes his hands from his armpits and proceeds to clutch at the skin on his thighs.
“About?” I raise my eyebrows, waiting for him to say it. My teeth started rotting a few months ago, when they turned yellow – not an evenly coated yellow, but splotches of mustard, corn, and butterscotch tints stretched across the enamel like shades of yellow paint. It didn’t take long before parts of the yellow morphed into brown and black spots and, soon enough, the bottom front teeth began to wear off.
He clutches his thighs even harder and opens his mouth. Not so fast, I think. I smile wide enough to show my gums. Last week, they turned a vibrant red and started to bleed. They bled when I brushed my teeth, so I stopped brushing them altogether. They bled when I chewed, so I limited my caloric intake to blended vegetables and pasta. They bled when I laughed, when I smiled, when I talked, so I stopped – I stopped it all.
But right now, I want them to bleed. I want him to see them bleed.
He presses his lips shut, as if exposing the inside of his mouth in my presence will ruin him.
I cackle and prepare two glasses of red wine. When I taste it, a few crumbs erode from my lower teeth. They blend with the liquid and I swallow.
“I never asked for a talk,” I say as I hand him his glass of wine. Something slimy wiggles by my left molar. I tap it with the tip of my tongue, and it tightens around the tooth.
He nods. “I found someone who can help you. I mean, I don’t know how reliable he is, but he says he’s seen cases like yours before.”
The thing in my mouth tightens, and the molar compresses like a rat in a boa’s grip.
He keeps going. “I don’t know if I believe him, but it’s worth a shot, right?”
The molar cracks in half. Pieces of enamel disband from the tooth and stick to the outer gum. I pass my tongue through the broken bits, push them to the front of my mouth, and spit them on the ground.
“Are you listening to me? Are you okay?”
I take my fingers to my mouth and pat the creature with my thumb. It startles, jerking right and left until I’m forced to dig my fingernails into its saliva-slick body. I pull. It’s rooted deep in my molar, so I strengthen my grip and yank my arm backward.
When I look at my hand, an inch-long maggot wags in between my fingers. Tiny white larvae rest on its brown body, and saliva culminates at its tail end until it falls to the ground like a raindrop.
Sean gags. He covers his mouth with his hand, but the vomit escapes through the gaps between his fingers and plummets onto the fabric of the sofa.
“Make sure you clean that before you leave,” I say.
He wipes his mouth. “What did you just say?”
“I said that you should clean that before you leave.” I enunciate my words like I’m talking to a three-year-old.
Sean erupts away from the sofa. His fists are shaking, his eyes twitching. “Clean that? Clean that! I’m the one that needs to do the cleaning? For the love of God, look at yourself! You’re a mess!”
“I was this much of a mess when you met me. I don’t know what you were expecting.”
“You don’t know what I’m expecting? Let me see. Some decency perhaps? A bit of common sense would be nice too!” He presses his fists to the sides of his body.
“Common sense?” I’m not much of a yeller, and he knows that, but my words flow out of my lips like a winter breeze. “Common sense, huh? And what’s that common sense you’re looking for?”
His voice cracks. “You know what I mean.” His fingers tremble. “You’re not even trying.”
I snort. “Not even trying to do what, Sean?”
He looks down at his feet and breathes in and out for a couple of seconds before looking back up at me. His eyes are red, and by the way they stare at mine, I can see he has finally realized. I wonder why it took him so long.
I smile. I take the worm to what’s left of my molar.
I place it back where it belongs.