The first one was gory: a canine, upper left. It caught her by surprise. She opened her mouth to gasp, but she had to close it when she realized there was warm blood on her tongue. Spit, spit, don't stain the paperwork - the phone was ringing, Jackie in the next cube was laughing at something - the tooth fell on her desk, right in front of the keyboard. A pool of pink saliva. She ran her tongue across the top of her gums. Molars. Premolars. Hole. Her tongue touched a nerve or a root or something and a hot line of pain ran up to her temples. She covered her mouth with her hand. What did this mean? This was the kind of thing that happened in dreams, and when it happened in dreams there was supposed to be some kind of meaning. Wasn't there? There was. What did it mean, then, at 4:38 on a Thursday afternoon, in the office? Under a stuttering fluorescent light fixture?

The next one went in the middle of the night, after a restless evening spent alone on the couch pretending nothing bad was happening, but it went painlessly and did not wake her. She only noticed it in the morning, when she flung the edge of the comforter back and the tooth rolled across her chest. She sat up and held it between her thumb and forefinger. There was no blood, and for a frantic moment she thought it might be a toy, or a prank. Then she felt the air whistling through the space in her mouth.

Two more later that morning when the bus hit a pothole. She was wedged between a man in a suit and a woman with a wide backpack; there was nothing she could do except hang on to the overhead rail and watch as her teeth skittered away under strangers' feet. She pressed her lips together. The teeth that remained did not feel loose. They did not wobble when she touched them, gently, with her tongue. She tried to remember what it had felt like when she was young and losing her baby teeth. They had wobbled. She had a distinct recollection of sitting in the backseat of her parents' car, moving a tooth back and forth with the tip of her tongue.

An incisor dropped out in the dentist's waiting room and she shoved it in her jeans pocket. The receptionist asked her name. She said her name, muffled, barely moving her jaw. A smile like the Mona Lisa or the Sphinx. The receptionist pointed to a seat. She sat. She kept her mouth closed. When the door opened and her name was called again she followed the hygienist down the hallway to a room with a chair, a sink, a tray of instruments. She lay down and let the hygienist fasten a paper bib around her neck. The dentist came in as she was focusing her eyes on the swan cutouts circling from the ceiling. He swung a bright yellow light over her face and smiled. Well, let's see what we have here. He put his gloved fingers between her lips (she could taste the powdery latex) - she opened her mouth and his eyebrows wrinkled. Hunh.

The swans circled and the yellow light shone. She concentrated. The dentist poked around in her mouth, knocking his knuckles against her cheek. Oh dear. He leaned back. A tooth lay in his palm, white on white. Oh. He looked down at the tooth, down at her. She moved her shoulders to indicate apology. The dentist stood up. Um. Be right back with you. She moved her chin to indicate acceptance. Her mouth ached from being held open and she was glad to lie still with her lips together, counting the swans (nine of them), the holes (six). Seven. She leaned over and spit into the metal tray.

The dentist returned. The hygienist trailed behind him, staring. She turned her face away from them and began to cry. Take a look at this, the dentist said to the hygienist, pulling her chin toward him. His surgical mask hovered. The hygienist hovered over his shoulder. The swans hovered over the yellow light. She could not stop the tears leaking from her eyes. She could not stop the molars that rolled down the back of her tongue. She choked. She pushed the dentist away from the chair and scrambled to her feet. Okay, okay, she heard the hygienist say. She backed toward the door. No. It's okay, the dentist said, and she shook her head, no, dropping tears and teeth all over the sterile floor.

About the author:

Mary Phillips-Sandy lives in Brooklyn but still carries her Maine driver's license. Her work has appeared in KGB Bar Lit, Monkeybicycle, Yankee Pot Roast, BUST, and other publications. She's the co-founder and editor of