“…Ok, Mr… We’re about halfway done here. They really did a number on you huh. ‘They’ being a, hold on… They being a stainless steel step at your old office. Damn man, what nasty luck, huh? Big new building for big shot nerd-type guys, last day of moving, big ol’ box in your hand, trip on the stairs, fall directly on your mouth, blammo. Structural damage so bad even the molars gotta go, your canines bouncin’ around in there like shrapnel. You ever seen a bomb go off in somebody’s mouth? Well neither have I, but you seemed close. What are the odds of that, Mister. You tell me. Good thing we work for the same guys, huh? And you get to go around telling everyone you’re half-fish now! Ah, really only about… point oh oh two percent fish, for five to six weeks. Still, that’s the joke I would make. Just try it on, Mr… P.C. So don’t repeat anything I say to you, with a name like that, okay? I’m just kidding. You guys, when you’re out, one of my favorite audiences, I never get a boo…
It’s funny, I had a fantastic dream once, that I was in a storage space, looked like an old aircraft hangar, but there were row after row of those office water cooler bottles, you know that kind that bubble up and make the noise… like a gulp… anyway, some odd-looking workmen came and put just a… single drop of poison in each one. Can you believe it? My shrink says it has something to do with my stances on fluoride, which I doubt, but that’s exactly what it was like… The lab, BioEnFabrik. Germany. Just a row of little guys, one after the other… They flew me over to see it, their treat, strictly confidential, but I might as well be God or the devil depending on how knocked out you are… in another world, won’t remember a thing…
Oh, Nurse, please. Could you jerk me off? Just kidding. 15 ccs of lidocaine and the no. 3 tweezers please.
Anyway… That’s how they were, cooking in their little juices, amino acids, like Christmas turkeys. They have a week’s turnaround time, did you know that? Unbelievable. And I saw yours specifically! Two hundred lives and deaths in a week, not just for your mouth, per tooth! For all the different shapes, you know. You’re a cute kid. I saw some of them that looked like piranhas, I saw some that looked like little tumors. That’s why women don’t turn transparent when they’re pregnant I suppose, ugly little guys. Ah Nurse, thank you, he keeps twitching on number twelve…
All I’m saying is, you should be thankful. You know sharks eat their own young in the womb, yeah? The sand somethings, they fight in their mother, chewing on each other until only one emerges victorious. All those little yous, they get their own apartments, you know, it’s a peaceful life, ‘til your teeth erupt outta your nose? Then they flush ‘em. But it’s nice, it’s peaceful. They sleep most of the time. And the great white, Mr. Campbell, one gets born, and if they’re lucky the lady shark only gets fucked once, ya know? I don’t know how that works. But the lady shark keeps on ticking, all those unfertilized eggs down the hatch, and the baby white keeps eatin and eatin and eatin and eatin, til he’s a fat little bastard, and that’s how he’s born. Wonder how that tastes, huh. Like roe? Always been something sexy about roe, to me.
Again, these gene therapy freaks, fantastic. You have no idea how much I get off the top. And it’s barely anything hard-like, just a root canal with extra steps. These little cells, these little… Ideas, from little baby mutant shark you, are just gonna cuddle up in your gum, tell everybody “Hey, we’re making teeth again, folks!” and die at just the right time. Fantastic stuff. And they really are just like you, so there’s zero chance of rejection, not like an implant, not like a prosthetic… Hey, I’m gonna get a Coke, do you want anything?
Just kidding, I’m back. I gotta hurry up before the anesthesiologist gets here and get grumpy cause we’re not done yet. Richard the Community Dick. Hey, you didn’t hear it from me. On critical cases he’ll go out and do it in his car and come back, but you, you’re doin’ just fine. Real nice guy.
Now, look, it’s gonna be a little odd when they’re growing in, but you’ve been a kid before right? Just think about that. Like the Tooth Fairy came and took them all away and you’re getting a brand new set. Oh, and you owe money instead of getting some. But that’s what growing up is, isn’t it, Mr. Insurance Man, couple hundred thousands’ worth of growing up.
Alright, last one. And if they come out a little pointy, come in and we’ll… file ‘em down or something. Or just give you some new ones. We’ve got the cells on ice, the toothy ones and the real you, so we can do a little ‘reset’ too if necessary. Shouldn’t be necessary. But after you see all the bad ones, the failed experiments, the teeth… makes sense that you can’t see the babies til after they’re born, huh? Hold on.“
The needle flashed and plunged like the lance of an unholy fool.
Peter Cambell came home a hero. He spoke with a slight lisp – it was only a week after the surgery, and the new growths were slowly displacing the soon-ditched dentures. He joked about it on the phone with his colleagues. He missed almost no time from his job.
His wife, leaving promptly every morning at 6:30 AM and arriving at a variable time in the PM, was the marketing manager for a local restaurant chain. She didn’t worry excessively about Campell. He had been subject to a number of orthodontic procedures in his youth, as his baby teeth were reluctant to leave their perches. Meanwhile, his daughter (five) continued to stop around the house shouting “OUTpatient OUTpatient OUTpatient” until she was scooped up by one of the doting parents. They were saving so much on daycare, they said. There was a basket of crunchy foods that was a source of much teasing around the house, kept waiting til Dr. Calandra gave the go-ahead. It was the very heat of summer. Cable TV, wafting in and out of cracked windows, beneath the closed office door, soaked with humid EM waves, bound it all together. Life was slow. At night Cambell would quietly sneak to the bathroom and turn on a single overhead light. He gingerly touched the tips of his new teeth, the spine of a flesh-skinned serpent – or merely a serpent skinned, de-scaled, under such duress that it had lost any intent of growing scales or performing any other measure of self-defense besides vulgarity. Cadmus in a growing season, not a dragon but a hydra, twin spines trying to sneak out of its own skin. They looked like the tips of tortilla chips, he thought. They felt a bit sharp on the tongue, but that seemed like a normal thing, given the circumstances. Soundtracked to crickets, synchronized to lightning bugs through the frosted bathroom glass, the bass section his stomach growling in the middle of the night – the fast-tracked cellular production made him constantly hungry. He looked in at his daughter, who welcomed the terrible embrace of a huge fuzzy plush octopus. Back to his usual post. The bathroom light snapped off.
The days continued, hazy and long.
His daughter stayed often in the office, toting a doll by the foot, dragging her mother’s yoga mat in to lie down and doze next to an approving Campbell. The room was warmer, more stolid than the rest of the house– partially made by his presence– when not on a call he worked in silence, save a tapping and scratching of fate, probability. She toyed idly with an abacus, bounced on his knee for an hour until she would feel dizzy and trip over the threshold and bawl over a scraped knee. Blue Cross Blue Shield branded bandages. She got to pick an extra sweet at the grocery for her troubles.
It was an afternoon, one where he was slightly irritated about stepping in sticky popsicle residue (he still dressed for the office, with loafers) that made him syncopated, squeak and squelch around the house when he needed to pace, that he removed his shoes and fell into a deep sleep in front of the low-playing television.
He dreamed of his teeth falling out, for the first time in a while, but in place of a mirror– where he usually heard them clink singly into the sink, having had this dream before– there was a vast dusky ocean floor. The sound of masonry and time collapsing forced his eyes down, where the teeth were dropping into an undersea yellow brick road, perfectly tessellated, necrotic lamprey Dorothy tapdancing away, dogfish Toto silent in a cloud of undersea silt. The silt turned into a turgid tornado, whipping seaweed and detritus against his face, completely helpless against an underwater tide – he thought he saw barns, sunken ships, church steeples, rectangular jail cells the size of a man. In the ruins of civilization flying by he could make out inscriptions and stone carvings of Looney-Tunes T-bone steaks on golden platters. Chum buckets in orbit whistled and rattled, overfull with shredded fish and tiny fat-roll legs. When he put up his hands, horrified, to stop the visions, they were shredded instantly by a flurry of his own oral-sourced razors, blood in the water flowing back up into his nostrils, making him gasp and gash and gnaw at his own stumps.
A beautiful and totally naked brown-skinned woman walked up to him unaffected by any undersea shackles and still somehow totally buoyant everywhere. She smiled with a mouthful of perfect pearls and said, “All mine are fake too.” She bit his head off.
When he woke up Cream was playing on the kitchen radio and he was chewing on the fatty part of his hand, near the thumb, and had drawn the slightest bit of blood. He cleaned this and the popsicle juice on the floor – the floor stain with the standard house-hold tile cleaner, his hand, tentatively, with his tongue. He went to finish his memo.
Bodies of water shroud the summer. You feel a kind of lazy suffusion, an osmosis, of ambient heat. A liquid net around the sun, a tentative detente. Irrigation – good fences make good neighbors.
Campbell had a frustrating day at the company– he was going back in now, somewhat selectively, despite his handicap– and took the half-day suddenly to spend time with his family. In a whirlwind they were at the community pool, 2 P.M. on a Tuesday, populated by children, their caretakers, those who can’t or couldn’t afford to work. His wife was very upset by all this. She had taken off, suddenly, leaving a billboard half-designed in her wake and she could feel the design deadline pounding at her forehead. After five weeks all of Cambell’s teeth had grown in. All were perfectly symmetrical and slightly serrated canines.
He didn’t smile much. Dr. Calandra, mysteriously unavailable, after calling, calling, dial tones or nurses saying he had to fly back to Europe in an emergency. Visiting the clinic, even, nothing. He was considering hiring a private detective and wondered if you could do that without ever meeting them face-to-face. The lisp was worse than ever and gave a kind of extra-salivating presence to his words. His lips seemed full, a crowd beyond a red curtain, ready to draw back and reveal an orgiastic murder onstage.
Cambell and his child out in the pool. Cambell tossing her up roughly, now, splashing her feet in the water with each catch, letting her go a bit further below the surface. Finally just a throw and no catch at all, distracted by the glaring sun and a call from the roots of his mouth–
She, bumped and crumpled on the rough flooring of the shallow end, re-scraping her knee. In a cloud of iron and chlorine he inhaled – two screams, mixed horror and delight, pinpoint pupils, the water now suffused with the kind of heat it was meant to dispel. Campbell grabbed and jerked her back up into the air, flying, five feet, six feet tumbling up–
He braced, launched upward, met her with a smile, and
Imagine looking at yourself in a glass, transverse, perpendicular, floating straight as a board, a magician’s trick. Your reflected head is turned upward so you stare at yourself with a mighty grin. At the edge head and chest – host and progenitor meet – tau. Effect intersects cause. You realize that this mirror-you will eat the real you, the real trembling you, both a helpless spectator and the one who chose to stand in front of this mirror. “You were warned!” they’ll say. No you weren’t. One million doctors hover above your chair – “Are you the one? Did you survive? Are you the strongest from our womb? Are you the victor? I expected better.” Teeth rip at your heart. Blazing through the surface in a crash, in a scream, a bite. The shark breaks the mirror.
— Will says, ‘Sink all coffins and all hearses to one common pool-‘ Moby Dick, Chapter CXXXV