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A Teeth Cleaning

by Will Musgrove

Outside: rain and sheets of gray. Inside: tiny metal scrapers, drills, and mask-hidden mouths. The dental hygienist lowers the vinyl chair. Tapping the side of my supine chin, she tells me to open. Wider, wider. She peers inside. Years of tartar. Years of neglect. Floss? I meant to. Brush twice a day? I meant to. She shows me the points of her glinting instruments. She says to raise my hands if I can’t tolerate the pain. Instead I slide them behind my sweating back. Bzzt. Whrrl. Old meals, the TV dinners, the countless cups of teeth-staining drip coffee, wipe away. Drool streaks my cheeks like tears, and I stare at a cloud-filled blue sky covering a fluorescent light. To put me at ease, she says, scratching my incisors. I imagine her carving her initials into them like an artist signing a painting. One patient swore he saw the clouds move. They’d been in the chair for a spell. She says spell like she’s casting one. How long have I been here? The clouds remain frozen in front of the humming, fluorescent sun. Not long enough. I focus, cross my eyes, let my mind go slack but can’t get the clouds to move. We finish up. Water sucks everything away. I want to ask her for more time but I don’t. I had my chance. She shows me the before pictures. A sea of stained brown and yellow. Then she clicks through the after photos like a flip book, and I see them, the clouds. I’d swallowed them. They float along my gumline. I smile, and for the first time since I was a boy lying in the grass, I assign meaning to their shapes.

Will Musgrove is a writer and journalist from Northwest Iowa. He received an MFA from Minnesota State University, Mankato. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in TIMBER, The McNeese Review, Oyez Review, Tampa Review, Vestal Review, and elsewhere. Connect on Twitter at @Will_Musgrove or


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