Vacant is the place the tip of my tongue constantly seeks out, the ragged hole that is so much deeper than seems necessary or possible to exist at the end of the row of molars on the right side of my mouth, up near where my tongue scratches when I’m about to get a cold, where it can almost feel sometimes like I’ll gag or puke if I keep at it, but I keep at it.
My wisdom tooth was there. It was the last one to come in, the one I’d waited 40 years for, and when it did come in, it was mortally flawed. There was already a hole I could stick my tongue into, even before it fully broke the surface of the gum back there, the gum that thought it was done making room. Maybe because of its flaw I became thoroughly attached to it, like the runt of the litter that you can’t help loving to death, until you love it to death, poor thing. I would poke at it and poke at it, as if to remind it where it was and sometimes in my absentminded poking I would scratch my tongue, even cut it a bit and think, wow, was that stupid, or what? Then I would find my wounded tongue easing back into that hole in the last, the newest, the most recent tooth of wisdom.
I’d been warned all my life that these wisdom teeth were worthless, traitorous, that I would be much better off without them, yet I withstood. I wanted my wisdom teeth with me. I swore they’d come in straight and good, and they did. Except the last one had a flaw. But it came in straight and good, expecting nothing less than the same attention my tongue had given each of the others, which it received, believe me, it received.
But of course the day came. It came sooner than expected, as those kinds of days always do. It was quick, no time for decision making, no time for last minute changes of heart. Two small shots of novocaine, a bit of chit chat to make the time pass. A click or two of the pliers.
“All you need is a really good grip,” said Dr. Salas as she tilted my head back with one hand and wielded the cold silver pliers with the other. An adjustment or two, a tentative pull and then she wrenched the tooth, which of course began to shatter. Another quick adjustment and she was back gripping that poor flawed broken tooth.
“That’s it, that’s it,” she cooed at the pliers and took a deep breath (I swear I heard the sharp intake of her breath over mine) and pulled like she was pulling the bells of Notre Dame and thwump, out the bloody tooth came.
She shoved in a wad of gauze, reminded me to bite down hard for a good half hour, whisked my bib away, twirled the dentist’s chair out for me to disembark and waved me out the door. Numbly I wandered out into the autumn street, carefully biting down on the gauze that replaced the tooth that was now just a hollow, bloody hole. I thought about that, thought about how my tongue already wanted to wander over to that raw, empty spot which, abandoned by its rightful inhabitant, would now and forevermore remain vacant.
Els Prats de Rei
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