Issue 108, Fall 1988
Marimba had beautiful teeth. They were not especially good teeth, or strong, but they were well-honed —small, white was the white keys on a piano, and lewd as the rosewood keys, come to think of it, on a marimba.
When she smiled, her front teeth rested on her lower lip,and she felt the angle, the bevelling, identical tooth to tooth.
They were not her original teeth, not exactly, although they were hers, and not fake. They were ground-down teeth. Worn to a surface sameness and sheen, likes rocks set down at a glacier’s mouth. Fresh. So smooth. An astonishingly polished by-product of a fiercely tormented process.
In the end. Marimba thought of it as nature at work.
Marimba ground her teeth at night. And because she slept through that labor—and for years knew nothing of it— she for a long time woke up serene, with confidence in human achievement. She never considered why she held out hope for humanity, except that a livable life, with some effort, seemed possible: livable life on a livable planet. Some passion. Some ease. The knowledge of terror, but no terror. Political action. Research. Few psychiatrists. No war. Bread and butter and parmesan. Salad greens. Death when it came, as it came.
She tried not to simplify, but there it was.
Her jaw grew powerful; her face toned with exercise. And still, in her ignorance, she thought when she looked in the mirror: this is how a woman’s face matures. She was pleased to see some of the sweetness disappear.
It was her mother who said, one morning on a summer visit: “Marimba. My God, you grind your teeth. It’s a factory sound. It sounded like machinery in there. Rocks. Quarries. It was a terrible racket. You ought to sec somebody.”
And the next morning, barging into the bathroom while Marimba was brushing her teeth: “Honey, what’s wrong? You’re lucky you have any teeth left.” Her mother bared her own teeth, a wild face in the mirror, and tapped her cockeyed front tooth. “Why don’t you make an appointment to sec somebody? Man-o-day, how can what’s-his-name sleep with that racket?”
“His name is Michael.”
“My God, how can the man sleep with that racket?”
Some things came back to Marimba then. Her elaborate cartoon dreams, for instance, where in the end, it came as no surprise—not to the compassionate trees, not to the zoo animals on the loose in living color, not to the hero-beast him or herself—when the ordinary and unremarkable teeth of the herocreature, in consequence of nothing, cracked, grew larger somehow with fracture lines, and crumbled apart, through many frames, to the ground. It happened in precise, slow motion. Fine line drawings webbed across the surface of the teeth and with a machine noise —engine noise, earthquake noise—that clamped everybody else’s jaws flat shut, the open mouthed hero-animal’s teeth cracked into chip-sized pieces and fell very thoroughly apart.