Nana will never lose her molars.
She told me after breakfast
while her white mug of acid coffee cooled in her hands,
her elbows longing for but carefully not touching
either the black oak edge of the table or the blue plastic table mat.
Her teeth are all her own and nearly perfect.
Strong cream tablets, edged with the yellow
found at the petal-rims of spent buttercups,
with a small clean space between each one.
Not at all like my own teeth
which are more like my Popie’s,
weak and prone to breakage, cavities;
my eye-teeth translucent beside the solid opaque
of the false centre incisors, bought to replace the two
knocked out by the shovel. I never found them after
on the straw-strewn barn floor.
Fifty years between our ages and her mouth is younger.
‘I didn’t want to see that dentist
but he was a friend of your Popie’s
and you know how loyal he is.’
She sips with distraction. I know she can’t taste it,
though the smell of grounds thrice used, steeped,
and added to over days triggers my tears.
‘Nothing was paining me, but business was slow
so I agreed to let him check.’
She smiles at me in that flirty way she has,
eyes deep-blue and kittenish
beneath lowered auburn-lashed lids.
‘He checked me up, alright.
Did everything he could to pad the bill.
Picked over and between each one, finding nothing,
so he looked further in.
‘He ordered up x-rays, which were new then
and seemed somehow luxurious. We couldn’t afford it,
but I said yes anyway. Who could ever resist
a look into their own head?’
I could, but I don’t tell her that.
I remember the look of my jaw ten years
after the unmended shattering.
Spidery, cracked, seeping infection
that could have killed me,
if there hadn’t been a warning agony.
‘When he fixed the plates to the light
and saw my wisdom teeth,
he laughed with something almost joy.
Could hardly wait to pull them. I said no.
Couldn’t see any harm in them, they just sat there,
hidden and planted, rooted in tight.
‘Dan said yes. It was the fifties.
There was nothing more to it.’
Nana puts the mug down,
rubs one unconscious hand
down the brief length of her jaw.
‘I went under easily. Ether, you know.
Such beautiful dreams after a breath from the cone.
I woke halfway through to an agonized wrenching.
A snapping sound I remember clearly
though they said I couldn’t have.
‘I surfaced again some time later,
in a clean white room, a surgical room, like my father’s.
My jaw ached but I was otherwise comfortable.
The dentist came in, clean also, though for the first time
I noticed his gnawed, blood-rimed fingers.
They had been in my mouth.
‘He did not apologize. To me at least.
He might have said something to Dan,
though I tend to think not because he still tried to bill me.’
She grins then, exposing her rarely seen predatory edge.
‘He didn’t get away with it. He did tell me this.
‘”Mrs Pope, don’t ever let anyone near your mouth again.
The roots of your teeth are wound round your jaw.
Your wisdom teeth are linked to the main nerves in your cheeks.
If they were pulled you would feel a great deal of pain,
and your face would be paralyzed.”
No apology from him, though his forehead was sweating.’
Nana looks at her nails, long and so beautiful,
edges the shade of her teeth and nearly unbreakable.
My own fray easily as paper, tear to the quicks.
‘I wanted to sue him. I wanted it as badly as a cat wants meat.
But your Popie said no and we didn’t.
That wasn’t the way things happened, then.
I wasn’t badly hurt. The man was Dan’s friend.
It was the fifties.’