ENAMEL by Edie Patterson

Mia is twelve and contained, static, sitting in a velvet dress in her mom’s car. The weak December sun has shrunk behind their house’s jagged elm tree and rattly storm windows, and the night is cold and angry, twenty degrees, biting wind. While she waits for the car to warm up, she feels her last baby tooth in her mouth again, its sharp edge poking at her gums.

Her mom backs the car out of the driveway, and Mia watches her darkened front yard, its dead garden full of frostbitten phlox and the lifeless arms of summer perennials.

Did you know that teeth have blood vessels in them, in the pulp, she asks her mom, who glances over with a disgusted look. The tooth has been loose for a month and now it clings to her gums with just a few delicate veins.

You could just twist it, and it would be gone, her mom tells her. Mia says no. There is something wrong, she thinks, with breaking her own veins, with tearing the tooth out of her mouth. She will wait for the right moment, for everything to be natural and intended.

The car GPS lights up, directing them away to a distant web of suburban streets. She is going to her middle school’s formal dance, but first to a dinner at another girl’s house, a dinner she worries she was only invited to as an afterthought.

“There are things you have to know for this,” her mom says in the driver’s seat: “Do you know how to dance?” Mia says no. She watches her reflection in the rectangular corner of the rearview mirror, watches the way her face moves when she speaks. She imagines how she might look in the coruscating violet lights at the dance or in the curated dimness of someone else’s dining room. Her mom is telling her where to move her feet when she is dancing with a boy and where to look and where her hands should go. I think you’ll figure it out, her mom says. Dancing isn’t hard. It comes naturally.

They are driving down a busy street now with a 40 mile per hour speed limit and she wonders how her mom can drive so consistently, how anyone can drive so consistently without ever jerking the steering wheel or pressing too hard on the accelerator or letting go of the wheel when they change the radio station and slamming into a curb. She wonders about the other cars and the silhouettes behind the cold, impersonal sheen of tinted windows. The December wind sounds vicious, as if it is trying to crack through their shut metal doors. She folds her puffy coat arms over the exposed skin on her chest and flicks her hair across her eyes, a shield.

When they are almost at the girl’s house, Mia turns off the music in the car. She wants to be just visible enough that people will compliment her dress or her hair but not make any judgments, not place any ideas or opinions onto her. She flattens the navy blue velvet of her dress and smooths her curled hair. She doesn’t wear makeup, worries that at twelve it might not be flattering, but maybe she should, maybe the others will be, maybe she needs it now. She studies her face in the reflection, her dry winter skin and chapped lips. “Here,” her mom says, leafing through her purse. “Take this. Put it in your coat pocket.” She offers Mia a tube of lip gloss, and Mia runs it over her mouth. Mia is too young to know if this is a flourish or a necessity.

She stands in the empty front yard and looks around at the houses: identical, beige, staring at each other through the vacant gleam of yellow window eyes and tidy doorstep smiles. They wear cool-toned Christmas lights, almost eerie and anomalous in the winter darkness. She watches her mom wave through the car window and then drive away. The loose tooth feels extraneous, out of place. She walks towards the door, listening to how her shoes click on the sidewalk. She should be quiet, be memorable but not too present, be agreeable and subtle. She knocks on the door and worries the knock is too loud. One of her classmates, the one who lives here, answers the door; they exchange polite formalities and she walks in.

Mia hangs up her coat, says hello to the other girls, ten or so of them standing in a cluster near a dining room table set with candles and place settings, asks where the bathroom is and gazes again at the hollow purple color underneath her eyes and the way her hair feels brittle and dry like a doll’s hair at the ends. The bathroom mirror is stained by lingering smears of cleaning product. Mia smiles with teeth and watches blood pool where her gums meet the last baby tooth. When she was younger, in elementary school, she would go to the nurse’s office for a lost tooth and the nurse gave her some primary color plastic treasure chest to put her tooth in and take home to the tooth fairy. She misses these little meaningless traditions and being young enough to believe every fiction she is told.

Walking to the table, she looks around at everyone else in their lace and satin dresses and feels entirely wrong here, feels too young. They are talking about high heels and who they want to dance with. She pushes the tooth with her tongue as she pulls out her chair and sits down.

At the polished dining table, her mouth starts to fill with blood again. She sips ice water and worries that blood will escape into it, swirling through the clear liquid. She imagines there is blood in everyone’s glass of water, in sink faucets and filtered freezers, and everything is contaminated. She imagines blood running full force through the pipes of this neat, sterile suburban house, like veins of some giant living creature.

She watches the girls at the table talking, complimenting each other’s lace dresses and high heels. That’s when she feels the veins snap between her baby tooth and her gums. She looks around between white ceramic plates and candlesticks with their intricate silver holders and their little controlled fires. The girl’s mother has brought food out, and they’re all picking through it. What is she supposed to do now? She could go to the bathroom again and wrap the tooth in Kleenex until the blood wouldn’t reach through. She could announce it, and they could all laugh together. She could even say she was sick and call her mom. Everything here is too stiff and unfamiliar and she feels blood trickle between her teeth, the adult teeth, the incisors and canines and the only gap.

The table is shiny and clean, made from some fallen walnut tree crawling with bugs and now here it is glistening beneath a silicone furniture polish. She is organic matter, too, and her mouth is full of blood beneath the petroleum and wax in the glittery lip gloss she’d gotten from her mother. She feels her breath becoming quick and shallow. Almost instinctively, she reaches inside her mouth and takes the tooth between her fingers. Everyone is watching her, the exposed veins and enamel, blood draining down her lips and fingers, and she wonders for a moment about how she will remember this. She holds the tooth, blood-soaked and sharp and uncontained.

Photo by Andy L, used and adapted under CC.