Saturday 6 June 2020

'Orthodontics' by Francesca Newton

I wanted blue braces, but the man said that was extra. I knew not to ask.

He cranked the chair back and leaned over me and it felt like a nightmare, except I was awake, and the light was bright, and I could smell old coffee in his mouth, faded into the flesh around his teeth like a stain on fabric.

You don’t smell things when you’re dreaming. Dad had told me that.

The sound of the radio playing in reception came muffled down the short corridor. My mother was back there, looking through a magazine. She would be stroking the plastic pages, her foot in its elegant brogue shoe bouncing to the pop. The stitched repairs on the leather were invisible to anyone who wasn’t looking for them.


He said the mould wouldn’t taste of anything. It was a lie. Dry chemicals, like all the moisture in me had gone. I breathed through my nose.

15 minutes to set. 

He didn’t push the light out of my face. He left me there, in the chair, and I stared past the brightness at the grey-white ceiling. A small brown mark in the corner. Something organic. Blood, maybe, from a tooth-removal gone wrong.

My mother and I were the last appointment of the day. His footsteps faded towards the reception and he spoke, low-voiced, punctuated by the pulse of the music. The song was going on for a long time.

Brogues on the linoleum. My mother, dark, leaned into view. Her black hair fell towards my face, not quite touching it. She pulled it back with one hand.


I exhaled through the gaps between my bared teeth. She smiled, red against wet white, and vanished again, leaving me to the ceiling and the light.

There was a door on the other side of the examination room, opposite the corridor. I heard the squeak of it open and the man clear his throat as he stepped through it.

The brightness started to hurt. A drop of water slipped down to my right ear. I let my eyelids close and watched the red-green patterns on their insides.

The song changed, finally, sliding into another. It sounded the same. The skin of my cheeks ached.

Something moved behind the door. Furniture scraping, dull through the white-painted wood. Cracks were showing through. Everything was not-quite-white. Then a sigh, long, satisfied, like at the end of a good meal.

The man came out, pushing up his shirt sleeve. He rinsed his hands in the sink and then moved to me and pulled the mould away from my teeth. My mouth felt like there was too much air in it.

My mother was there again, too. Her hair didn’t fall like before. She had tied it behind her head. There was a bump by her left temple where some had come a little loose.

She blinked fast and put her hand on the side of my face.

Was it green you wanted, or blue?

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