by Charlie B. Lorch
In their dreams, their teeth rise from the sink and slot back into place one by one.
They open their mouth, slide an index – skin of its tip grown back – inside. Fingerprint alongside pink gums. The yellowed teeth stand in a disorderly row, huddled together in a messy semi-circle, fighting for a better view out the mouth, peeking through lips wet with pooling saliva, bright and shiny like candy. Their finger reaches the molar, feels the patch of gum where a wisdom tooth once was. They pull on the corner of their mouth, widening the grimace. Their jaw clicks as it is pulled out of shape. In their dreams, it snaps back into place when they let go.
There is no truth to be found in hair. This they knew. Still: meticulous and methodical, they remove every last one, from the top of their head to their big toe. They hold each between tweezers, close enough to their inquisitive stare their eyes cross. It is not enough.
Bare feet on a bathroom floor carpeted with hair, they move on. They take inventory of the uniqueness of their body. The splash of a wide birthmark, rosé spilled on the white tablecloth of their belly. A thin, controlled slice of a scalpel removes it. They deposit the flap of skin on the side of the sink, kneel to look at its shape closely, and pray it says something. Its silence is disappointing, but no matter.
Next: a mole, round and big and once cause of great hypochondriac worries, on the side of their neck. They apply the scalpel around it, the first cut already history, old and fresh blood mixing. It stings but discovery has never been painless. It feels right, actually, that the mental torture of it is now physical, present elsewhere than their reflection. It feels good to be able to hold it. The mole is soft to the touch. They roll it between two fingers. Tell me tell me tell me. They wonder what secret its ridges hold, what they are bound to. Is it being alive that keeps them quiet? Disappointing.
They run their finger along the long scar that splits the newly flat expanse of their chest: above, nipples, below, bellybutton. They consider reopening it to look inside, but the surgery has not revealed any grand truth, so why bother? They had asked to be awake for it. This small grace had been denied. They could not be there for the autopsy of their past self. They had fallen asleep in a body, woken in another, and whatever knowledge the old one contained had been thrown away with the leftovers. No, better not go down a road frustratingly traveled.
What next? They spare a glance at their tattoos, which they have a fondness for still. No reason to disturb them. A willing addition to the body they inhabit, they would not tell them anything they haven’t decided themselves. And isn’t that the crux of it? They know what they have chosen. They know what truth they want their body to spell. That is not the knowledge they seek.
One millimeter deep and a sacrifice to get a fingerprint. They choose the index of their left hand. It bleeds bright red onto the floor. They run water on the wound, peering into the pink tissue underneath with nervous hope. What makes me me? They try to ask the open finger, and when it doesn’t reply, they turn to the detached fingerprint. Elegant swirls like question marks, certainly singular but human still, and how unique can anybody be, really, in the flesh? They squint at them, studying their twists and turns, hoping to read not their future but their past, happy to settle not for an absolute truth but maybe a hint. This is what we grew, the skin could say, from scratch. This is who you are. But if there exists a language in the freshly severed lines, they can’t read it. No luck. Rotten, in fact.
They pull at the skin. It tears off in uneven chunks like candy floss, alongside each phalanx, revealing more pink flesh that they run underwater. It stays clear for half a second before blood rushes to anger them further, scattering the proof of them, making their inside indiscernible, covering up what was concealed by the envelope of skin. Identity’s last resort, the gush of red-hot liquid to confuse eyes growing weary and unfocused. What is inside needs to remain inside is the only message they find, feeling their knees buckle.
Time is running out and so they hurry, frustrated. Let go of the scalpel. It clatters like bones rattled. They pick up pliers. They open their mouth and hold still. It is said a person can be identified by the pulp inside their teeth when the body has disintegrated.
They reach for a canine, pinch, twist, scream, pull. Their labored breath fogs up the mirror, enamel trembling between pliers held with shaking hands. They put the canine down, raise the pliers, and aim them at the tooth. Smash. They miss the tooth and hit the counter. The dent it creates reveals its nature: laminate and tile. It enrages them, the easy truth of it.
A canine alone won’t do. Plier, tooth, plier, tooth, plier, tooth. The teeth fall one after the other, forming a pile of 28 against the drain. They smash the lot, breathless and dizzy. The shards look like the rest of their body: splintered, reddish-pink, confusing, stubborn. Speak, they shout. Tell me what’s me.
Their vision blurs. They smile at their reflection, toothless, gums leaking blood like raw meat squeezed. Rest, then. Tomorrow they will continue. Palms, soles, eyeballs. The truth of their body must be hiding in it. They must go deeper, to the bone, the marrow, inside it.
Tomorrow. Darkness rushes to meet them.
In their dreams, their teeth rise from the sink to their mouth and slot back into place one by one.