By Sofija Zovko
It’s always teeth. Teeth falling out, teeth chipping. Teeth bobbing up in boiling water like gnocchi, teeth crumbling in my hands like cottage cheese.
When did they start, the dreams?
Last February, that’s when it began.
It was Carnival, and I was sitting on the sofa watching TV, a bowl of sweets in my lap. The doorbell kept ringing, and I let it. I was too busy eating my way through peach and lemon toffees, sour cherry-stuffed chocolates, and hard caramels, unwrapping the small squares as if each was a present. A soft piece got stuck on my tooth, mint toffee with brown and white swirls glued to my first molar. I remember pulling at the toffee when my tooth moved. I thought it would come out right then, fall into the bowl of empty wrappers, the toffee taking my tooth with it as a souvenir.
After that, I started having dreams.
In my dreams, I wake up in the night, dying of thirst. Go into the kitchen and pour a glass of tap water. The water comes out as milk, but I’m so thirsty I don’t care. I start to drink when I feel something in my mouth. Something loose, like a melting ice cube. I spit into the sink and it’s a tooth bathed in a pool of milk. I try to touch my teeth, search my mouth with my fingers, but they’re gone. What’s left are raw fleshy gums.
I don’t even drink milk.
Have you always had this fear?
No. As a child, I found it exciting—the race to lose your milk teeth. My first was a front left incisor. I stood in front of the mirror, trying to turn it like a screw. It took two days before it gave way. Two days of twisting until the tooth tore loose. I remember holding that tooth in my palm, feeling the sharp edges of its root against my skin. Tasting the blood on my gum.
My mother kept my milk teeth in her jewellery box. She planned to have a goldsmith make them into pendants for me to wear on a chain around my neck like the other girls at school. Sometimes I would open the box and take out my teeth, see if they were still there. Over time, their surface started to yellow, but their roots stayed sharp. I cut myself on a canine one day. I didn’t trust them after that, so I took my teeth out of the jewellery box and flushed them down the toilet.
I should’ve known better. Back home, it’s bad luck to get rid of your milk teeth.
Where do you think this fear comes from?
Finding out I was pregnant. Two of my Aunts lost their teeth in pregnancy. They fell like eggs out of a hollow nest. The doctor said it was normal, just hormones. Each had two kids and no teeth by the age of thirty. Sometimes they still laugh so hard their dentures pop out.
I didn’t get morning sickness or cravings, just nightmares. Dreams where I’m running in the playground. I trip over my feet and fall. My chin hits the edge of a blue seesaw and my teeth slam into each other. I open my mouth and my teeth fall out like mosaic tiles.
My dreams just got worse. I gnashed my teeth so hard one night I cracked a crown in my sleep. When I went to the dentist to get it fixed, she told me I had ground a millimetre off my enamel. She made me come in again to get a mold. The paste felt cold and soft like gelatine when she pressed it against the roof of my mouth. I stared at the bright light until fish scales popped up in front of my eyes. It felt like she pulled my teeth off when she detached the mold. There they were—thirty-one teeth sitting next to each other in two crescent moons. I had always been missing one, it just never came.
I started noticing teeth everywhere. My receptionist’s flat-edged veneers, my mother-in-law’s stained from cigarettes. The way the postman’s front two overlapped like roof tiles. In the tram, I sat down across from a mother with a child on her lap. The little girl kept fiddling with her front tooth. Her mother asked how far along I was, if it was a boy, while the child stared at me, her fingers tucked in her mouth. I couldn’t look away from the black lines of dirt under her nails as she turned her tooth. Around and around.
It’s bad luck to get rid of your milk teeth. That’s why this happened. That’s why he fell out of me, like something rotten. Like it’s my fault. They say if you lose them, you’ll lose a lot more. I can still see his blue skin covered in blood. I tried to put him back. It was too soon. He needed more time.
How far along were you when it happened?
Twenty-seven weeks. Twenty-seven weeks and three days.