As I sit writing this, I’m tonguing my gums. I don’t miss my teeth, I thought I would at first. Though there’s something soothing about running my tongue along the soft flesh, not yet healed and hardened. It tingles a little. I jump sometimes when I press too hard. I’m not sure some of the cavities are healing well. That seems of little consequence after what I’ve done. This is taking me a little while to write and in my state I think you’ll understand.
I was petrified when the first one went.
I woke up. My head hurt. I thought I had the start of a migraine. A crust covered my chin, so I went to the bathroom to wash off. I assumed I’d been sick in the night. I think I was in shock. It hit me as a cold chill down my back, feeling my face drain its colour as I stared at the bathroom mirror, seeing the clotted blood that matted by beard. I didn’t notice then. When my mouth opened, in horror at the state of my face, it revealed a missing front tooth. It’s amazing how the absence of something you take for granted can petrify you. I placed my tongue in the hole, as if to check it was real. A jolt of pain confirmed I wasn’t hallucinating.
I was suddenly remarkably calm, the shock taking hold. I returned to the bedroom to see if there were any signs of how I did this to myself. I checked the side table next to the bed, looking for any sort of evidence I’d somehow slammed my head into in the night. A thin layer of dust coated the wood, confirming I’d not been near it in weeks. The only proof it had actually happened was the dried blood stain on the pillow. I peered down at my hands wondering if it was possible I’d yanked it out myself in some sleep induced insanity.
I saw my room mate Alex in the shared kitchen. I ate cereal, spooning the food to the back of my mouth, doing my best to ignore my problem.
She asked how I was doing and I did what you do in those situations and said everything was fine. I thought if I said it enough, I’d believe it.
She noticed, of course she did. It took a while though. Later, she came back with shopping bags and asked if I could help put her groceries away and I wasn’t thinking, I let slip, only a small smile, like I always did when agreeing to do something.
“What happened to you?” she asked.
I was puzzled for the shock still hadn’t gone and for a moment, I myself, had forgotten.
And with that, the anxiety I’d been doing so well to keep locked up flooded my system.
“I don’t know,” I whimpered.
I must have cried. She dropped her bags and embraced me in a hug so tight I felt the blood rush to my mouth causing the cavity to pulse. I tasted copper and pushed her away.
“You’re bleeding,” she said concerned.
“I’m fine,” I replied, again lying. I wasn’t fine. I was scared.
When she left for the evening, she asked if I’d be okay alone. I wasn’t. I wanted her to stay, more than anything. But I couldn’t do it. I picked up the wine glass and said that was the only company I needed. When the door shut and I was truly alone, my heart started to thump. I downed the wine.
I thought I’d be more on edge as I put myself to bed, though the wine had soothed me in the way only alcohol can. I saw the blood stain on my pillow, cursing myself for not changing it earlier. Now it was too late. I picked it up to turn it, as I did, I saw something lying underneath, a small brown outline highlighting it; my tooth. I grabbed it with a mix of apprehension and fascination, I’d never seen an adult tooth before, up close and outside a human skull.
I laid in the bed, holding the tooth above me, turning it from side to side, seeing the light pearlescent on the surface. I wasn’t anxious anymore, and at some point, I fell asleep.
A knock on the door woke me, I was groggy from the wine.
“Hey, Jason,” Alex said from a gap in the door. I had trouble focusing, so did my best to smile back.
I’ve never heard her scream before. It was the type of scream you’d expect to utter if the bottom half of you was slowly being fed into a wood chipper.
“What’s wrong?,” I asked, panicked, my words lispy and wet.
A strong smell of copper flooded my nose, making my eyes water. Instinctively my hand went into my mouth, searching. Three fingers slipped in, lubricated by blood and saliva. A fresh two inch gap invited them in.
Alex rushed into the room, her eyes wide with fear.
“It’s going to be okay,” she said, kneeling beside the bed.
“It’s not though, is it?” my new speech patterns panicking me further.
“Let me take you to the hospital.”
“No!” I insisted.
I don’t know why I didn’t want to go. Maybe because they’d find out I did this to myself and they’d lock me up for being crazy.
A few minutes passed. Alex rubbed my shoulder as I stared at the bed and we sat.
“Please, let me take you to the hospital,” she said, breaking the silence.
I shook my head.
“Let me help you clean up, at least.”
So, we did.
I felt a new feeling I’d not felt for Alex before. We’d never been close. She’d answered my advert for a flat-mate a year before and everything had gone better than I’d hoped. I’d had a few male house mates, but they didn’t end well; either paying the rent late, or not at all, or turning the place into a student hovel. I was 33, I was past living like a pig. But now, that feeling, not something I’d felt before. I’d never felt true love, or maybe it was a bond of friendship so strong, like a mother and child, that was consuming me. In that moment, I was happy she was there. I was happy it was her and no one else.
She offered to sleep in the bed with me for the rest of the night, telling me not to get any ideas. Her smirk at the time told me she knew I knew what she meant.
I felt her fall asleep first, her hand resting on my hip, going limp as sleep finally took her. I was happy, a happiness I’d never felt before. I didn’t want to sleep. But with contentment, I did.
A dull headache greeted me when I woke. I was confused to find Alex’s hand still present on my hip. My mind replayed the events of the night before, echoes of the emotions I’d felt.
I turned on my back, feeling my heart sink as my tongue touched the gap in my teeth. All the warmth I felt was quickly replaced with anxiety.
“You okay?” she asked, rousing slowly from sleep.
“I think so,” I said.
She stayed with me the rest of the day, feeling ever so close, not so much in person but in spirit. There was an awkwardness between us. I could tell she felt it too. Something changed last night, and we were both coming to terms with it.
Late afternoon, her phone rang.
“Hey,” she said, before listening to the other person, “you know what? I think I’m going to have to cancel. No, it’s not you. Something’s come up, I’ll speak to you Monday?”
Before I could interject, she’d hung up.
“Who was that?” I said, my voice wrong, sloppy.
“Nobody,” she said.
“You’re not staying in for me, are you?”
“He can wait. If he likes me that much, a couple of days isn’t going to hurt.”
We exchanged glances, gazing at each other’s eyes before averting them simultaneously.
“Have you got any more wine?” she asked, getting up.
“It’s only four.”
“It’s Saturday,” she said.
“In the top cupboard.”
“Is that where you keep it.”
We watched a movie, and then another. By the end of the second, we’d moved seats and were sitting next to each other.
“Thank you for last night,” I said.
“No problem,” she replied, squeezing my hand.
“I can sleep in your bed again tonight if you want?” she offered.
“No,” I said, “I need to be able to do it myself. I can’t be relying on you all the time, especially when you see what’s his face on Monday.”
“I don’t know if I’ll see him yet. See how tonight goes.”
“I’m scared,” I said, without even thinking.
“About what I did to myself.”
Her shoulders sank. The moment had past and I’d missed it.
“You really should see a doctor, if you did this to yourself, the chances are you’ll do it again.”
“I’ll go on Monday.”
She sunk her head into my shoulder. The anxiety began to melt.
“I could set up a webcam,” I said.
“So, I can see how I did it.”
“That doesn’t sound a good idea.”
“Won’t it scare you, what you see?”
“But then I’ll know, won’t I.”
We sat in silence. A thought creeped into my mind. I tried to push it away, but I couldn’t. It was all far too coincidental. Munchausen by proxy; the phrase hit me like a stack of bricks.
“Do you not want me to find out?”
“Let me sleep in your room tonight, you were fine after I did last night, right?”
“No, I’ll be fine.”
Her head released its grip on my shoulder. We sat in silence again.
A feeling of remorse hung over me for the rest of the evening and I went to bed alone. Alex had long since gone to sleep. I stayed up to drink myself to oblivion, hoping the extra alcohol would help.
I placed the laptop at the end of the bed and set it to record. I left the light on. I saw my blood-soaked pillow, knowing I couldn’t turn it again. I got out my spare, it didn’t have a cover, small patches of yellowed saliva from years past decorated the material, though this was more pleasant than the one that was on my bed. I threw the soiled one and it revealed what I hoped it wouldn’t. Four smaller teeth, from my bottom jaw, all lined up like little soldiers. It was at that moment I knew there was something wrong with me, something serious. I was numb then, like I am now. Calmly I slid into bed and closed my eyes. The room spun and I felt nauseated. Though sleep finds a way.
Sunday morning. I didn’t need to open my eyes to know what had happened. It was impossible to miss. The way my tongue glided effortlessly over my gums was all I needed to know. They were all gone. Even my wisdom teeth that I’d put off going to the dentist to remove since I was a teenager. Every last one of them.
Alex wasn’t in the bed next to me. I didn’t expect that. I don’t know why I checked. I came to accept the new me very quickly. It was over now, wasn’t it? They were all gone, there was nothing left to take, it was somewhat liberating. I opened my eyes to see my laptop stare back at me, the red light over the webcam notifying me I’d know what happened very soon.
I didn’t check it straight away, I didn’t need to, it wasn’t going anywhere. My bedroom door was ajar. I left and headed for the kitchen. I noticed a patch of blood on the carpet in the hallway. I think I chuckled. I didn’t clean myself off, what was the point? I downed some milk straight from the bottle. The plastic edges scraped against my raw gums. I saw a smear of blood left on the rim, I didn’t care. I replaced it in the fridge and closed the door.
I went into Alex’s room to wake her. I never did that. Why not though? She wasn’t there. I didn’t blame her. After I pushed her away, I wouldn’t want to stick around. I half expected to see all her stuff gone. It was all there, like it always was.
I unplugged the laptop and brought it into the living room, sitting on the couch. I stopped recording. I waited for what seemed like hours for the file to encode. Then I was left with a 40Gb file to open. There was some part of me that wanted to delete it. It was easier not knowing. A larger part of me needed to know, needed to know why I’d do this to myself. I double-clicked.
I fast-forwarded through the footage, seeing my body barely move in bed, my head twitching from side to side as the sped-up video ran. The me on video sat up. I returned to normal speed. I waited, watching myself sit and glare at nothing. I fast-forwarded again, another thirty minutes past before I got out of bed. At normal speed I walked around the frame of the bed, knocking the laptop, it re-centered on the door, the camera focusing in and out as I staggered. My hand searched for the handle, finding it, then lazily opening the door and leaving the room.
The video continued to film the empty hallway. I clicked on the time line in chunks of five minutes or so, stopping when I saw Alex in the hallway; I wound it back. Her bedroom door opened, she crept into the hallway and peered around my open door, checking to see me in bed.
“Jason?” she asked quietly into the hallway, then she disappeared too, in the direction I left.
A knot grew in my stomach. She didn’t seem mad at me, she seemed concerned. She came back ten minutes later, returning to her bedroom before turning her head.
“Jason, what have you done?” she said. There was fear in her voice.
I saw me push past her in a daze and into my bedroom. I ambled around the bed, my hands cupping something. Blood soaking my beard and face.
“I’m calling an ambulance,” she said.
Gently I picked up the pillow and placed the contents of my hands under it, then returned to Alex.
I stood, wobbling from side to side.
“You’re sleep walking, wake up,” she said, shaking my shoulders.
I stumbled back before righting myself.
“Stay there, I’m going to get my phone and call the police.”
That’s when my hand reached up and grabbed her hair, yanking her head back, my other hand slamming down on top of her. Her body went limp and hit the floor.
I wasn’t shocked at seeing this, a part of me knew I’d done it. I saw me stand above her, placing my hands under her shoulders and lifted. It was then I saw her legs rise up, her feet out of shot, outside of the doorway. I carried her away with the help of someone else.
Panicked, I kept hitting the fast forward, until I saw myself return to the room with another handful. I watched me calmly walk around the frame of the bed and place it under the pillow.
That was five days ago now.
I’ve placed all the teeth on the kitchen table, two semi circles, they’re all there. I didn’t realise I’d had that many fillings. My teeth don’t bother me. There’s something majestic about looking at something that shouldn’t be. It’s the full set of teeth I’ve placed next to mine that fills me with dread. I’ve not heard from Alex since. Though there’s a niggling in the back of my head that says I know where she is. Bin day is tomorrow, if I can make it through until then, I’ll be fine.