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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 11: January 2022
Flash Fiction: 559 words
“Triple-Q” Challenge
By Nancy Ludmerer

Open Wide

 

It seemed harmless to Ali: getting her teeth whitened before the wedding. Unlike Ali, Ivan hadn’t been married before. Both Ivan and his mother, Maria, wanted the wedding to be as close to flawless as humanly possible for two 47-year-olds. Ali resisted most of Maria’s suggestions but caved to some: a mid-calf off-white silk dress; contacts instead of her black-framed glasses; and now this. Maria was a dentist. She specialized in root canals and in-office whitening. For Ali the whitening treatment, normally $600, would be $200. Two-thirds off—at cost, really. A bargain. Nothing to quibble about.

Ali’s teeth were even and strong, like her dad’s. Like him, she’d only had one cavity her entire life—at least so far. Both her parents died years before, but it was her father she thought of in Maria Marikova’s waiting room: the morning seven years earlier when they removed his breathing tube. Ali held her father’s hand. From time to time he opened his eyes; she saw only gratitude, his most enduring emotion, without a trace of shame. A nurse looked in. “Shouldn’t you remove the feeding tube, too?” Ali asked softly. “Won’t he be more comfortable?” The nurse said no. “If he breathes independently, he’ll need it.” Ali was alone with him at the end.

The dental assistant said she would do the whitening. Dr. Marikova was delayed in surgery, but would check her handiwork later. A formality.

“Like a wedding.” Ali wondered that such thought came into her head.

“You’ll love it,” the assistant said. “Dr. M did mine last month.”

Ali was dismayed by the assistant’s Jack-O-Lantern grin and bacon-scented breath, by the way she querled a hank of hair around the latex-gloved index finger of her right hand. But Ali couldn’t leave. This was her future mother-in-law’s dental assistant. She was in a quandary of her own making.

“Okay, Chastity,” she said. “I’m in your hands.”

“Chasity!” The assistant corrected Ali in a querulous tone, marshalling her lapel pin. “Mom wanted me to be unique.”

Head back, mouth painfully wide, Ali gagged so hard she dislodged the mold. Chasity tried another, smaller mold. “Your gag reflex is crazy. Relax! Think of something peaceful.”

Ali couldn’t think of anything peaceful except Mt. Ararat Cemetery, where her parents were buried. The last time she visited she brought a dustpan and brush and gently brushed the loose dirt from their footstones, left small stones on each.

She managed to stop gagging but still felt something in her throat.

Chasity set a timer. “I’ll be back in ten. Mold needs to set.”

Ali closed her eyes. At fifteen, when Ali tried on a dress her mother brought home from Macy’s, her mother clucked her tongue and made Ali walk in a circle. She tugged on a hem, pinned up a shoulder, scrutinized and frowned. Ali’s father looked up and smiled with all his teeth. “Like a young Natalie Wood.”

Natalie Wood’s untimely and suspicious death was still in the future.

The future. Her father had passed on to her his simple pride, along with good teeth. “You’re paying for what?” her father would have asked if he knew.

Ali was sorry Chasity would return to an empty room.

But grateful she wouldn’t be seeing Dr. M.

 

—One of 12 Finalists in MacQ’s “Triple-Q” Writing Challenge

Nancy Ludmerer’s
Issue 11, January 2022

stories and flash fictions appear in Kenyon Review, The Best Small Fictions 2016 (“First Night,” a prizewinner in River Styx), Electric Literature, Mid-American Review, Vestal Review, Fish Anthology 2015, A3 Review, KYSO Flash, Cimarron Review, and others. Her story “A Simple Case” was the fiction winner in Carve Magazine’s 2019 Prose & Poetry Contest. She lives in New York City.

Find her on Twitter: [at]nludmerer

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

Hide-and-Seek, flash fiction by Nancy Ludmerer in KYSO Flash (Issue 8, August 2017)

Learning the Trade in Tenancingo, micro-fiction in KYSO Flash (Issue 6, Fall 2016)

(This micro is among 100 personal favorites on Clare’s List, selected from among a thousand works published in KYSO Flash over the course of six years.)

 
 
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