The Dental Hygienist

By Tala Fehsel

I once loved a dental hygienist. One of the ones who talk to you when your mouth is full of steel and blood and latex, talk about the weather as they drill your numb flesh to the bone. She didn’t make eye contact– she looked people in the lips, in the smile, in the mouth. She didn’t seem to need the second half of a conversation. I was happy. I’d never cared for talking, anyway.

We’d go out to dinner– what’s the forecast?– and she’d look me in the mouth like she always did and smile and laugh and my heart would ache to kiss her but she never touched my lips, not once.

She said she couldn’t, she said she spent all day at work staring at and picking through the wires, the weak spots, the histories and stains of meals and fights and coffee and alcohol. She said she couldn’t stand to see that with me.

Then don’t look, I begged her, close your eyes. That’s how most people kiss anyway.

She just laughed and smiled and shook her head and looked me in the mouth like she always did– there’s a storm coming in tomorrow, they’re saying– and let me wind my fingers in her hair.

One night, when we were laying side by side and she thought I was asleep, she kissed the tops of my eyelids. It was so gentle it might have been breath.

I wondered if my eyes were enough to see what she had seen.