When the doctor says safe, he means the way turtleneck sweaters are safe, the way carrying a flour sack for a week is safe. He asks about her habits: hemlines, perfumes, candy-flavored glosses. She plays along with yeses; she understands that sweetness attracts bees. Worse than the stings, the gloss never lasts, smeared off on some upholstery, some floor. The magazines don’t tell you that.
She recites her catalogue of pain. Some of it is precise (surgeries, bees), though most of it is unsayable (disappointment, hers; disappointment, mother’s). The doctor nods: a slow-pounding gavel. You have admirers, he says, and isn’t it thrilling to be admired? His smile resembles zipper teeth. On the nearby chair, her clothes are layered, neat as cake. Yes, she concedes. She hallucinates pink frosting.
At home, she takes her Cosmopolitan quiz. Each pump of her heart becomes a pulse of syrup, of yes, of no smothered in yes, like children’s medicine. When she sleeps, she savors a dream of decadent cake and a man’s teeth rotting. They loosen and fall from his wide, wet maw. There are teeth by the hundreds, clicking a floor. Some are knifed out from the jawbones.
Emily Kingery is an Assistant Professor of English at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, where she teaches courses in literature, writing, and linguistics. She serves on the board of directors at the Midwest Writing Center, a non-profit organization that supports writers in the Quad Cities community.