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Brushing Teeth

by Pana Khazina

"Have you ever tried brushing your teeth while crying?"

It’s such a weird feeling. The gums are burning as if set ablaze, the bristles cutting them sharply. My gums are pretty weak, though I brush well. They bleed easily. 

There is red on the bathroom floor. It is instantly washed away by the stream of lukewarm water rushing to the drain. The droplets on my fingers tremble. 

There is red on my face. I can barely see it, a veil of tears blinding me. There is white on my left cheek, loathing toothpaste smudged from the corners of my lips. I can’t wipe it off, though my hands are damp. 

Brushing teeth does not come so easily anymore. It used to be a simple trick: my mom squeezing the tube for me, gently holding my chin, tucking my plain straight hair behind my ear. Now I must stand in front of an uncomfortably big mirror in a room full of caterpillar yellow light, squeeze the tube, by myself, tie my hair, by myself, turn the tap on, by myself. 

It’s a task, a chore, a tedious process of flicking the light switch, of stepping on cold tiles, of listening to the water hitting the sink and spilling over, splashing on my feet. A neverending routine. 

Brushing teeth feels like a punishment. I stand in front of an uncomfortably big mirror in a room full of caterpillar yellow light. I must stand, I have to stand, curling my toes and holding my toothbrush. It cannot rid me of two black dots on my two front teeth, one perfectly round and the other stretching into a thin line. It’s my trademark, my speciality, my mom says.

Brushing my teeth means I have to look at my reflection. It’s unavoidable, an inescapable reality of standing in the bathroom. Taking my glasses off does not help, I am at my most vulnerable. My body is on display, unsightly and small, so fragile. 

Sometimes I can’t find the strength to brush my teeth. I go to bed, passing the bathroom door. I lay awake deep at night and think of my toothbrush. It’s black, dotted with colourful stubble. I dream of my teeth falling out, clicking against the sink one by one. 

Sometimes I cry so hard I can’t keep it to myself. I collapse, my knees weak and shaky. I bury my head in the warm skin in front of me, feel soothing breaths on the top of my head.

“It’s going to be okay,” his voice is soft and calming, “You can cry.” 

And I cry, so ugly and loud, with hiccups and sweat. My gums are ablaze and I’m brushing my teeth, yellowlishly poking from my face. I wish I could brush my whole body instead; every corner of it. I wish there were menthol-flavoured sprays and gels so I could take my skin off and wait for a new one to regrow. 

There is red on the bathroom floor. I wipe it off with the back of my hand, now dry. The night is so dark. My mouth tastes like mint. 


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