My wisdom tooth feels like Bryce Canyon. The way the rock cuts the landscape, jagged edges knifing the sky and trees filling the crevices on the ground like decay. I tongue my tooth and know if you put it under a microscope, it’d look the same. I get a beat in my gum when my tongue hits a certain spot, where sugar burrows into the enamel. I tell myself not to touch it, but while I'm in the hospital with the bleeps and trolleys and nurses passing by, I do it to pass the time.
I think about America, and how Sally was sick when we went last. We had to buy a box of cornflakes for her to snack on during long drives, with the air conditioning blasting her face because the heat made her stomach spin and bubble. She said cold air against her throat helped. At first, I looked after her. I sat her up in motel beds and brought her bagels from the breakfast room. She’d nibble at them, slowly. I could see each bite made her feel nauseous; the process of swallowing, of feeling food lumping down into her gut. She’d take a tiny sip of water after. It was excruciating to watch, and I’d tap my tongue against my teeth to pass the time then, too. As the trip went on, Sally grew more ill. Her arms got leaner, her ribs more visible. There were purple shadows around her eyes from sleeplessness and nausea.
During the daytime, Sally perked up. We were able to head down to the beach and take our shoes off and feel the gravelly sand silting up our toes, the water refreshing against August’s giddy heat. We ate lunch overlooking Big Sur and the sea, and laughed at how the Scottish tourists stuck out even more than we did. But as evening fell, she’d slump again, so I’d go for dinner on my own. I’d watch the waitresses sashaying their tiny hips, striding long tanned Californian legs that led into heeled shoes, their strong calves taking them up steps to the kitchen.
Sally’s sickness got old quickly. I passed her water in the car when she said she was feeling ill; told her to eat when she said she wasn’t hungry. I said it with little conviction, and she didn’t have the strength to argue with me. She was sick when we came back to England, rushing to the bathroom on the station’s platform to throw up. We had a very swift goodbye; I didn’t want to kiss her because she smelt like vomit. I waved as my train picked up speed. Watched her disappear like a gnat flying into summer sky. I thought about the waitress in Monterey, how she smoked my name across her west coast tongue.
My train stopped and Sally sent me multiple texts:
Feeling sick again. Hope it’s just the jet lag. Let me know you’re doing alright x
Had such a lovely holiday with you. Missing you so much x
I pressed my cheek to the chilled glass of the window, turning my gaze down the platform. I saw two birds fighting. A seagull was flapping slow, calculated beats with its wings, while a tiny black bird lay flat against the concrete. I thought it was moving, at first, but it was near dead, and the gull was ripping chunks of feather and flesh from its side, using its weight to hold it down. I texted Sally: All fine, just seen a seagull clawing a bird apart. Mental. I removed the ‘x’ from the end.
I wait on the hospital chair for two hours. My feet numb and I pace the waiting room. I head to the vending machine and get a coffee. I add three sugars, no milk. I sit back down on the seat and hold the cup in my hands, waiting for it to cool. I wonder how Sally is. She’d probably have an IV dripping into her by now, thuds of cold pulsing into her veins. I figure she must have told the nurses the story of how we got here. How we walked along the beach with our cone of chips doused with vinegar. How the quicks on our fingertips stung as we fished around for the ones that floated at the bottom. How as we smacked our lips, sourness starching our mouths, she’d asked me to move in with her and I’d panicked and said I kissed the waitress. She’d asked me what waitress and where, and I’d told Sally about how she’d been asleep in the motel back in California, too sick to come out. How I’d come back to the motel late, and how much easier it was to kiss someone in heels. She would have told the nurses how she’d not argued, not said a thing. How my words held her fast to the ground, knocked her to the pebbles. How she’d blacked out on the beach. She’d not have told them how I rung for the ambulance, stopped her choking, felt my face pale and my heart lurch into my throat. How in that moment I wanted so much to be in the motel with her, brushing her hair from her face, whistling cold air onto her neck and telling her we’d get a takeaway instead. How that stuff about the waitress wasn’t even true.
I take a sip of my coffee and the sugar explodes into white on my gums. I hold my cheek in pain and tongue my wisdom tooth, feeling the cavity widen. I imagine myself standing at the top of Bryce Canyon. I imagine jumping from the spindly needles waiting for the cavity to close, but fall down, down until I smash to the ground. I imagine watching the rocks stitch the clouds together as I wait and wait for rain.
About the Author: Annabelle Carvell runs the literary magazine, Synaesthesia, which fills her evenings with colour splashes. Her favourite word is liquorice and when she's not writing, she's trying to figure where home is. You can find her on the web here, her tweets from @AnnabelleCsyn and her art on the wrists of best friends.
Story Song: "Civilian" by Wye Oak