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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Tolls

Story by Amanda Marbais (Read author interview) December 16, 2019

Art by Umanoide

You keep the shard of your broken tooth because it looks like an island you want to visit. You thank your mother-in-law for watching your newborn, a child who clings to your shirt and your thumbs, and who winds her hands in lengths of your hair. Your mother-in-law usually has spin class or flatly says “I’ve raised my kids.”

When you were pregnant, you couldn’t eat. You now have five cavities, a hairline crack, bone loss. When you didn’t have enough calcium, your daughter absorbed it from your body.

“It’s a miracle, but I saved it.” The dentist is proud of herself.

You’re fitted with a temporary crown and do not return. During subsequent appointments, as someone else attends your child, you drive The Chicago Skyway, back and forth until the tollbooth woman asks, “What the hell?” You cross over suspended bridges and savor trademarked meals. You love eating alone, your hair free of vomit. But the unease follows you. 

You slow beneath neon toll signs, and when you’ve rolled to a stop, you tell Candice, “Make sure you’re ready.” 

“For what?” she asks.

“For everything.”

You keep your daughter’s pacifier in your pocket and rotate it between your fingers at every stop. Your favorite part of the Oasis is the precision of the electric eye, which activates at four feet from any angle. The speed and force of the door always releases a measured burst of sanitized air.

The twenty-eight-year-old attendant runs a tight ship. She also sells you pot. You smoke it with her in the bathroom. She says you look good for thirty-seven. You take turns getting on the scale and shedding clothes or holding soda bottles for different fortunes. You sit in the back and make up stories for truckers who glide across the gray surveillance screen. You make out with her but think of all the permutations a life could take: yours, your husband’s, your daughter’s. You tell her she’s too restless to accept monogamy. You worry you’ve overstepped.

You cry until you throw up. Still, you go back. You always do—to a whispering dishwasher and the creak of a faulty board beneath your child’s crib. To the regular schedule—on and on.

One of your teeth begins to wiggle, a loose uprooting from its socket. Your dentist says, “Not on my watch.” 

As she drills, you think of the gas station girl’s tongue. You think of your husband’s dick. You think of the sudden pain of an accidental baseball that once knocked you out. You think of a frenulum. You think of foreskin. You think of your stitched perineum. 

You think of the strength of your newly sealed teeth, the delight of orthopedic surgeons who will someday gird your joints in plastic trusses, and stitch and stitch and stitch. Of the doctors who will cut and cauterize potentially cancerous skin, who will inflate arteries with tiny sacks until they’re plump and obedient.  

How many years do you have left? Who knows. But each one has felt like the sensation of a dental impression in your wide open mouth: a spreading cold pressure, fat fingers in the tight space, the impulse to gag. Then the release of a negative space. The dentist shows you the spoils. She sets it aside to solidify. She says, “All finished.” as your teeth harden on the counter.

It’s true. 

You try not to think of the pornography of your wet mouth.

About the Author

Amanda Marbais’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Fugue, Joyland and elsewhere. She was featured in Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading series and was shortlisted in the New York Times Book Review for her debut short story collection Claiming a Body (Moon City Press 2019).

About the Artist

Find more from Umanoide at Unsplash.

This story appeared in Issue Sixty-Six of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Six
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.