The Shadow
of Your Smile

By Michelle Mairesse


From the time I was a molar in a fourth grade play until the present, I have religiously cared for my teeth. I flubbed the job once only, when I heard from friends that my ex-husband might be connected to the lab making the cap for my remodeled eye-tooth. My ex-husband, a dentistry school dropout with a mean mouth on him, used to refer to that eye-tooth as "the fang."

During our two-year marriage, what I had come to consider one slightly elongated eye-tooth became, through Mikeís eyes, a fang, then a rhinoceros tusk, a comparison that caused our friends visiting the zoo with us to titter a bit, and me to wish the earth would swallow me up.

After the divorce, I became even more conscious of the tooth, which suddenly seemed to grow even longer and sharper. I smiled behind closed lips and covered my mouth when I laughed, probably making myself look furtive or foolish or both.

A year into single life again, I submitted myself to a dentist who specialized in rehabilitating "feral smiles," as he termed them. This perfectionist praised my stoic endurance of the unpleasant procedures, the bleaching of all my teeth, the drilling and filling and filing and fitting of the eye-tooth, and unwittingly sent me to the lab nearby, where I feared an encounter with my past, the past that kept lapping over into the present.

Too intimidated to even telephone (suppose he answered), I left the lab worker in the lurch, and Iíll never know how long past closing time he waited for me to appear to validate the transformed tooth that would no longer be a fang or a tusk.

Whoever it was, he must have been really pissed because the lab sent my dentist a cap of a hue perceptibly whiter than my well-scrubbed, bleached, but cream-colored teeth have ever been. Rather than endure the discomfort again, I told the dentist to let it go. A mistake. Itís a constant reminder of my ex. Each time I look into the mirror, I think of inquiring about my ex, seeing if indeed he worked there at the time, but Iím not sure the answer would satisfy me. Suppose instead that it wasnít my ex, but a pissed lab worker.

Was it fear of Mikeís scorn or my own cowardice that set me up for another wounding? Now the sight of that too-bright tooth makes me hum "The Shadow of Your Smile" every time I brush my teeth. Just whose smile is it, anyway?