Mobility

by Ellen Parker

For years Sheila had been gnashing her teeth, and all that time she hadn’t known she shouldn’t be. She’d always had a nice bite. Her choppers, bit together, fit great. Since she was small she’d spent many a calm hour treasuring the feel of the uppers and lowers pinned one to one, and sliding.

The hygienist, though, called it “grinding.” She summoned the dentist. He emerged from a room in the back. He stood before her, his face aslant. “What work do you do?”

He was dark, smooth, adorable. An otter. Rude.

“Our teeth should not be held together. They should never be clenched.”

He gritted his teeth and grimaced. He’s miming me, Sheila thought. He’s telling me how I look.

Out of the chair, she held a card for her next visit. Sheila had a husband and a daughter. They were still living, and still living with her&#8212but they’d moved on. The two of them, at separate times, had told her so.

“I’ve moved on,” her husband said.

“I’ve moved on,” her daughter said.

All her life she’d had hundreds of hints that people were saying plenty to each other but not much to her, but lately they were coming out with it.

She took her hard white card into the paint store. She kept it pinched tight in her fingers. Her husband was sleeping in the basement. She wanted to paint the bedroom.

The clerk had black hair. This&#8212despite the fact that he was white, and quite old. A purveyor of fakery. Perfect. She’d come in thinking she’d wanted a yellow, sweet like Easter, a creamy little chick&#8212but now she could see she wanted something nocturnal. Something like a good cocoa, a meltdown. The clerk’s flesh along the hairline was dyed. This was a revelation&#8212one more thing she hadn’t thought of.

Note to self: Dye your skin.

The hygienist, behind the glass, was nodding, and Sheila wanted the woman’s hair&#8212she thought it would make a lovely comforter, or a pillow. A rug. A bed.

“Lips together, teeth apart,” said the mouth beneath the magnificent hair.

“There are always consequences,” was another thing her husband had said.

“No shit,” she’d retorted.

Later, though, she wondered: Like what?

“You wear them down,” said the dentist.

What she had in her mind right here, though, was the effect she could get if she set dark against light&#8212a shape of sun cut from a wall&#8212and she was having this dyed clerk mix her up a whole gallon of Midnight. She loved the shimmy of that machine. She stood there and gnashed all her little nubs in unison. She told herself: Sure.

Ellen Parker writes fiction. She is also the editor of the online literary magazine FRiGG.

“Mobility,” according to the OED, derives from the French mobilité, in sense ‘character of that which is mobile’; late 17th cent. in sense ‘ability to pass easily from one psychological state to another’—and its etymon classical Latin mōbilitās: ability to move, quickness of the mind or body, inconstancy, fickleness. How do you see this title and its sense at work in this piece? That’s a really good question, and I didn’t know the etymology of the word “mobility” before you told me, but the word certainly does seem to fit this piece now that I know its origins. In fact, I originally used the word as a title because I heard it from a dental hygienist who commented to a dentist that my front lower teeth were exhibiting “mobility” (in the dental sense) beyond what might be considered normal. I was thinking, My teeth have mobility? They are mobile? This idea is both frightening and funny. (I don’t want my teeth to walk out on me.) I think I used the word in an earlier version of this story, but now it’s only the title. (I have another story about a character whose teeth are very loose&#8212that is, they have mobility&#8212because she has grinded&#8212ground?&#8212them so much. I looked at that story the other day, and it’s not very good, but maybe I can fix it. I’m always hoping I can “fix” my stories, just as I am always hoping that a dentist can “fix” my teeth.) So I originally used this word as the title because it referred to the “mobility” of the protagonist’s teeth, but then I saw that the word was no longer in the story itself, and I was thinking, Maybe it’s not a good title, then. The reader will not get what the hell “mobility” means as a title for this story. So I looked up “mobility” and I saw the definition and synonyms for it (fluidity, locomotion, ambulation, the ability to move), and I thought, Well, maybe the word does sort of fit, although it’s a stretch, and anyway, I can’t think of a better title, so I’m just going to leave it and hope readers don’t go, WTF? But now that you tell me the etymology of the word, I can see that it is a brilliant title. Good god, I am such a fucking genius. I would like to add that my characters are always losing stuff: their teeth, their family members, friends, patience, faculties, cats, etc.

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