When I run my tongue along the top of my teeth I find jagged edges. If I push down hard, bits crumble away. I try not to smile or laugh in front of other people. Whenever I speak I take my hand to my face and cover my mouth. I rest the tip of my fingers on my top lip so no one can see the yellow-brown incisors or the black line that runs down the centre of my front tooth.
My sister has a gold tooth in front, half her front tooth, shiny gold. She does not put her hand to her mouth. Her teeth are in good order, even with the gold. The gold is a sign of good repair. She does as she is told. She goes to the dentist. But I keep my pain a secret.
I know when the ache is coming, when the raw nerve pulses underneath the flaky layer of tooth, all that is left of my big back munching teeth. I smear on a glob of ice-cold toothpaste, minty fresh, as a way of killing the pain.
At night, I cover my head with my pillow. I roll from side to side. I roll my head over and over to block out the ache. I do not go to the dentist because the dentist will look into my mouth and he will say,
‘What have we here? You haven’t been cleaning your teeth, have you?’ And I will blush. The roots of my hair will tingle; a shiver will run down from my scalp to my armpits. They will itch and prickle. And I will want to shut my mouth fast, snap like a turtle, snap. Get your hands out of there, I will say. Do not touch me.
‘If he touches you scream,’ my sister says.
My father touches her. I know. I see him at night. He comes into our bedroom. We sleep in beds one beside the other. Up and down beds. Long brown beds. Good strong solid beds. There is a passageway that runs between them, a dark river of space, which my father fills in the night when he visits. The door opens and he pads in bare feet across the open river of floor.
I turn to face the wall. I squeeze my eyes shut. I am an aching tooth, the raw nerves exposed, waiting for my turn.
But he does not come to me. He goes to her. The rustle of blankets, the murmurs, the sighs. The soft in-breath, out-breath. The silence. And then he is gone. My sister snuffles in her bed. She cries silent tears.
My sister is the chosen one. My sister with her crooked teeth, her plump body and her mouse brown hair. She is the one he loves. More than me, he loves her. More than me he chooses her, and more than me she grows fat and full of him.