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The Teeth

Stephanie Hayes


Brianna left the baby shower clenching her jaw. She couldn’t believe all those stupid bitches couldn’t figure out the goddamn yarn game. How hard was it? You look at the pregnant lady, try to figure out how disgustingly fat she had gotten because she let herself go eat Ding-Dongs and taquitos, as if having a baby was carte blanche to line your arteries with plaque, and you cut the string that far. Then you wrap it around her terrifying belly, and the desperate hippo winner gets a scented candle or a bath puff or, in this case, Brianna’s brilliant and generous idea of an ovulation tracker so all these other sad ladies could get their baby parties, too. How hard was it?

She rubbed the side of her face. Her cheek felt swollen, but she figured it was the prosecco. Plus, she had been on her feet all day making sure every detail of the baby shower was perfect. It was annoying having to be the one to organize these things, but frankly, she didn’t trust any of her friends to pull it off for Kelly. Certainly not dumbass, sullen Holly, who was always walking around whispering inside jokes to Kelly and then moping in the corner like she was in a college band. Why even come to a baby shower if you’re just going to be depressed the whole time? Baby showers were supposed to be fun!

Brianna was scowling, she realized, and Kelly and Andre were standing in the driveway, waving goodbye. Andre was a real snack. She’d like to make a baby with that guy. Minus the baby part, of course. She slapped on her most gleaming smile and rolled down the window of her white Audi.

“Bye, guys!” Brianna chirped. “I love you so much. You’re going to be the best parents in the world!”

The couple waved, clutching a helium balloon in the shape of a bumble bee. They looked exhausted, and Brianna thought they should be a little more grateful. She had just netted them about $3,000 in baby gear and they were standing there like they needed a nap. No one really appreciated the value of hard work anymore. Social events were work.

As soon as she was out of sight, Brianna dropped her smile like a guillotine. She turned on pulsating music and zoomed out of the neighborhood of hideous ranch homes. She loved Kelly – really, she did – but she didn’t connect with anything about her life. They were the kind of friends who went back to middle school, so they stayed friends out of some… she didn’t know. Obligation? It felt like a contract they were both honoring. Kelly was a teacher, and made, probably, 40 grand a year. And she was a Democrat, shudder. Brianna, on the other hand, was a highly sought-after event planner with a reputation for landing recognized musical acts for parties. If you wanted Taylor Dayne at your silver anniversary, she could make it happen. Vanilla Ice for your 40th birthday? No problem. She once landed Baha Men to sing Who Let the Dogs Out at a corporate party for Petco, and she’d arranged for eight adoptable dogs from Pineacres Pet Rescue to be released during the song. It was epic, and all the nasty mutts found homes. Brianna hated dogs.

Kelly’s little shower was nothing, just a few nibbles and centerpieces. Brianna’s best trick was to get frozen crab Rangoon from Costco and arrange it on a fancy platter. Basic bitches loved crab Rangoon, and they always thought it was expensive. And if something, anything, was arranged on a charcuterie board? Forget it. Women acted rich and fancy eating from a board, even picking off rosettes of bologna. They were so stupid.

Brianna and Kelly saw each other around two times a year, other fringe friends like Courtney and Holly sprinkled in with Kelly’s lame work colleagues from the middle school. Brianna wondered if, when they all stopped reproducing, they’d ever speak again. Whatever, she’d find some reason to throw a party.

Her nails were absolute trash. She decided to swing by Pineacres Mall and get a mani at Hollywood Nails next to the pretzel place. The ladies there annoyed the shit out of Brianna, and she hated when random moms tried to talk to her, but the techs did good work. She had to drop off some cast iron pots at Wellworths, anyway. She had used them for about six months but wasn’t satisfied with the product. What kind of pan turns all brown and yucky after just six months? It helped that her father was the general manager of the mall, and she could do anything she wanted. People will let you down, Gerrod told her, but she didn’t have to let herself down. Brianna loved to write lengthy social media posts thanking her father for all he taught her about business, for making her so selfless and smart. Brianna never did a good deed quietly.

The girl working at Wellworths looked like she hadn’t slept in months. Brianna expected a fight, because store clerks had ceased to believe the customer was always right. And this girl looked like she had been in plenty of fights.

“Hayley, is it?” Brianna said sweetly, reading the name tag. “I have a return. These did not perform as advertised. My duck came out very chewy.”

Hayley sized up the pots. Brianna prepared to defend herself like her father would want. Stage two was to ask for a manager. Stage three was getting the corporate phone number. Sometimes she liked getting all the way to stage three. Stage three meant lots of gift cards. Stage four, well, that was the nuclear option. Stage four was tagging the company on social media. But Hayley didn’t bite.

“Do you want it back on the card?” she said, and Brianna presented a platinum American Express. She smiled with all her teeth.


As she strolled to Hollywood Nails in her blue sundress and wedge sandals, Brianna felt that nagging sensation in her mouth again, like someone jamming a needle into her gum. Weird, since she had pristine dental hygiene. Well, that’s what she told people when they complimented her smile. The truth was, she had paid $10,000 for her porcelain veneers, just… she stopped to do math. Three… no, four years ago. She paid for them with her earnings from Susy Schneider’s Bat Mitzvah, for which she’d landed the rapper Chingy to perform exactly four songs. She’d picked a cosmetic dentist with the best Instagram and chose the brightest, boldest set of teeth out of a catalog. “Movie Star Smile,” it said beneath photos of mouths cropped into a box without a nose, eyes or chin. Her dentist suggested something softer and rounder, a little less white.

“It looks a touch more natural to add back a slight yellow, odd as that may sound,” he’d insisted, and she told him that if she wanted his opinion, she would have asked for it.

Growing up, Brianna had a crowded mouth and ugly teeth. They overlapped like shingles, and no matter how many white strips she used, the paisley brown pocks never seemed to fade. Bleach only made the stains pop more. She never smiled with her teeth, always looked into the camera with lips tight in a harsh line.

Kids were barbaric to each other back then. It wasn’t like today, when the youth was all woke and shit, taught to not publicly bully each other. Nowadays they bullied each other behind their backs or on the internet. When Brianna was little, the times were all about ruthless ascension, bald capitalism, lust for status that filtered down to the children. They called her “poop mouth” and “butter teeth” and Brianna reckoned that’s when she started to get a little, well, mean. She had no choice. It wasn’t her fault. If they called her butter teeth, she called them fat ass, and her delivery was evil. She practiced in the mirror at night. She tried not to blink and spoke in an icy monotone, freezing her forehead to appear unbothered. Her cruelty was shocking in its calmness. If she was cursed to be ugly, she would take everyone down with her.

At 12, her braces hid the stains. That’s when Brianna taught herself to smile again, memorizing how her face felt when her reflection looked prettiest. When the braces came off, Gerrod paid for cosmetic bonding. The first time she saw her white, straight teeth, a perfect package of minty squares framed by her nut-brown lipstick, that was it. She could change herself, and she would change herself.

First came the hair extensions, which gave her a headache, but she didn’t care. Then the eyebrows, plucked to near death, restored with microblading. Eyelash extensions, hairline reshaping, butt masking, electrolysis. Then, like Ponce de Leon, she discovered injectables. Restylane, Botox, Dysport, Xeomin, Kybella, submandibular sculpting, outer brow elevation. She could change the entire shape of her face without ever having surgery. There was nothing wrong with Brianna’s face, but now, she thought, at last, there was something right.

The bonding wore down over the years. Replacing it wasn’t a good idea, the dentist said, not with all the new advancements on the market. It wouldn’t look even. Dentists wanted to make money, too, and Brianna respected that. Plus, she was never one to turn down the latest innovation in cosmetic enhancement. Veneers were a must.

So, she let the dentist file down her natural teeth to baby bat nubs. When he offered a peek in the mirror, because a lot of patients were curious, she snapped for him to keep it moving. He cast a plastic retainer to fit over the nubs for two weeks while each porcelain crown was lovingly constructed in some… veneer factory? Probably in China.

For two weeks, she worried someone would notice she didn’t have real teeth. During one of her weddings, another boring affair with blush dresses and peonies and goddamn fishtail braids, she spent the night clearing food out of the back of the bridge, sucking out old hunks of pasta. Her assistants overheard on the headset. When they asked if she could mute herself, she asked if they could get a different fucking job.

Finally, the dentist capped each of her nubs with Movie Star white squares, fusing them with special cement. He shone a space-age laser to keep the teeth in place up to 17 years, at which point Brianna was confident there would be new strides in dentistry, and she would probably have an entirely new mouth. She got up from the chair, wobbly, woozy, her lips numb and swollen, her gums apple red, and she smiled into the mirror. A thread of foaming drool fell from her limp mouth onto her breast implant. She was beautiful.


Becky dipped Brianna’s nails in a baby blue acrylic polymer.

“This one is leaning a little more to the left than this one.”

Becky obeyed, trying not to roll her eyes above her face mask. She started filing Brianna’s third nail on the right hand.

Brianna smiled, but the pain returned. She snaked her tongue around her mouth and pushed it against her porcelain incisor. It wiggled, and Brianna winced.

“Did I hurt you?” Becky said.

Brianna shook her head, afraid to open her mouth. The incisor was looser now. Brianna could feel it slipping off. Everything seemed to coalesce, smells, colors, lights. The chemicals, acrylic, the acetone, the gel. The UV lamps and the foot baths and the wax pods and the plastic bags and the hot towels and the cell phone blips and the cheap wine and the lavender lotion and the talking talking talking talking, it enveloped Brianna as her tooth fell apart, one piece, then two, then three, crumbling like an overbaked cookie.

She didn’t know Becky, but she could not let her see the bloody, gnarly shard of tooth, or let her know she was falling apart from the inside out. She could not spit out the remains of her expensive veneer on Becky’s station. She had no choice. It wasn’t her fault. She swallowed it.

Her tongue wandered to her nub, short and jagged, and she started to cry.

“I’m sorry,” Becky said. “I’ll be gentle.”

Brianna reached in her purse and threw twenty dollars on the table. The manicure cost forty. Even in panic, she heard her father’s voice telling her not to pay full price for half a job.


She was nine. Flat on her back, arms and legs at her side in the grass, staring up at the sun. Overalls, T-shirt, no shoes. Her toenails were chipped, bangs crooked where she’d cut them herself. The clouds moved slowly, but they moved, and they formed fantastical shapes. “Deliberate” was a word she heard her dad use sometimes, and she thought it sounded important. He used it to describe his mall employees when they took too long to evict tenants.

“Deliberate,” she said to the clouds.

She was filthy, but when you are nine and filthy, you don’t know you’re filthy. Being dirty is a thing adults point out, make you feel bad about, make you rectify. Children would be dirty until they couldn’t function anymore if they had their choice. Then they would pull the mud away in marvelous strips, leaving a mold of their lumpy little bodies behind.

Her dad was back there with his buddy, Robert, who owned a chain of used car dealerships in Pineacres. They were sitting on the patio near the pool drinking something brown at one in the afternoon. She heard her dad talk about the mall, which was going “gangbusters.” The mall was packed every weekend. He couldn’t keep customers away and raised rent every other quarter. Currently, he was in a fight with some import furniture store.

“I have ten other tenants trying to get in,” he told Robert. “I’m not running a charity.”

Then she heard Robert say something about selling an old lady a “P-O-S,” which Brianna had learned via eavesdropping was car dealer code for “piece of shit.” They laughed, and then there was a lull as the ice clinked, and then they were talking quieter, and suddenly she sensed they were talking about her.

Getting fat

Boys are going to

Baby boobs

Have to watch out

Brianna dug her feet into the dirt and let the mud sink beneath her toenails. She tried to focus on the cloud, which looked like a bull with a ring in its nose. Or maybe a cow with spots. She didn’t like what they were saying, but she couldn’t stop listening. She tried to imagine her body dissolving, her skin and bones disintegrating into the grass, becoming part of the earth, where one day it would sprout back up with the plants and release oxygen into the atmosphere like she’d learned in science class. Her worthless body would help people breathe.


Crazy, all of them

Be careful

No more cookies

Her dad said he was going in the house for a refill, and the friend said okay, and then it was quiet. Brianna squeezed her eyes closed and tried to ignore the footsteps in the grass, the dew flicking onto her face, the giant shadow hanging over her, which she could still see with her eyes welded shut.

She pretended to sleep. Robert stood for what felt like two hours, but it was probably two minutes. He breathed his hot brown drink breath. Finally, she heard her father, and she heard the guy say something about keeping an eye on the little lady to make sure she didn’t get into any trouble.


Brianna stared at her nub in her bathroom mirror. It didn’t look so bad. Better than she imagined. It was shorter than the other teeth, of course, gray from being trapped under the porcelain. But it was less sharp than she pictured. It was somewhat blunt on the end, more of a pebble and less of a splinter. It was almost cute.

The others were loose now, too. She knew they were loose. They had to be loose. It was no use trying to pretend otherwise. “Don’t delay the things you know you have to do,” her dad always said, right before he made other people do stuff for him. She wiped off her bloated lips, leaving a streak of lip gloss down her cheek.

So much for veneers lasting 17 years. Brianna reached for her phone and opened the notes app. She started a list.

People I will Sue and In What Order

1. Dentist

2. Chinese veneer factory

3. Whoever makes teeth cement

Her father would want her to litigate them all out of existence, strip them to their last dime for making his daughter ugly again. She had no choice. It wasn’t her fault.

Air whipped around the tooth, a painful kind of freedom. Brianna tried to remember what her real teeth looked like, but she couldn’t, and there were no pictures because she’d thrown them all out. She poked a raw fingernail into her forehead and felt nothing. Her skin was like a Styrofoam board. Her eyebrows stayed perfectly level, except the tails, which had been raised to look like Kendall Jenner’s.

4. Botox girl

She grabbed her two front teeth. They were wiggling for sure but not enough. Brianna pulled harder, her hand shaking. She would have to get them all done again anyway. Replacing one tooth was not an option. The coloring would not be the same. The shape, not the same. It would be a patchwork, unacceptable. She had $14,000 left on her platinum card. When she won her lawsuit, she would pay it off. She’d get flyer miles with the new teeth. She would get a brand deal and go to Tulum and model her new smile by her private infinity pool.

She wiggled harder, and when they wouldn’t move, she screamed at the mirror like a banshee. The gums were bleeding, the edges of her teeth traced in threads of crimson. She didn’t feel pain, only her heart racing, only a swelling conviction that she had to get these teeth out of her mouth immediately, that every stressor in her life had caused this, that everyone else had made her ugly again.

5. Kelly for baby shower costs

6. All my assistants

7. Brides

She ran to the kitchen and flung open a junk drawer. Chopsticks, wine charms, wedding menus, paper straws. She hated paper straws, but for some reason, plastic straws were not fucking allowed anymore, and Brianna wanted to look allowed. She finally found a pair of pink pliers. Her father gave her the tools when she moved into her first apartment, as if she couldn’t fix anything unless the tools were pink.

Her Dior airbrush foundation formed a river in the hairs above her lip. Shit, she needed to get her lip waxed. Strands of acrylic fiber flaked beneath her eyes. Shit, she needed to get her eyelash extensions filled. Weren’t they supposed to last longer?

8. Lash girl

9. Nail girl

10. Wax girl

She studied her hairline, nostalgic for the widow’s peak that used to be there. Why did she laser that off? It was different and it was cool. She remembered that they used to call her a little devil. “You’re going to be beating the boys off with a stick,” they said. “Don’t let her out,” they said. “You got your shotgun ready?” they said. “If she lost weight, she’d be hot,” they said.

11. Laser girl

Brianna put the pink pliers to her right front tooth. She clamped, closed her eyes and pulled. The tooth resisted so she clamped harder and felt it give. She yanked until something shifted way up inside. Pain shot though her gums and up her nose and out the top of her head. The tooth slid out and landed with a plink in the sink. She repeated this until her veneers formed a rugged pile and the agony felt dull and familiar. Some were broken in half or thirds. Some were whole with a hollow divot where her tooth nub lived. They were less white than she remembered, and it wasn’t just the blood coloring them. They looked fake. They were fake.

She smiled. Blood dripped down her chin and rained in the sink. She held her phone to the mirror and snapped a photo. She chose a filter that softened the edges of her nubs and smoothed her pores and turned her red blood an aesthetic mauve. She cropped her toilet and towel rod out of the shot and brought up the brightness and contrast. She opened the photo in an app, lengthened her torso and removed a fold from her neck and sharpened her chin and made her boobs bigger and shaved off part of her waist, and then she moved the photo to another app and hovered over the little button that said “share” before falling to the floor.


Stephanie Hayes is an author and journalist who writes a nationally syndicated column for the Tampa Bay Times. Her work has appeared in Chicago Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and is forthcoming in Saw Palm. She is the author of Be Serious, an essay collection, and Obitchuary, a novel. She lives in Dunedin, Florida.