A Long Day Waiting – Valerie Hunter

Mathew awakes to a strange gap
in his mouth, can still taste
the blood, but can’t find the tooth
no matter how many times his tongue
circles the landscape of his mouth.
The tooth has been loose for days,
wiggling and wobbling,
but Mathew didn’t dare say anything
because his dad always talks about
tying loose teeth to a doorknob,
and Mathew can never tell if he’s joking,
never wants to find out.

But a door extraction would surely
be preferable to what’s actually happened.
He explores his mouth one more time,
frantically checks his pillow
and all over the bed, but the tooth is nowhere
and he knows he must have swallowed it.
All he can hear is Malcolm at school
telling about his cousin
who swallowed a tooth and then died
because it gnawed up his insides.

Maybe it’s not too late. Maybe
if Mathew goes to the hospital right now,
they can slice him open and capture
the tooth before it causes irreparable damage.
But Mathew’s mom always complains
that doctors are so expensive,
and though Mathew is pretty sure
she’ll consider saving his life
worth the expense, he doesn’t want to be
the cause of her disappointment and debt.

Maybe it’s not true. Maybe
Malcolm lied, or misunderstood,
maybe if Mathew tells his parents
that he swallowed a tooth
and is in imminent danger,
they’ll just laugh in that way
that always prickles his skin,
call him silly and naive,
call him gullible, which Mathew knows
is a grown-up way of saying stupid,
a word that he carries on his back
like a hundred pound weight each time
his parents cast it in his direction.

So he says nothing,
poking at the pulpy hole in his mouth
and moping through the day,
waiting for death or confirmation
of his own stupidity, uncertain
which will be easier to endure.

Valerie Hunter worked at her college library as an undergrad, where she occasionally read the new acquisitions when she should have been shelving. She now teaches high school English and maintains a classroom library with a sadly low circulation rate. Her poems have appeared in publications including Wizards in Space, Room Magazine, and Last Girls Club.

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