Elizabeth Mayer: Reminder

At the dentist, the hygienist, with her purple nitrile gloves and voice like Tree Trunks, runs her finger along the inside of your cheek, across your gumline, palpates the underside of your tongue. She shows you how to massage the space between your teeth with a little rubber pick, says she does it herself while lying in bed, tells you your teeth are a lovely color. All day you run your tongue along the planes of your polished teeth, taste the edge of your lips where she dabbed the toothpaste with such care. At home, no one asks where you have been, so you do not say, but you hold the feeling of the hygienist’s fingers in your mouth a day and a night, three days, a week: as long as you can. 

In the morning, you ride the bus. As it jostles over holes in the road, your knees knock against anonymous thighs. You can feel the heat of skin beneath clothes. You can smell the body smells buried beneath the spice of deodorant and the watermelon bubblegum scent of shampoo. You let the back of your hand glance across an arm, feel the stiff cotton of their clothes, imagine the soft flesh beneath. You fold your hands in your lap and stroke one thumb lightly over the other. How easy it would be to slide your palm into the palm of the person beside you. How lovely it would feel to squeeze their hand. 

You take a bath. You use the shave gel, even though it isn’t yours. The blue gel turns to foam between your fingertips. It smells like someone else. You shave your left leg but not your right. You shave a section of your left forearm, starting at the wrist and ending midway to your elbow. You release a gob of gel into your palm and rub it between your hands. It feels like velvet. It dissolves in clouds and fogs the lukewarm water until you can no longer see yourself below the surface. After you drain the tub and towel your body dry, you circle the smooth section of your forearm with night cream. It shines in the bare lightbulb light of the bathroom.

Your tongue slides along the inside of your cheek. What memories a mouth holds: the taste of turmeric, the hum of high C, the sandpaper of a stubbled cheek. No one will notice your smooth soft left leg. Already the hairs are pressing through. How long can skin retain the feeling of a touch? You drag your fingernails across your left forearm. Just a little harder and you could draw blood. Just a little further and you could feel it.

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