Conjunctions:37 Twentieth Anniversary Issue

Müller
“… the category through which the world 
manifests itself is the category of hallucination.”
—Gottfried Benn

I.

His grandfather kept sounding like he was choking to death. The attending physician had claimed this was natural, an involuntary reflex—in other words, just because Müller’s grandfather sounded like he was choking to death, it did not mean he was choking to death. Still Müller could not resist plunging his fingers down his grandfather’s throat, so as to clear it, and each time he did, he felt the teeth.
     The bridge was loose, the bands connected to the real teeth easily slipped off. His grandfather remained semiconscious, moaning. The bridge came free after Müller pried it back and forth a mere twenty minutes, the post screwed into his grandfather’s jaw shearing off sharp. If the bridge is left in, he told his wife as he pried, he might aspirate it. In any case, he’s not your grandfather. This is none of your concern.


 



II.

He sat in the passenger seat, feeling the row of teeth through his pocket: central incisor, lateral incisor, cuspid, bicuspid. His grandfather liked him, he thought, and now he had stolen his teeth. There had always been teeth, he thought. His whole life, nothing but teeth. His wife was saying something, either to him or the road. He had never been able to smile in a way that showed more than the very tips of his top row of teeth—his wife, when she smiled, showed not only the upper teeth but a stretch of gum above. Other teeth: He had braces when he was a teenager but had failed to finish the treatment; now his mouth was painfully instable, his teeth and jaw slowly shifting back to their untrammeled state. Other teeth: Once while riding his bicycle he had seen a dog’s head hit by the fender of a car, whose license plate he could still remember, never slowed for an instant. Other teeth: He felt in his pocket the four teeth—bicuspid, cuspid, lateral incisor, central incisor. A pocket is not where teeth belong, he thought. The mouth is where they belong. Or a glass. There was noise in the car and he looked up to find his wife smiling softly at him, her mouth closed.


 



III.

In the dark, Müller kept putting his grandfather’s four teeth into his mouth, slipping them between his lip and teeth. He grimaced, imaging what he would look like with his grandfather’s teeth in place of his own, his hair thinning, shoulders hunching, body slowly wasting away. His wife lay beside him, becoming his grandmother. Heat radiated off her; she was still alive. Nervously he kept taking the teeth out and nervously slipped them back in again.
     He got up from bed, found a mirror. The man in it was hardly familiar, his mouth oddly bunched, neither himself nor his grandfather. He went and found some pliers. He opened the jaws of the pliers, opened his own jaw as well, carefully clamped the pliers around a central incisor. He had to open his jaw wider than was comfortable, and still one of the piers’ grips was wedged against his lower lip. The rasp of the scored metal against his tooth’s enamel seemed to sound not in his mouth but deeper, against the lining of his skull.
     He stood still, looking at himself in the mirror, the apparatus hanging from his mouth. It is not too late, he thought, his hand tight on the grips. He looked up, froze. Here was his grandfather at last, startled but attentive, watching him.


Brian Evenson is a Conjunctions contributing editor and the author of more than a dozen books of fiction, including The Warren, Immobility (both Tor), A Collapse of Horses, and Windeye (both Coffee House).