[CN: blood, processing abuse]
When I’m alone and brushing my teeth I do it hard. It’s not intentional, not at first, just good hygiene. The plaque really can get in there and the sound of a dentist scraping at your enamel is awful, shrill and unexpected, like if a paper-cut could scream. I’m just brushing my teeth, and maybe there’s a sting and the foam turns a little pink. I don’t do it on purpose. The plaque is there and I hate that sensation, and I know I shouldn’t be brushing that hard because my mother once said something about gingivitis and I really do want healthy gums mom I don’t want Doctor Chang scraping my enamel any more than I need to but mom
I’m not doing it on purpose, I promise. I don’t mean to make myself bleed like that. Not on purpose. Not at first.
But see. If I stare at myself in the mirror too long I start to see things, start to think. And suddenly that’s not spearmint I’m tasting in my mouth but the tang of a battery, and I can feel that strange liquid grit when I lick the roof of my mouth, the backs of my teeth. I can taste her, still. She still lives in my mouth, in my mind. I feel her fingers plunging into my brain, reorganizing thoughts and twisting feelings. She’s in there and she’s Alive. I know she’s there because I can still taste her. Can still feel slick fluids on my chin.
I’m alone in that bathroom, over the sink, looking in that mirror. I am alone, have been alone. But she is still in my mouth.
I’m not doing it on purpose, I promise. But when I’m in the bathroom alone I look at myself in the mirror and I go to a dark place within my own body, somewhere that I haven’t yet exorcised and burnt incense in. I can feel the grit in my mouth, the dirt of my own grave, and even if I spit and spit it’s still hidden there, worked into the crevices of my anatomy. So I brush my teeth hard.
I brush my teeth hard enough that the foam turns pink, then red, then after a while it’s no longer foam. Just diluted red saliva dribbling out, inching its way to the drain. I turn on the water. I may not have an aversion to blood, but other people do, and they don’t need to see that when they’ve come here to be clean.
I’ve come here to be clean, too, and so I brush my teeth hard. Scratching at my gums until they bleed and my mouth tastes of iron.
This is cleanliness.
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A dark-skinned person with braided hair is brushing their teeth. Their fingernails are painted yellow and green. The illustration shows a close-up of their mouth with bleeding gums. In the larger depiction, a tiny fist extends through their mouth to grab some bristles on the green toothbrush.
Sophia Zarders is a freelance illustrator and comic artist from Long Beach, CA. Their editorial work has been published in The Nation, Socialist Review, Razorcake, and other independent publications. They have worked with the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together and the Long Beach chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America to create empowering art for social change. Sophia writes and illustrates the webcomic Jesus Freak and frequently tables at comic expos and zine fests in Southern California.
Brooklyn writer Eskandar Rohani-Pangilinan lives in a semi-permanent state of needing another cup of coffee. They write as much as they can when they're not being crushed by capitalism or depression. In a perfect world, Eskandar would spend their days eating sweets, watching documentaries, and eating more sweets. Catch them lurking around instagram and tumblr.