Ian Goodale

A Miniature Revolution

           Every morning the mirror, dirtied by detritus accumulated over innumerable weeks of neglect, stared back at him like a confused bird, as if he disoriented or disturbed his own reflection. He could barely bring himself to look into his mouth.
           Joseph had recently become aware that his teeth had developed personalities of their own, without warning or explanation—and, moreover, that they were embroiled in what seemed to be a shared, implacable resentment. For various reasons, but with a unified intensity, they all hated him. He was unable to assuage them: they screamed insults and brooded silently, spat out cutting remarks and stewed in shared, petty grudges. As soon as one disagreement was smoothed over with a coat of quick-drying peace a new crack would appear in the paint, and the endless war would resume.
           Some said he failed to clean them properly, others decried his overzealous brushing, which was beginning to cause gum recession; some said he was too distant, others that he was too affectionate; his hatred and love alike were empty, empty, empty. His emotions were a cheap parlor trick meant to fool them, but which failed miserably at every turn. An insult—grave, cheap, a brash attempt at cunning—a sickness; it was enough to make them vomit. And some of them indeed did, pushed into physical illness by their mouth-owner’s insidious immorality. He felt the small rivulets of refuse spill down his throat, and could only gulp in disgust.
           The hatred and distrust had grown in proportion to their personalities developing. He couldn’t place a cause for their sudden anthropomorphizing (although they protested this characterization of their transformation: they refused to consider their individuation a distinctly human characteristic). It had simply happened, without concern for his incomprehension, and had progressed so rapidly it made his head spin. And so he stood, back stooped and shoulders tensed, a perpetual subject to their complaints and protestations.
           Some of the teeth had fallen in love. One of the couples eventually tried to elope down his throat (the others were, for unknown reasons, opposed to the marriage), apparently seeking to forge a new life for themselves down in the stomach. He coughed them back up, as they had tickled his throat in their hasty attempt to escape the mouth; and this was the final straw. Rather than rejoicing that the rebellious couple had been thwarted, the tooth community viewed this as a grave affront to the autonomy of their existence: they united, formally declared their sovereignty, and began to organize a militia to engage in violence against their captor. Joseph tried to deescalate the situation by proposing a peace treaty, but for some reason this only enraged them more. They resolved to wage total and asymmetrical warfare against his person.
           His lungs were hit first. Sudden coughing fits, caused by little bombs the teeth had constructed from bits of gum tissue and food detritus they had been hoarding. Pieces of a chicken bone served as shrapnel that was then lodged in his lungs. Poor Joseph; if this continued he wouldn’t last much longer. He pleaded with them for peace, offered them control of his body, got down on his knees in front of the mirror and pleaded with them, peering anxiously into his mouth to attempt to glimpse their response—and received only militant laughter in reply. Their war was grave, uncompromising.
           The teeth’s further attacks were, when cumulatively taken, even more devastating. Gums were torn to shreds, rashes broke out from chemical warfare (they had been engineering his daily multivitamins into weaponized substances), and he was barraged with sleeplessness, nausea, general malaise, bone tremors, and so on—a cornucopic host of symptoms. He called into work sick until he was out of leave. Eventually he became bedridden, stuck at home, lonely and on the brink of death.
           He passed away when, finally, one of the teeth’s routine batterings of his spinal column led him to breathe his last. It wasn’t a particularly brutal attack, just the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. They were overjoyed; they cheered, shouted, lifted overflowing glasses in a toast to total victory; many of them cried out of sheer happiness and relief that their struggle was finally over.
           But soon the teeth began to feel weak. Many of them were subject to the same coughing fits and nausea and general, vague illness that they had inflicted upon the now-defunct Joseph. As his body decayed they grew sicker; they began to realize that, despite their calls for autonomy, they were still essentially rooted in the dead tyrant’s gums. And as those gums swelled up with the bloating of the corpse, and eventually began to rot, the teeth gradually passed away, too, just like their former ruler.
           The insurgents tried to keep the story of their struggle alive with the ants and flies that had congregated on the corpse, hoping to pass on what they thought was a very brave and inspiring story of resistance to the foragers eating away at the body. But none of the bugs wanted to listen, or cared about what the teeth had to say. Indeed, some of them even laughed and called the guerillas foolish, so obviously shortsighted that they deserved only mockery, not memory; they were jesters who were too pitiful even to evince a laugh out of pity, sad and lonely clowns stripped of their makeup and outfits but still performing their familiar tricks and routines, miming and dancing to the deathly silence of their own void of joy, of life.
           The last two teeth to die were the couple who had kickstarted the revolution by attempting to elope. They died arm-in-arm, whispering sweetly to one another, embracing each other’s death-chilled bodies as they themselves were embraced by their final end, engulfed in the cremating flames that tore through Joseph’s body like the dancing, gnashing teeth of a vengeful god, turning both tyrant and rebel to ash in one fell crush of all-swallowing fire.

Ian Goodale's work has appeared in Web Conjunctions, Drunken Boat, Gone Lawn, and The Gravity of the Thing, in addition to other journals. He works as an academic librarian in Austin, TX, where he lives with his wife and children. His website can be found at www.iangoodale.com.
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