Lucy Zhang

There’s no floss after the zombie apocalypse


“Our teeth fall off one at a time for years and it’s totally fine.”

It doesn’t seem fine to her, but if that’s what dad says, it must be true. Her canines and two molars have already fallen out. Her jaw feels wobbly when she gnaws on pine bark. She spits bits of string back out. Why can’t we pound it into powder anymore? She’d asked but dad said not to waste energy. “How does it look?” She bares her teeth. “Don’t forget to smile,” dad replies, glancing over his shoulder.

They cook squirrels and birds until their bones are soft and marrow oozes out. That should be enough calcium, she thinks. Even her brittle teeth can snap through the cartilage, sink into the spongy parts. Maybe her jaw isn’t eroding, her teeth not shaking within their roots. A trick of the imagination. Like: the sky is blue. Blue, as in not ash, not red, not Deep Glaucous-Gray. Blue as in gas flames from a click-click-click stove they’d always need a lighter to get working. Blue as in the beta fish that hovered in a murky tank, maybe alive, maybe dead, tossed into the dirt all the same. Likely decomposed by now. Eaten by soil. It’s how everything returns to the earth, you know, the cycle of life.

It’s too different, she thinks. She never had to chew the congee and dried pork floss dad used to serve for breakfast. And she avoided the crunchy, pickled cucumbers and chili oil-soaked bamboo shoots—although dad would set those out regardless.

Teeth don’t grow back. They’re not living. Enamel only wears away. She smiles a yellow, temperature-sensitive smile. Eating cold or hot things feels like her gums are being electrocuted. The rationale behind remineralization: push calcium and phosphates back in with fluoride; it’s like applying band-aids to limbs blasted off from explosives. Dad kicks a rock. It rolls over weeds and stops at an open area of land. No trees, no grass, no wandering tumbleweed rocking back and forth. She walks to the area to pick up the rock, but dad stops her. “Don’t know if there’re nukes buried there,” he says. It’s the perfect spot for a mine to be hidden: flat, uncovered, easily buried, unfettered in reach. Supposedly the weapons have all been detected, removed, or detonated, but it’s a lie. Who even knows how to use electromagnetic induction sensors anymore? Derive algorithms with a statistical Bayesian approach? Ascertain the probability of death?

Her teeth wobble. Or her voice wobbles. Or her feet wobble. Some part is wobbling when she says “it’s ok” and walks toward the rock. The right way to floss is to curve around the base of each tooth, beneath the gum line. Bleeding gums don’t mean you’re too aggressive, but rather that you don’t floss enough. Your gums catch fire; you burn before you realize it. Unless you are too aggressive and actually cut into your gums. If you soak string in nail polish remover and set it on fire, it can even cut through glass. Maybe if she had flossed properly growing up. The clattering husk of joints and knobs unravels. She walks. Foot-to-ground impact vibrates up her neck.

“Come back,” dad calls. His teeth are yellow too. But he didn’t grow up with regular cleanings. Only went to the dentist when there were problems. Never flossed. Raised on water heavy with fluoride, so maybe that helped.

“You want me to be ugly,” she accuses him, trying to hide the gaps in her mouth with her lips as she speaks. The words come out muffled. Dad is always like that, not considering her feelings. After she’d been bitten, half-poisoned, he cut off the resulting tumor that had grown to the size of an onion. She has a scar leftover. It stretches across her belly button and itches whenever her shirt brushes against her skin. Neither of them are doctors, but she knows about minimally invasive surgery—how people used to cut and remove and patch up human insides through a tiny hole, how Da Vinci Surgical Robots slipped scalpels in and out of the body like a needle. She stomps her feet on the ground. Might as well let all her teeth fall out. Self-immolate later. See how dad can feed her bark and unsalted carcasses then. Dad begins to walk toward her. He’s probably in detonation range now.

Her teeth are still there, wobbling. The sky is blue. She stills her feet before heading back in his direction to stop him from getting closer.

Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in FIVES: A Companion to Denver Quarterly, The Boiler, Santa Fe Writers Project Quarterly and elsewhere, and is included in Best Microfiction 2021 and Best Small Fictions 2021. She edits for Barren Magazine, Heavy Feather Review and Pithead Chapel. Find her at https://kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

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