from “From the Mouth”

So far I’ve been writing mostly process posts, observations drawn from my reading and writing experiences. Below I’ve included some “product” as well. The below excerpt comes from a first draft of a story that still needs a lot of work. The opening features Jim Busler, a dental hygienist who seems to like his job. He’s the hero of the piece, but there are several narrative shifts that will need massaging if my intent for the story might be considered successful. Enjoy! 

From the Mouth

Jim Busler whistles while he cleans patients’ teeth. The exam light shines down on a reluctant, sometimes fearful audience, and Jim performs his expert routine. He strives for perfection, hoping to display his mastery of the scraper and mirror, success or failure hanging in the experimental theater of a steady hand and a reclining chair: the gaping mouth, open below, and Jim readies the scaler, knowing each scrape will sound impossibly loud inside the patient’s head. They notice even the minutest pressure on their alveolar arches, the delicate oral cavity a landscape of nerves.


He knows that a hygienist’s job is to amuse and distract the patient, like a magician. A little sleight of hand and voila! Clean teeth for the dentist to inspect. The light stays on, and a new performer comes to the stage, the orator of truths, cavities, and overbites.

Some hygienists chatter, talking but not asking questions, which leaves the patient less inclined to speak. Jim followed suit when he was a student intern, talking a constant stream yet feeling silly the entire time. Nobody wanted to hear about his boring life or listen to his clumsy jokes, and he soon discovered that whistling worked better than chatter to cut through the silences. He struck upon the whistle by chance one day after a big lunch. He sat down and exhaled sharply, accidentally whistling, and he turned it into a tune to stave off embarrassment.

It quickly became his signature. When a patient came in, Jim scraped and whistled, and afterward he was all business. He explained how much plaque was built up and where the gums were starting to recede; he could explain proper brushing and flossing techniques or whether the patient should start avoiding coffee and soda. Jim loved his job because he loved helping people; the whistling calmed them down, and clean teeth made their lives better.


A new patient’s bad gums bleed at the slightest pressure. Periodontitis. The man has a surprisingly small jaw, and he obviously never had braces. Jim scales the teeth gingerly, careful with the plaque near each tooth’s cervical line.  God forbid the patient died in some horrible, disfiguring accident, the postmortem examiner would have no trouble ID’ing his dental records. Teeth are literally unique, one set unlike any other, and they always tell stories.

Jim reaches for the angled curette to clean the deep periodontal pockets, and he whistles “OblaDi” despite himself. He detests the song, but the jingle-jangle melody is impossible to forget, sometimes for days at a time. Of all the songs he whistles, it is the only one a patient has ever complained about. He ventures into “Martha My Dear” for a moment before forgetting the bridge, so he settles into “Get Back.” Good old “Get Back,” Jojo and Loretta’s driving shuffle of an odyssey. When Jim whistles an entire tune he winds up feeling like a cheap radio, but not with “Get Back.”

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