Cottonmouth

by | Feb 4, 2020 | Fiction, Issue Thirteen

Colin woke up strapped to a cold, steel table, wrists and ankles bound with thick leather. Bleary, he squinted to see beyond the mucus-yellow halo beaming down from a jerry-rigged fixture, his mouth crammed and eerily hollow. He wondered how they looked. How much had survived.
            Hola, danced a voice from the dark. Como estas?

            He wrestled his lips, but couldn’t answer. The surgeon stepped into the light.

            They’ll be sticky a few days. Like, how do you say? New shoes.
            A small, delicate boy appeared tableside, unlashed Colin, then led him by the strings of his stained, raggedy gown to the broom/recovery closet, leaving promptly to commence post-surgery procedures: vinegar spritz, wipe with a greasy rag, and a quick sweep. Once the door had closed,      Colin worked his jaws till they snapped apart, tripping a curious fingertip along rows of enamel filed to interlocking knives. A degree from a Nicaraguan vet college hung crooked in a plastic frame, between shelves of paper towel and a cluster of grey, stinking mops.

            The ad had read:

Tired of Regular Cosmetic Surgery? We SPECIALIZE in Transformations.

            The surgeon waltzed in without knocking, humming something jaunty and Latin, and plopped on a bucket, jamming his fingers in without asking – poked, rubbed, squinting through cracked drugstore bifocals. Satisfied, he patted Colin’s cheek.
            Muy bueno. You should be very happy.
            Can I see?
            The surgeon aimed his flip phone. Colin nearly bit off his tongue attempting a smile.

            He owned the sidewalk, striding confidently, beaming at snarling dogs and passersby – folks in heavy coats, scarves obscuring faces, hats pulled low, terror pouring from their eyes. On a corner, he heard his name through falling snow; his pal Tom waved from the other side. The light changed, and pedestrians rushed across like the other side was July.

            Colin smiled as he approached. You like? Just had em done.

            Tom recoiled.

            What’s wrong? Colin said.

            Weird choice for a guy who can’t get a date.

            They cost a lot.

            Tom shrugged. Too late for a refund?

            Colin stomped off, choosing to distance himself from unwanted negativity. He didn’t need anyone’s opinion besides his own, which was why he’d chosen San Cristobal Pet Hostel and Grooming’s afterhours service for his elective surgery in the first place. Desperate for another first impression, he ducked in a café for something to warm his hands and a captive audience. Approaching the counter, he beamed at the blue-haired barista, milking a silent shriek from his cat-eye contacts; he ordered a hot lemon water, and dropped in a seat by the window. A woman perched cross-legged on a sofa, typing madly. She glanced, and he grinned.
            Those’re amazing, she said. They real?
            His eyes popped like bloodshot umbrellas – unable to answer, his fangs jammed. She scowled, returned to typing. Colin sprinted to the john, slammed and locked the door, grappling with his teeth, knocking the bottle of artisanal hand soap to the floor, then the bowl of locally-sourced mints. His teeth snapped apart.
            Damn, he said, flexing his bottom jaw in the mirror. I look cool.

            He wet his hands, dried them on his pants, then hurdled the mint-pocked pool of costly, pumpkin-scented ooze, determined to try again.

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