The Sternum Ties
It All Together

by Janna Miller

My teeth wandered off their tether in the night, bringing back the taste of calcium bones and morning dew. Their restraining square knot loosely retied into a sloppy figure eight.

I clicked on yellowing enamel with a fingernail. “Ha, you don’t fool me.”

My teeth, of course, said nothing, dozing in my gums. Dreaming of rabbits bounding through slippery Bermuda grass.

The next night, fur and toenails marked a trail from the swinging pet door to the neighbor’s side yard. I had enough time to dress and stuff remains into a grocery bag before first light. I clucked at the missing-dog sign duct-taped to the electric pole. “A shame.” I told my neighbors on our nightly walk. “I do hope they find him.”

I made sure my teeth had plenty to graze on at dinner and double-checked the knot before bed. “No funny stuff.” I admonished. “There’s still six more months left on the lease.” For a few days, the whole body rested and behaved. Hibernated. It was for the good of the whole, to rest.

But a week later I woke to sweetness dripping down my tongue, my stomach gurgling the last liquid from some overripe thing or other. 

I tightened my eyeballs, who liked to roam ancient carpets, searching for dropped pins and loose change. The anchor under my ribcage retracted and settled. Corneas recalibrated and aligned. They could find no evidence of my teeth’s latest encounter, inside or out. Teeth were messy, untamed, it was never good to find nothing. Not finding the bones meant they could not be burned or buried. Leading to the usual wrack and ruin.

I packed a bag, just in case.

The widow, not yet knowing she was one, came inside to cry into a cup of my tea. Lavender mixed with an oily slick of tears. “He wouldn’t just leave me.” She wailed.

No he wouldn’t. My teeth chattered on a porcelain edge, perhaps remorseful at last.

The widow’s eyes lingered on a space behind my shoulder, and then she bolted for the door, her words still hanging over boxed cookies. I turned at the smell of her empty space, to where she had been staring.

Ah. A wedding ring hung from a reddened splinter in the wood paneling. There we are.

Minutes later, the neighbors descended: the dog walking, tea drinking, pleasantly dressed suburbanites. They tied me with sisal garden rope and dragged me to the back storage shed. Monsters in their own way.

But my sneaky teeth loosened their tether again, never properly contained after all. Chewing like an axe through a softwood tree, incisors gnawed the twine, returning to me with straw toothpicks. My eyeballs rolled under the padlocked door as lookout.

“Thank you,” I said between stuck fibers.

I let slack all of the lines, releasing from the deepest place within—stretching me into a row of flesh and bone, no thicker than a skull. The rainwater pipes beckoned, dry and warm, and held me in their accordion pleats.

Perhaps it was time to move back to the countryside and the cushion of acres. Though I would miss the walks with friends. The time spent with those who held themselves together differently. What a racket they made, the neighbors, the police, trying to find me, as I waited nearby. They banged through shovels and empty pots, they tore through bags of soil and fertilizer. They upended the plot of buried tulips set to bloom in spring.

I was sorry about the man. He enjoyed talking about aphids.

In the small of the night, I regrouped, coming together loosely on the empty back lawn. Bits of me wobbled and drooped from distending, but I was able to shamble inside to retrieve my bag and its contents: my photographs, clothes, money, and extra-strength cordage.

To piece myself back together again.

Janna Miller is a librarian and minor trickster who takes no responsibility for exploding appliances. She enjoys all things words, her family, and intricately frustrating crafts.
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