Header Image

Hungry Teeth

by Carissa Jean Mares

It’s the summer and the ocher haze of the high desert settles into our young skin whenever our sweaty arms accidentally touch each other. Fingernails perpetually laden with dirt and raw emotion. We laugh at Lucia’s pet turkey as it follows us around the back yard. We are too young to realize the cost of being poor, but we enjoy the feeling of sand between our toes when we are scolded to take our shoes off as we enter the house.

The blue carpet is worn but still looks new every time Lucia’s mother vacuums it. If she’s feeling creative, she tries to get the pattern of light and dark fibers to line up. But often her bones are too tired and her stomach holds the weight of knowing her marriage is dissolving like dust mites in a sunbeam.

Spooning macaroni and cheese into our mouths with plastic forks while our sticky thighs grip the overstuffed furniture of the living room. Lucia points at the television and claims to know the person being interviewed on the news. Her skin smells like grapefruit and shimmers in the moonlight. I feel my teeth growling.


I hold Lucia in my arms, her bony frame hollows into mine. This is the touch we are allowed. All mammals huddle. She nestles her greasy forehead into my collarbone and closes her eyes as the movie scares her. Or perhaps she is faking.

Across the room from us, Nathan sits on the large couch, alone. He is in the middle, partially sprawled out. There is a sexual tension that hangs over the three of us like an art deco chandelier – all dripping and glowing.

Nathan and I stare at each other. Inside him is a danger that feels like a knife carving up my spine and feeding myself to me. His eyes are warm and hunting for something that I desperately want to give him. I hold Lucia tighter, our bodies clanking together like bird bones. A stunning sensation runs up and out of my womb when she rubs her thumb back and forth against my forearm.

Later that night I get my period and throw up.


At church, Lucia and I always sit together. Except for when we don’t. Sometimes she is better friends with Cecilia, and I get jealous but I call it something else. Cecilia has the perfect kind of red hair, auburn ringlets that jostle happily around her freckles and gapped front teeth.

We are all scrawny bean poles, wobbly knees and gangly limbs that haven’t grown up yet. But Cecilia is somehow thinner than all of us and I sometimes feel like I could crush her skull with my thumbs if I gripped hard enough.

Every time Lucia sits next to Cecilia I feel a weight inside of my chest like my ribcage is trying to saw itself in half. The sound of bees fills my ears as the pastor is trying to talk to us about what it means to be a good Christian.

Apparently, what it means to be a good Christian is to go out and talk to strangers. Even when you live in a town where everyone knows each other. You still have to do it. Even if you’re only sixteen and can still barely see over your steering wheel as you pull into the fluorescent parking lot of the one grocery store in town. You still have to do it. You especially have to do it because you spent most of the week feeling bitter with the burnt taste of jealousy lining your gums. And because Lucia has agreed to go with you, so you can hold each other’s hands and trust that everyone around you will know you are just very good friends who are scared.


I remember walking down the hall from her bedroom. We both liked to sleep late and our parents were too busy to care what we did on the weekends as long as we were quiet. The sun being so close and the sky being so big, I would keep my eyes sealed as I tiptoed from her bed to the bathroom. My bladder throbbing with every step. From the hallway I hear her mother laugh deep and dark, her voice drifting over me like smoke in a ritual I don’t understand. It gets in my nostrils and I fight through the cloud of it to open the bathroom door.

Since it is summer, we spend every day together. Arms interlinked. Heads resting on shoulders. Hair that’s the same color wafting into each other. Lucia is taller than I am by a few inches. Her breasts are bigger than mine and I think I am jealous until she takes off her shirt during a jog and I watch her sports bra for too long. My mouth salivates and I tell myself it is hot and I should drink more water.

We paint our cars. It’s the first time we feel like we actually own something, that feeling of possession takes over and rattles around in our teeth and cheekbones. Mine has stars. Hers has checkers. Our town where everyone knows each other knows that we are best, best, best friends. And the summer drips down our skin and past peach fuzz and precious baby hairs and finds its way into the cracks between my hip bones.


It is at the end of summer that Lucia tells me her parents are divorcing. I ask why but what I really want is to hold her. She is mad at her mother for making the decision, but in reality her father has been gambling away everything the family owns on internet poker. Lucia can’t go to college and her younger siblings will have nothing but the clothes they’re currently wearing. Food doesn’t enter her house for over a week but she tells me she has always wanted to be smaller anyway.

Sometimes when I try to call Lucia, her younger sister will answer and tell me that Lucia isn’t home. I ask where she is, but her sister just shrugs and hangs up on me and I feel the ringing in my ears of the receiver crashing for days. Without her fingers to rub my forearm my body is a wild ghost throwing itself onto the rocks that even nature has abandoned. I howl in my sleep and scare my mother.


I go over to Nathan’s house more and more often. I am not supposed to. The youth pastor says lust is a sin and looking at this boy more than once is sure to send me to hell. But I like the way his hair swoops over half of his face and his eyes hold onto hope even when his house fills up with holes punched out by his family.

I don’t have the guts to tell him my life is hard too, so he thinks I am spoiled and sheltered. He doesn’t know that fingers and penises have wiggled inside me without my permission and I’ve never kissed anyone.


By fall I park my car next to Lucia’s in the parking lot of our high school. She has painted over the checkers but I know it is hers. Touching the roof, I flinch from the heat. My palm immediately scars a giant, round, maroon gash that’s out for blood and wreckage.

I see her kissing Chris with the bowl cut hair in the front seat. Something inside my stomach turns jet black and slimy and slithers around my intestines. I hate Chris with the bowl cut hair and never speak to him again, even though we share several classes together. He does not seem to notice this punishment.


At night I wake up thinking about Lucia’s hair. I miss her bony arms in my hands. Her smile was always too big for her face. It is just as well since she has stopped talking to me. Everything in her life is Chris with the bowl cut hair. They are in love and I spit up something that looks like tar.

I try to cuddle Cecilia but it doesn’t feel the same. Her hair captures my secrets and repeats them back to my sisters and brothers and parents. We watch my favorite movie and at the end of it she tells me she thinks I am weird. My mouth fills up with the taste of a metal rod that’s been outside for too long. Rusted iron sticks to my tongue.

I never try to cuddle Nathan. I am afraid of his rejection.


By the end of fall our pastor admits to the grievous sin of adultery and we all wonder if he and his wife will get divorced. This sends Lucia into a snot-filled tail spin. She tries to come to me to talk about it, but I feel nothing. My insides have stopped tasting like metal, my guts have dried up.

I also know that our pastor is lying. He has actually put his fingers and penis inside someone else and wiggled them around without her permission.

I do not tell this to Lucia because she can’t hear me anymore. If we don’t see each other every day we begin to disappear, quickly evaporating in the desert atmosphere. And since we haven’t spoken in weeks, each time we try to open our mouths to say something to the other one of us begins to fade. When she tries to tell me what it’s like to have to bathe and feed her younger siblings while her mother is out tiptoeing down gravel back roads, my hands disappear and I run away terrified.

Instead, Lucia now talks to Chris with the bowl cut hair and he kisses her and calls her baby and promises he’s a good man.


It is almost winter and our church is trying to find its way forward. The lectures of what women must wear have subsided, but a new fear has broken out amongst the crowd. We have a newcomer and he has a secret that he’s only told to Chris with the bowl cut hair. This newcomer sits in the back corner, his left eye is swollen shut and his wrists are still full of razors. A pincushion on display for all of us to know better.

Chris with the bowl cut hair stands at the center of our church and tells us the story of the newcomer. How the newcomer has struggled with feelings of same sex attraction. Chris with the bowl cut hair chews to get these words out of his mouth, like gristle is stuck between his teeth. He reminds us that no one in this church should ever have these feelings. He doesn’t say it to make any of us feel better. We all turn to look at the newcomer with his teeth falling out and blood dripping down his chin. He looks back at us and tries to ask for help but we are all too scared of getting caught.

Chris with the bowl cut hair announces he will be moving away to become a pastor and Lucia will be joining him. She won’t be turning into a pastor, of course, but she will be marrying him. She stands at the front of the church holding his hand. We haven’t spoken to each other in months and I can tell I am transparent to her. My skin goes translucent and her eyes never find mine. She only hugs Cecilia on her way out of town.

I am not invited to the wedding. Cecilia goes and her hair tells me the Bible verses read during the ceremony were the ones about how a wife needs to be obedient and there was no alcohol allowed since the bride and groom were only nineteen. I stay in bed for three days.


Lucia smiles in all her photos. Her five children look like fat potatoes and I want to shove dirt down their throats and eat them. Chris with the bowl cut hair is also in some of these pictures and seeing his rodent face makes me feel the warmth of vomit crawl up my esophagus.

I return to these images often, finding myself unable to look away from them. The time spent apart from each other causes her to begin to disappear from her own photos. Often, I scroll all the way to the end of her posts and there’s not a single image of herself in any of them. Just lined up bulky potatoes and a rat.

At night, I ache and moan and wonder if I’ll ever feel whole again. The sheets wrap around me like twisting vines, pulling me deeper into the earth. The ghost of Nathan appears in a stain on my bedroom ceiling and watches me wrestle with my linens.


My fingers are dripping, the walls of my vagina fold around and embrace them. I wonder if Lucia has ever touched herself. We were raised not to. She didn’t even use tampons in high school. I once had to show her how an applicator worked. Afterwards, she told me she was so embarrassed she just threw the whole thing away and wadded up some toilet paper. I remember being mad because my mom only bought me small tampons because she thought my periods would be like hers but I inherited a cursed womb from my father’s side of the family.


I envision walking up the steps to her house. One of her seven children is bleating on the porch, the oldest daughter is taking care of the younger ones. None of them are wearing shoes and all of their hair is the color of my hair. The oldest daughter stares at me with eyes that look like my mother’s and she asks me who I am. I explain I am an old friend of Lucia’s and she just shakes her head no at me.

“He ate her up,” she says and she points at Chris with the bowl cut hair. He sits hunched over a femur, sucking the marrow out and sipping a beer to chase it. The salty sweet brine like summertime on his skin as it dribbles down and slicks his fingers. The smacking sound of his mouth turns my stomach and I stare at him. He just continues to chew.

My stomach growls, a low and turgid grumble like thunder. Before any of us are aware of it, I lunge at Chris with the bowl cut hair and knock his beer from his grasp. The hissing sound of foam swirls around us and one of his seven daughters starts to wail.

With an iron grip I wrap my hands around the base of his throat, my thumbs fish for the jugular vein. His eyes bulge and go beet red with the bursting of blood vessels. His oldest daughter just stares at me, barefoot and sullen. I sink my teeth into his flesh, they are so hungry and they’ve waited so long. They have been crying out for this, but I didn’t know it. His blood dribbles down my chin and I feel a warmth enter into me that I’ve been longing for but haven’t named.

As I chew on his cheek mass and pop an eyeball into my mouth, I giggle. I hand the oldest daughter the other eye and she splits it in half, sharing with her sisters. I begin to sing to them the song of their mother. How her hair was deep brown and her skin smelled like beachside citrus, so much so I still wake up at night craving water with lemon and salt. Her eyes were green and she was born with long teeth and arms and legs that she would never grow into.


I wake up covered in blood several miles away from where fireworks are going off for the new year. My hands are caked with mud and ground up bits of bone. Viscera is stuck to me like tiny pancakes. I stand up and walk towards the exploding lights, tasting grapefruit and honey.

Carissa Jean Mares is an emerging author with a desire to poke at the gorgeous and gruesome. She has had photographic works published in Girls Like Us and Grimoire magazine. Currently, you can find her lovingly annoying her partner and their ornery cat in the hills of Woodacre, CA.

stop here