The Big Brick Review 2015 Essay Contest:
Hon. Mention ($50)

Building on the narrative of our brick at a time.

My Love Affair With Annabelle Banner

by Carol Edelstein

FIRST IT MUST be said that she, my dental hygienist, Annabelle Banner, is one of only nineteen living persons who have touched me deeply inside my personal space, and we did it on the very first encounter, when I was thirty-four, newly divorced, finally had a job with dental insurance, and had woken up to the fact that I had only one set of choppers—and they were endangered.  Periodontal disease.  Jawbone begins to deteriorate and teeth embedded in it loosen and eventually fall out.  No cure.  Luck of the draw.  Genetic predisposition.  Mouth chemistry, helped along no doubt by all the candy I’ve eaten: I’m a sugar baby.  But I’ve made a religion of flossing, handling the sacraments twice daily; use expensive equipment to massage my gums, and all this can temporarily slow down or even pause the eventual damage.

Of course death comes to everyone, sometimes racing in while the mouth is still in its prime.  In my case, my mouth is significantly older than the rest of me, so I see Annabelle.  Annabelle Banner, Annabelle Banner, her name itself a song.  Sometimes when I want a soothing mantra, and anadama and hullabaloo and Sweet Cynthiana and the Cellar Doors are all taken, I just repeat Annabelle Banner, Annabelle Banner, and without fail I feel better. 

Things I have learned about Annabelle Banner over the years:  she has a son, Bobbie Banner, now well launched, quite a hunk, a caring friend, popular with the others, an athlete.  He has a learning disability and as a youngster he had a hard time reading and keeping up with his class.  Annabelle devoted afternoons and evenings to helping him and cheerleading his efforts.  When Bobbie was in first grade Annabelle’s husband left her very abruptly for reasons unknown.  I had a lot of opinions about this, but fortunately my mouth was full because by two appointments later Bobbie Sr. was back, begging her forgiveness and wanting a second chance.  Annabelle loved him all the way through that and said of course come back, and to this day he still knows he owes Annabelle big time and shows it.  My mouth was full during all this.

They vacation in Maine.  Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.  Ogunquit and Kennebunkport.  Also a lovely mantra.  Annabelle went back to school when her son was old enough to manage in the afternoons and she got her associate’s degree and then her Bachelor’s.  She wrote a term paper on hermaphodites.  There are a surprisingly large number of babies born with the sex organs of both genders.  And a choice must be made.  My mouth full during all that.  But I have expressive eyebrows.

Sometimes I think Annabelle knows me very well, even though she’s gotten only a smidgen of autobiographical information out of me due to the fact that, most of our time together, my mouth is full.  She does of course have my medical history and knows I have suffered with depression, bi-polar illness, and that my thyroid is in need of a daily boost.  She knows that I am a social worker, a writer, that I remarried, that I really picked the right one this time, that I have two stepchildren and that I like to camp.  She always asks about my stepchildren—where they are, what they’re up to—but my answers must be brief.  She has a full schedule.  While she’s inside my mouth doing a zillion things thoroughly and methodically, she’s also popping away to herd the dentist around to various other rooms because he doesn’t have a highly developed ability to see the whole picture.  He’s great at one mouth at a time, but he depends on Annabelle to keep him oriented to time and space in the office.

After college Annabelle decided to go to beauty school and now she has a thriving side business doing facials and something called ear candling which I looked up on the internet and would never do unless, perhaps, in the expert hands of Annabelle. Placing a lit candle in the ear canal to improve well-being?  It seems risky and of questionable efficacy.  I would say it is a kind of cross between using an Ouija board and fire walking.  But my mouth is full as I hear about it and Annabelle is just fine with my noncommittal—but interested--grunts and murmurs.

What else do I know about Annabelle Banner?  She lives in Greenfield, she’s a good sleeper, she laughs easily and often, she has long brown hair framing her wide open, very clean face.  Dental hygienists know their subjects get a really close up view of their faces, so if they’re smart they exfoliate and depilate and moisturize and ultimately go for the fresh, natural look.

Annabelle Banner’s father died in 1995 of cancer.  It took him slow and terrible, Annabelle by his side.  She’d already lost her mother, who had been her best friend.  Her cantankerous father mellowed at the end, and she felt their old difficulties finally just weren’t important.  And her son was heartbroken, heartbroken.  

It’s funny, she said, how her father had had such patience with her son. He’d never before shown himself to be a patient man.
Feathery eyelashes has my Annabelle Banner, wet with tears.  But no, she not crying, she’s just having a slight allergic reaction to gluten, she’s not supposed to eat muffins but sometimes the other hygienist bakes them and brings them in to the office and who can resist?

A metal crook hangs from my lower right quadrant and suctions water away, while in my upper left quadrant Annabelle aims the power washer full bore at all those little God-knows-whats that could make trouble later, but I smile at her with my eyes, and with my eyes I do agree that without that occasional forbidden homemade wild blueberry muffin, what indeed would life be, Annabelle, Annabelle, Annabelle Banner.

Carol Edelstein brushes and flosses twice daily, even when camping. She is a founder of Gallery of Readers, <>, a nonprofit literary organization which publishes books and sponsors a reading series in Northampton, Massachusetts.  Carol is the author of The World Is Round (Amherst Writers and Artists Press, 1994) and The Disappearing Letters (Perugia Press, 2005).

"Ready" photo © 2015 Gregory Gerard


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