His wife said, Please, please just try it. And he said, Why are you making such a big deal about this? And she said, Why are you? It’s just flossing. And he said, Exactly. But she got upset. Our relationship, she said, is a river. It only flows one way, your way, and I’m tired of swimming upstream. He was about to say something, and then he stopped. He was difficult, but he loved his wife.
Fine, he said. I’ll floss.
His wife laughed in surprise.
He stood in the bathroom in front of the mirror and took the floss in his fingers. It felt natural, like swimming with the current. He pulled it through his bottom front incisors. As he did, he felt something crusty and chalky fall onto the floor of his mouth, under his tongue. He felt the same little bits of calcification break out of all of his front teeth, and then he felt the backs of his teeth with his tongue. It felt strange. He could feel the cracks between his teeth. They were now well-defined, distinct. He felt like a whale pressing its tongue against the long individual strands of baleen.
I might be getting into this flossing thing, he called to his wife.
He worked his way through the rest of the spaces between his teeth. His gums were inflamed, but he counted it a necessary part of the process. And then he came to a space between two of his back molars. He worked the floss in back there, but he felt that it wasn’t slipping all the way down, against the gum.
Hmmm, he hummed to his wife. I’m coming up against something a little out of my league.
He pressed down with the floss. Nothing budged. He pressed harder, and as he did, he received an electric shock of pain. He let go of the floss and gripped the sink. Something wasn’t right back there.
Yikes, he said. That hurts. Something’s really stuck way back in there.
Keep going, his wife said from the other room. You can do it.
He looked at himself in the mirror and saw shock still on his face, and then saw the floss hanging out of his mouth, and how thin the string was, and how small this problem was. He took up the floss again.
He worked at the thing, whatever it was. He re-gripped on the floss. He sawed. It hurt, but he pushed through. It was like he’d approached a paper screen, the kind you see cheerleaders burst through at basketball games in movies from the mid-century, but he’d found as he pressed it that instead of paper it was latex and that it gave at his touch. But he was a mascot for personal growth. He pressed on.
And then, having worked the floss so hard, he felt something give. He applied upward pressure with both thumbs on the floss, and the thing popped loose and landed in the middle of his tongue. As soon as this happened, the man felt intense relief. He nearly fell over in the bathroom. He sat down on the side of the tub. He had never known this kind of calm. It was as though the thing that now sat on his tongue had been there for years, maybe since adolescence. And that pressure was gone now. He couldn’t believe the relief.
He spit the thing into his hand. It was dull yellow, nearly golden. Lord knows what it was or used to be, he thought. He took a breath, brushed his teeth, and then went to his wife and kissed her.
This moment inspired him. He wrote a book about the experience. He spoke to college students and churches and business retreats. He was a new man and he had to let everyone know how he’d been changed.
And then, later, he stopped flossing.