BY SCHULER BENSON
From her black leather bag, Miranda produces the kit she carries in the event she has to do it. Removed from the velour pouch, her mercilessly sterile retainer case is placed on the tile counter and opened. Miranda reaches in and removes the two trays, upper and lower, from the home bleaching kits she buys four at a time, which typically last her six months. Ever careful of the dental note her father to this day totes, she pries apart her lips and slides in the trays, biting down softly but firmly until everything clicks into place. Again fingering the velour pouch, she removes the pièce de résistance , the perfect implement: a brushed plastic, half-scale model replica speculum she ordered from a novelty magazine. Long-ways and wide, the replica is a perfect fit for her mouth and throat, and in instances when she’s not purged in several days, its effect is instantaneous.
Miranda’s read on websites about those who opt for water and salt, those who grab whatever’s handy, toothbrushes and hairbrushes and shower brushes, and those who rest on the old standby of two fingers and a lean. Then there are those who can just do it on command, a skill Miranda would gladly pay green money to cultivate. Fortunately she’d found the speculum, spent the cash, and never looked back. Indeed, a worthy investment.
Prior to gracefully kneeling before the stylish taupe toilet, Miranda turns the sink’s hot water high, and, in realizing the presence of a vent, flips the switch next to the light, burrowing into white noise as it hums to life. Hearing no footsteps (she is surely alone, with so much attention still on the cash bar), she kneels forward, her spine s-curving between a leaning torso and an upward-angled face, careful to keep any of her vomit from escaping into the rogue channel of her nose. She slides the speculum into her and welcomes the first familiar spasm from above the cradle of her hips. Then great release.
In chemical matrimony, a bouquet of medium-well steak medallions, braised scallops, garlic mashed potatoes, and some kind of creamy reduction marries with the tangy acid of Miranda’s tired stomach, and the battle that doubles back through her mouth for the second time in the course of an evening is cleansing and brief. Like a finishing runner grinning at the wound that cost his closest competitor the race, Miranda acknowledges with pride and small guilt that she cannot remember the last time she audibly gagged. She beams in the wake of conflict, smacking copper between her tongue and the roof of her mouth and crossing her eyes quizzically at the round hippo-tooth studs beneath the toilet seat. She braces again.
The same websites that talked about the methods also talked about the rips. Jeannie, a dwarf Miranda met in treatment, who was ugly anyway, once sustained what she called a Boerhaave perforation. She nearly bled to death. It nearly killed her. But Jeannie described (borderline romanticized) agony, not the tinny, hot tingle Miranda now felt in her lower chest. Heaving a third time, Miranda’s sick gives way to a total lack of banquet steak and potatoes, consisting instead of a slimy, pink froth she guesses to be half mucus and half blood. Tinny, hot tingle. Waves of endorphin radiance. Dark red mood. Miranda shudders, swallows, and commands composure from somewhere beneath her delicate digestive tract. She assures herself that if she can make it back to the hotel without Rance or any of the party guests noticing any glaring change in her demeanor, she’ll be able to sneak back out under cover of midnight to find an urgent care after his Ambien takes hold. That is, if need be.
Throwing back her head to chase a cable of cocaine that never was, raven black, cured tendrils shining in tow, Miranda sets her speculum onto the counter tiles, shifts her shoulders to the rear and allows unchecked momentum to raise her to her feet. She turns the gushing faucet’s yield down to a calming trickle, then produces from the front pocket of her black leather bag a one-ounce squeeze bottle of hand sanitizer, squirting pea gravel-sized dabs in the palm of each hand, then rubbing those hands together, clockwise then counter-clockwise, somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty-seven times, until the liquid has dried and her hands are pristine and filthless. Half-smiling and half-grimacing, anticipating a gut-check that may or may not come, she juts out her rounded chin and removes her dental trays, then places them to the immediate left of the speculum on the naked counter, after which Miranda commences the ritualized wipe-down. Brownish-clear, a TAA-approved squirt bottle that holds her alcohol gurgles as it spits its redeemer onto waiting cotton Miranda produces from her pouch. She wipes her trays, she wipes her speculum, she wipes it all again, and then again, a third time charming the process. As always. Immaculate, Miranda snaps her retainer case shut and bundles her instruments. She slides them, one by one, into the gaping mouth of the velour pouch, pulling its braided purple drawstring tight, then running a milky thumb over the high school mascot that emblazons the velvet substitute.
Always nestling and never shoving, Miranda returns her kit to its habitat in the depths of her Coach bag, then slings the bag over her shoulder. She lets her eyes dance with her reflection in the bathroom mirror of the northwest corner of the second floor of the governor’s mansion. Tongue licks red lips, hands slide up and over ribs to waiting breasts, pulling each forward, then tucking slightly for accentuation. Miranda is a ten. Winking, she shifts her focus to the glistening leather bag that hangs from her shoulder to the level of her narrow waist. It looks haphazardly positioned. Miranda grins, as it most certainly is not.
Schuler Benson studies creative writing at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. His work is currently featured on Fat City Review, with pieces to be published this summer on Hobart and Thunder Clap Press.