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Shreya Khullar

How to Become Great and White


1. Go to the dentist.


You are here because your situation has started to appear rather bleak. Once you’re in the lobby, you look to the right and see a saltwater fish tank. Bubbles froth at the surface, creating a layer of creamy foam that you’re certain makes it hard for the fish to breathe. A child taps on the glass, increasingly determined to get a reaction, but the fish remain glassy eyed and stagnant, never looking directly at the child, always somewhere behind her. In the office you’re seated on a leathery chair and inspected by a hygienist, a lithe woman, blonde, apple-cheeked, who happens to be about your age and stunning. Her teeth are a brilliant white with canines pointed in a way that makes her look innocent and easy going. You briefly consider flirting before you remember you have someone at home who will be upset if you don’t show up to dinner at the promised 6:30 p.m., and then feel terribly guilty for the rest of your appointment for forgetting her, even if it was only momentarily. You are scheduled for a singular tooth extraction, but you know the dentist will find something inside you far more severe that requires immediate attention. When he looks into your mouth, he’s shocked to see two additional fully formed teeth anchored to the roof of your mouth. They weren’t there during your last visit, he says. They’re much sharper than the others. Do they hurt? No, not really. He props a mirror on his desk, angled so you can look for yourself. When you spot them, you notice the new growth. They have become larger, meaner. You feel stones drop into the pit of your stomach and you lurch forward. Two nurses have to reel you back onto the chair and everything after that happens swiftly. The dentist calls for an emergency extraction. They give you local anesthesia, but you swear you can still feel it all. From the wrench of your gums breaking, to the rinse water corkscrewing up your nose, the oral surgeon cracking through the rough surface of your mouth, mining all the way down the liquid core of your teeth.


2. Build a large, uncompromising wall.


You have come to a realization: anything can change at any moment. You may wake up one day with two extra teeth in your mouth. And perhaps tomorrow you will wake up to two more. One of the most important tools in your arsenal, you’ve come to realize, is the ability to smell blood from a mile away, to detect these slight disturbances that could puncture your unwavering daily routine. Still, the unpredictability of the commute from the dentistry to work irritates you. For around half an hour you have been delayed due to a freak accident, cars with their noses snubbed, laying upside down on the margins of the freeway. Several police cars are stationed around them, preventing you from seeing what’s ahead. You notice your finger tapping on the wheel the same moment you notice the fortieth stale minute pass by. Your boss would require an explanation for the delay, and, subsequently, your girlfriend would require an explanation on why you needed to provide an explanation. But for now, you are here. The line of cars ahead is unforgiving.


3. Never sit still.


When coming to America–New York, specifically–you never thought you’d end up like this: scrolling through tabloids (four articles opened at a time), paperwork (sweat slipping off your thumbs, blurring the fine print under it), and unread messages (your girlfriend thinks you spend too much time away, starts to believe you’re seeing someone else), while being the Chief Accounting Officer of a health insurance company. And suddenly it’s six p.m., and there has only been one headline that caught your attention for more than three minutes. “Scientists Find Great White Shark and Human Proteins Strikingly Similar.” You learn these sharks must be in constant forward motion to breathe. Their gills don’t function otherwise. You learn humans have never successfully placed one in captivity because of this mutation, with most sharks dying during transportation, suffocating in constrictive tanks. Maybe you’re akin to them, not only through biology, but through your shared, innate craving for movement. You believe, briefly, that you could be the first to truly catch one, to have it not only survive the journey, but flourish under your care, but, then again, there are still so many things sprawled across your desk, left undone.


4. Think about your inability to text back.


You receive the message on your way home. “I want to make this work.” When did she learn to kill your thoughts so quickly?


5. Have sex with your girlfriend.


She shouts at you when you get back, says you need to make it up to her. You’re four years deep into the relationship but you still pretend to act cool, aloof, forgetful. She pulls her pants down and you turn away, thinking about that spot of ketchup on the kitchen counter, what you’re having for breakfast tomorrow, that time you went to the dentist, anything. She starts to cry. You don't think I’m pretty anymore? she says, more statement than question. For once, you can’t distract yourself. You bury your face between her legs until you can’t hear your own breathing. You do this every day until (and who can blame you?) your mouth is full of teeth, and you finally learn to carve gills into the barren valleys of your neck.

 

Shreya Khullar is a writer from Iowa City, Iowa. Her work has been published in The Rising Phoenix Press, Pigeon Pages, The Wildness Journal, and more. She served as the Inaugural Iowa Student Poet Ambassador for the 2021-2022 school year and is a student at Columbia University.


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