Tooth Worm

by Salvatore Difalco

2nd Place Winner – Flash 405, February 2024: “Host”


My tooth worm tickled me in the middle of the night. Had to get up and rinse my mouth with warm water. Warm water knocks it out. I’ve considered seeing a dentist about it, but I’m a little embarrassed I have a tooth worm, and I’d be even more embarrassed if he said I didn’t have one. That would challenge my interpretation of the world—that is to say, it would undermine the idea that I knew what the hell was going on, that I even had an inkling. A tooth worm? Seriously? But it’s true. I feel it moving around in my tooth. I can only imagine what it’s doing in there. Does it hurt? Heck yeah, it hurts. Sometimes. Like when it’s cold and I suck in too much air, it throbs, and not like a typical sore tooth. And, if I’m not losing my mind, at times I think I can hear the creature humming, or at least resonating in some fashion. I’d argue vehemently with a doubtful dentist that my tooth worm was very much present and alive. It resides in the lower (mandibular) right second molar—number 47 on the FDI scale, number 7 on the Palmer scale, and number 31 on the Universal scale. I’ve even given my tooth worm a name: Tommy. It feels like a Tommy, pushing around in there, squishing around. And I gather that Tommy is relatively happy. That he’s found a warm home, and has an adequate food supply. And as mentioned, I only need drink some warm water or milk and little Tommy conks out like an infant. I don’t drink coffee unless it has cooled. And I avoid acidic or salty foods. For instance, I used to indulge in salted pistachios. But recognizing that Tommy abhors saltiness—throbbing in protest—I’ve stopped eating them. Have I told anyone about this? Oh no. The existence of tooth worms has been called an old wives’ tale. Well, tell that to Tommy. Hey, Tommy! Are you home? Are you alive? Are you real? People say you’re not real. I feel Tommy thrashing about vigorously in response. Take it easy, Tommy, you’re hurting me. Indeed I’m tempted to rinse my mouth with warm water and put him to sleep. I’ve come to respect all life forms, big and small, and despite the difficulties and occasional hiccups, Tommy is welcome to stay as long as he wishes.



Judge’s Comments:
I love how this piece manages to be both mythical and grounded, its images flowing from bright to dark and bright again. The young narrator’s voice in juxtaposition with the bird and sky and their sorrow is both harrowing and beautiful.

Sicilian Canadian writer Salvatore Difalco currently lives in Toronto, Canada. His new book of poems Off Course is due out in 2025.

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Photo Credit: Ozkan Guner & Julian Zwengel