The world had become mostly silent in the months since people’s voices had vanished. It was as though everyone had collectively vowed to remain as silent as possible out of respect for the memory of speech. People turned the volumes off on their televisions, so that every old movie and broadcast was now just a collection of scenes of people living quietly, reading one another’s lips, and moving throughout the world with one another, seemingly without reason or direction. People tip-towed and only seldom yelled, as when they were startled, or in pain.
After they lost their voices, the need to eat was the next to go. It was as if everyone’s mouths had decided, one afternoon, to become obsolete, like VHS tapes or bloodletting. For a while people kept eating out of habit, fear, and confusion. Some made meals as just a way to break up the day. Eventually, however, the pointless consumption felt morbidly extravagant, as the act of mouthing soundless words to one another had only months before. Grocery stores closed, and farmers wandered their fields, kicking at weeds, and over-oiling rusted equipment.
Eventually, all the useless teeth began to fall out from lack of use. The little nubs of calcium accumulated in the bottoms of dumpsters and on the street, where people had spit them out like old bubblegum gone bland through over-chewing. For the particularly sentimental, teeth were wrapped in cloth or napkins and tucked below the few pairs of sexy underwear at the bottoms of drawers where nobody would find them again. Children collected their teeth as they dropped. They faithfully deposited them under pillows in the hopes that they would change to money overnight. Eventually, though, even the young gave up pretending and everybody’s mouth was left a red, wet cave of sensitive gum, only used for the occasional deep breath or sudden cough.
Within a month, tooth jewelry began to be sold. Without the use of speech, a new form of television broadcasting that combined pantomime and subtitle was created. Broaches studded with molars, or gold rings covered in the whitest canines money could buy, soon hung from the bodies of the wealthy and famous as they pranced about on silent televisions. Voiceless approval and awe filled the cities of the world.
A new luxury economy arose, and the value of teeth quickly overtook that of diamonds or gold. Many of those who hadn’t already lost their teeth pulled them out to sell for small fortunes. The particularly desperate had their children’s teeth removed as soon as they grew in and sold them to jewelers in Manhattan and Paris. In poorer neighborhoods the only sound which could be heard was the crying of newborns who didn’t know better, as their mouths were excavated by black market dentists.
The rate of unemployment was reduced slightly as the laws governing the exhumation of bodies were restructured to allow for what became the tooth mining industry. Those with buried loved ones could pay to have a professional dig through the mouths of recently exhumed aunts, nephews, and grandmothers. The remains of those with no living relatives became the property of the state.
Alongside the exhumation and manipulation of the dead, new religious groups formed. These groups, calling themselves Dontists, overlooked many of their previous differences to focus on the correct and rightly-written use of teeth and the now dormant vocal-digestive structures of the body. In the early days of what some came to call “The Silencing” many religious groups claimed that the disappearance of speech and appetite was a punishment for Godlessness, the intermingling of cultures, or some other of the various immoralities. In the wake of the lost teeth, useless stomachs, and absolute vocal silence, the Dontists saw loud, messy, and copious eating as a sacrament. Weekly feasts were observed with particularly Dionysian glee. Dontist followers could be recognized by their mouths stained red by a combination of copious and mandatory eating, and the blood that came from gums and mouths run raw through forced chewing without teeth. In what began as simple indigestion in response to bodies unable to digest the food they ate, soon all Dontists walked bent at the waist and with their hands crossed over the lower parts of their torsos, where their stomachs and intestines once functioned.
As if in a conscious response to the regrowth of religious extremism, or perhaps just a grotesque example of the fashion industry’s peerless skill at debasement, tooth jewelry began to fall out of vogue in the second year of The Silencing. Both the rising price of the limited commodity of teeth, as well as simple market saturation, led people to move on. In the magazines that fall, celebrities instead began to wear fixtures to accent the useless holes in their faces. They filled the spaces where their teeth had been with jewels, pricey metals, and bits of expensive rock. The wealthy would pay dentists to make small incisions in their purposeless gums and slowly push adornments into the cuts as far down as they would go. The gums would heal around the new jewelry and hold it into place. Soon, in order to more spectacularly display a greater number of jewels, many began having their lips reduced and smiles surgically widened, until a new, wide, wet, and red face opening took over the entire area where their cheeks had been.
The majority of the world could afford neither jewels nor surgery, but still wanted to emulate the well-known and wealthy. At the less reputable cosmetic surgery offices, illegal procedures began to be performed which cut away the gums, muscle, and flesh surrounding the mouths, jaws, and empty sockets of the face, thus making the exposed bone of the lower half of the head its own particularly dangerous kind of fashion. The immediate result of these two kinds of surgery were that the rich and poor were even easier to tell apart. The rich had enormous and gaping red holes where their cheeks had been split apart into huge, red jeweled mouthes, while the poor had less and less skin, their bone and skull shining as they walked silently about.
Over time, the rich installed more and larger jewels into their mouths. Extra space was made on soft pallets, the insides of what remained of cheeks, and all along the surface of unused tongues. Stones and metals now filled up the useless mouths of those who could afford it, and soon the most wealthy couldn’t even close the gape at the front of their heads. They drooled all over themselves, spangled tongues proudly pinned half-in and half-out of the giant slits in their faces, now full of the false teeth installed in any small space of flesh which could be cut into, filled, and re-healed.
Perhaps the silence of the world starting to get to them, people began to turn up the volumes of their televisions. They started to listen to broadcast nodding and exaggerated pantomime of celebrities and realized that it was accompanied by a hollow, clacking sound as the stones and jewels in what used to be their mouths smacked into one another. In homes across the world people fixated on this new sound as if they could decipher some kind of meaning there. For hours on end, and all through many nights, a kind of speech returned, as those who had survived illegal surgeries snapped together their fleshless jaws at the wealthy on T.V., trying to make their useless mouths heard.
Charlie Geoghegan-Clements' work has been published with theNewerYork, Marco Polo Quarterly, Tin House, 3:AM Magazine, and Versal. His short story collection,Superhero Questions, is available from ELJ Publications. More information can be found at http://www.ACrannog.com