The next day, the tooth was bigger. The worst part was that Sam had to go to work. How would he hide it, and would the gap or the new tooth be harder to hide? The gap, he thought. Definitely the gap. But what would the new tooth look like? Would it be normal-looking, like other teeth? Or would it be something else altogether? He was in uncharted territory here.
He remembered the first time he saw anyone lose a tooth. He was in Kindergarten, and “S” was the letter of the week. During circle time, the teacher asked each student to name something that began with the designated letter, and so, Sam and his classmates were going around saying “soap” and “snow” and “sun.” Just after he’d contributed “snot,” Sam looked over at his classmate Kelsey. There, in front of everyone, she reached into her mouth and plucked a bottom front tooth and held it up for the class to see, like a trophy. Blood poured from the new hole while she smiled, and the teacher abandoned the giant cardboard “S” she’d been holding to run for a tissue. Even as a child, Sam somehow understood that something oddly personal and inappropriate had taken place, like it wasn’t something he was supposed to see.
And now, as an adult, and with a clandestine tooth! He wasn’t even sure where to start.
In the end, he started the workday with coffee, just like he always did. He had his place where he stopped for a medium black every morning on his drive in. This time, he asked for a straw because he was worried about the coffee dribbling out from the new chasm. The barista at the window glared at him, as if to ask why he needed a straw this time and only this time, when he’d ordered the same thing he’d gotten for years. She was in her late teens, and her red curls flopped over the band of her visor, catching in her eyelashes. She used her elbow to move them out of the way, not her hands. Sam appreciated her attention to cleanliness in food preparation.
When he arrived at the bank, he realized that the barista wasn’t the only one who would think the straw in his coffee was weird. But then, his coworkers might notice he didn’t have a coffee if he abandoned it in the cup holder of his car. Plus, he really wanted the coffee. Didn’t some people use a straw to save their teeth from coffee stains? He’d go with that if someone asked. Of course, as he entered the bank and set the coffee down at his workstation, no one asked anything of him. He wasn’t even supposed to have coffee in here, but no one paid attention to that particular rule until the customers started rolling in around nine. That was around the same time the women placed the required nylons over their tan, hairless summer legs.
As the first customer entered, Sam had an idea. He watched as a harried woman, clearly on her way to work in black patent heels, pushed open one of the double glass doors. He could feel the heat from outside despite the early hour, and then the cool relief of the AC filling the space once the door closed again.
Looking at the door, he thought, that’s how I’ll remove the tooth.
The idea was ridiculous, he knew. The tooth wasn’t even close to all the way through yet. But having this plan in mind made him feel better. By the time the woman approached him, the removal of tooth by doorknob was a goal.
“Good morning,” he said to the woman.
“Good morning,” she replied, not looking up at him. “I’d like a hundred dollars from this account.” She handed him an ATM card.
There was an ATM right by the door she’d just pushed open. There were also withdrawal slips in the bank lobby. Two easy and prescribed ways to take out cash. But at least one in ten customers didn’t want to use the two ways already set out for them.
Sam pulled a withdrawal slip from his drawer and filled it out for the woman. He tried to focus on the paper, on his hand pressing against it with a pen, but his tongue kept finding the gap in his mouth and then the tip of tooth. He felt like he’d heard a scream, and he looked at the woman to see if she’d heard it, too. She hadn’t, but he could tell she was wondering what was taking so long. She pulled her cell phone from her brown leather bag, sent a text.
He finished the transaction and handed the woman her cash, receipt, and ATM card. She threw him a thank you over her shoulder as she hustled away.
He knew what was happening. He only had to look at his father to see it. He’d looked at his father in varying stages of decay for years now, often thinking, is this what we’re meant to become? His father, once someone who had given so much to the world, was now a taker. For a while, in his father’s sixties, his father took. Of course, he did. But he took trips to Europe and classes on Impressionism and book after book about WWII from the library. Now he took fluids and bottles of pills and bowl after bowl of Jell-O.
This is what we were now. We’d evolved to needing a third set of teeth.
Jenny Belardi’s work appears or is forthcoming in YARN, the Santa Fe Writers Project Journal, Strange Fictions, Windmill, and Sixfold. She was a semi-finalist in the 2017 American Short Fiction Contest judged by Lauren Groff and shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Flash Prize. Jenny frequently writes about potential near futures and our relationship with technology.
Featured Image: CC0 Creative Commons by Public Domain Pictures via Pixabay