Toothless

I would touch my tongue to the metallic spot in my mouth over and over. The hole was like a Sandcastle moat filling up with the tide. For three days straight I think I spent every second in my second grade class steadily wiggling that front lower tooth. While Amy Johnson galloped an endless merry-go-round in our classroom, I focused on loosening that tooth. Mrs. Shuman, always pondering current events, gave dissertations, her personal states-of-the-Union to the silent, fearful crew of snot-nosers in straight lines below her. Her long nose oddly crooked slightly left in the same posture as her arthritic fingers that were ever poised directly under her chin. On the way home, Amy  and I shared a bus seat. Even there she was a flood of information, like she’d been saving up. I finally spoke, “See you tomorrow” at her stop where I watched her run in circles through neighbors rhododendrons all the way up to her door. Then the bus lurched forward and I felt my tooth move with it, leaning like a single slat in my grandma’s picket fence.

During class the next day, Amy fearlessly moved just below Mrs. Shuman’s gaze in a torrented tidal wave of fluid movements. She was the Roadrunner. We practiced our cursive on desk-sized brownish paper, so thin it was almost see-through. We were writing stories. It was supposed to be “what I want to be when I grow up.” My pink crayon slipped off the final edge of the tutu I was coloring and ripped my paper. I started to cry, but Kurt leaned over from his seat and said it was better that way cause it looked like a theater curtain and I should rip the other side. I did it. It didn’t look better, but it was lunch time so we had to turn it in. Very little artwork ever made it to the display case on the one wall by the door that we lined up at to meet the busses. Alex and Kurt were there talking about how their dads had “helped” them. One just yanked the tooth out and the other tied it to a door and shut it fast. Alex said he was screaming and there was a ton of blood when his face hit the door so he was knocked out cold. I wasn’t so sure. Alex looked fine to me and he was prone to fibbing. Amy offered to pull mine out for me, but only if I promised there would be blood. I couldn’t promise and was relieved.

I looked at the log cabin ceiling of our old house that evening in the fading light. If I laid there long enough and squinted my eyes, I could see faces in the detailed designs of the logs. Emotion-filled faces, all ages and shapes. Some wide toothy grinning, and some like the snaggle-toothed angry family from Pete’s Dragon. I wondered if I’d look mean without a front tooth. Frightening prospect.

On the way to the bus the next day, down the long hill driveway, I picked about a dozen buttercups. My favorite flower until stupid Jason told me they were weeds. I cried for a whole recess about it and finally decided I didn’t care what Jason thought. I liked them. The last one I picked was an omen. A perfect flower missing one petal. Still so beautiful, yellow like the sun. Buttercups smile back at you. I kissed the little flower and set it by the mailbox before getting on the bus. As the big yellow bus rolled into the school, I leaned down to get my bag. We hit a speed bump and my knee hit the front of my mouth. Something changed and the tooth was dangling, twisted, but still hanging on. I tried to muster it back into place, wanting to hide my day-long distraction and delay the potential painful ending for as long as possible. Alex could be right. Besides, show-and-tell was on Friday mornings. It needed to wait to come out until then.

After art docent time gluing cotton balls to paper and drawing them into pussywillows and then a music class singing “Don Gato,” I made it to lunchtime. I carefully unwrapped my soggy tuna. No dice. Biting was too dangerous. The banana was hopeful. I squished it piece by piece and was satisfied. Carrot sticks were a funny joke, however, the cookie successfully melted like a good Norwegian sugar cookie should. It’s the butter.

Alex made a joke at the other end of the table and Amy broke the rules to run over and ask me if I wanted to meet her at the bars cause she learned a new flip. In all of the excitement, I took a bite of my sandwich. Then I felt it right away. A change. A snap. A hole where my tooth should be. I picked up my tiny pint of milk and the bendy straw slipped right into the hole like magic. I examined the sandwich and sure enough the tooth stuck out of the bread like a clam in the sand. I picked up the tooth and stuffed it in my pocket. Some jeans have a mini pocket that must have been added for that reason. I didn’t dare swing on the bars for fear of flipping over and losing it. Amy was happy doing a whole show through lunch recess.

My dad looked proud of me when I got home. Like I’d been brave. He told me to put it under my pillow so the tooth fairy could get to it. I didn’t know about that. This tooth and I had been through quite a lot.

The next morning I found a handmade tooth fairy doll and a tiny vase of buttercups sitting on a chair beside my bed. I felt under the pillow. No tooth. I leaned over and picked up the doll and hugged her hard. Her lavender tutu was rigid and starchy and her wings were lined with satin ribbon. I sat up quickly. “You’re perfect for show-and-tell,” I told the fairy. I felt the hole in my mouth again and suddenly, the tooth next to it wiggled. The buttercups smiled back as I ran down to show Dad.

 

 

 

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Stephanie Platter is a teacher, writer, film critic, and coffee lover who still likes buttercups the best.

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