Tried to close them.
“Machine for that?”
A small man, with strength in his limbs, but words were never easy for him.
The slap lifted me off my feet, slammed my mouth against the table. Flashes of red and black, an endless ringing moment before pain came and made me its own.
Granddad pulled me up and set me roughly on my feet. Already my face was swelling, blood filling the pouch of my mouth, welling to flow. The heat and taste of it— the sight of blood and I’m in the grip of Granddad again.
Between my feet, white fleck on tile, my broken tooth.
I stared and almost lost my body to the sway.
Little part of me.
A hand on my chin wrenched my head up. “What’d you do that for?” he shouted, “Why’d you get in the way? Why?” The clean clarity of his anger and he shook me again, my head too light to hold an answer. That picture of him: grey eyes fury, red and bristling face and teeth, a grille, opening to snarl.
My eyes slid upwards white and that was me in darkness for a time.
No doctor, no dentist.
“Who needs them?” Granddad grunted when I woke up on the couch. “Money waste, hah? Nothing I can’t do.”
No questions asked. No-one to see what he’d done.
But Granddad couldn’t work the tooth back into the gum—“You struggled too much.” He would make a replacement himself.
He worked at the table, surrounded with tools and flakes of stone, cursing when the material wouldn’t comply. Stroke by rheumatoid stroke he shaped a sliver of alabaster until it was something like a tooth.
I lay on the couch, only half aware. Shine and spark of vision, the dull emptiness of my skull. My body’s reservoir of pain used up. It was something like a peace.
I was made ready: a clutch of ice to reduce the swelling, a cotton bud in whisky to sterilise, plastic cement pinched into the wound, tasting of oil or molten tyre. It was brought to me in folded newspaper; a crude, heavy, sharp inelegance. Faceted dagger. Neanderthal stone.
It scared me.
His dirty thumb and fingers prised my jaws apart and spread my lips, his other hand pressed alabaster in my wounded gum. “Don’t touch,” said Granddad, “Let me just.” Dull the base about the hole, blunt against the ragged edges.
The smell of him, the chemical taste and retch, bubbled spit up between his fingers. A press and push and the hole was filled with fang. He kept his fingers on it, kept pressure constant, his knee on the couch between my legs, the protest of material beneath him.
Half an hour and I was released.
His fingernail tapped, his finger prodded.
The alabaster fang had set.
Blessed ache to close my mouth.
“Good,” he said, “It’s,” hands wiped on the front of his shirt, “good as new.” The look in his eyes and it had to be.
The day ended in front of the bathroom mirror. Forward, profile, three-quarters— I looked at the bulge and misshaping of my face. I couldn’t quite close my mouth; my teeth sloped and wouldn’t meet. I thought of knocking it free in the night, telling him it had loosened, it had come away.
But the thought of pain.
And how Granddad would take another failure.
It was mine now.
It was me.
And maybe it was a dream… but that night, a kiss on my forehead and the voice of Granddad— “I’m sorry son.”
Maybe it was just imagined.
Maybe it was just a dream.
But enough to forgive him.
The alabaster fang.
My shame and my secret, defining me. Already shy and friendless, it made me worse.
Let no-one see it.
Let no-one know.
“Take your hands away,” she said, “Let me see.”
Send a light down into the darkness of a cavern. It shines and finds a fleeting beauty, there and gone again—crystal amongst the muck and stone, a beauty never known before. And when light goes and darkness claims, still there is the memory and the hope that beauty can be found again, to know it is there to be found.
That is enough.
She’d asked to come to my house after school. I wasn’t the best at maths but she claimed she was worse, “I need someone to show me how to do the… the…” She laughed, the black plait of her hair loose to swing, her hand on my upper arm. “I don’t even know what you call them.”
Forgetting to show only the good side of my face I looked straight at her. “Yes,” I stammered, “That’s. We can do that. Yes,” and stumbling, halting to clarify, I told her how to find our lane at the turn of the Old Stone Road.
I would get to see her wearing something other than her uniform.
(I cannot hope to convey the thrill of that.)
She was taller than me, an inch perhaps— you’d only see it when we were side by side. Long hair, plaited, so black it seemed to shine in blue. She wore glasses with thin silver frames. Her right ear was pierced, high on the curve a platinum stud, blue stoned. Her mouth was small, pinched between dimples; her lips were pink and very soft.
(I imagined, before I knew.)
She came to my house and I failed to teach her anything at all and she saw who I was and she kissed me.
When we were done I looked at her for a long time. I wanted another kiss but didn’t know how to ask for it.
Sunlight through the curtains: dust set dancing by heavy breath. Somehow I found a way to speak, “How… how long have you known?”
My fingertip tapped the alabaster.
The toe of her shoe tapped against my maths book.
“I saw it,” she whispered, “That day in class; you dropped your books and bent to pick them up. The light caught it. A flash of white.” She gave my hand a squeeze, ran a thumb over my knuckles. “I knew you had something you wanted to keep hidden.”
Douse me in ice. Freeze my heart.
Rescue my voice from six feet of snow.
“I tried,” I whispered, “Tried so hard to make sure no-one ever saw.”
“I know,” she said, soft and consoling, “I know.”
We sat on the bed.
“You didn’t come here for help.”
She shook her head. “I don’t care about that.”
“There’s a dance,” and a smile and a colour in her cheeks.
“A dance,” I parroted, clueless, completely unmoored.
“Yes. Ladies choice,” and she laid down those words like a winning hand.
(Lead me along. Tell me what this should mean to me.)
“Yes,” I said, nodded again.
“And I want to bring you,” and she is a shoulder knock against me and a little laugh.
Hot flustering panic and the weight of seconds, hot sand through my fingers, the need to act now: “Yes,” launched out of me.
Suddenly the second kiss and I hadn’t needed to ask at all.
Parting, I found myself touching my lips again and again. “You’re beautiful,” I mumbled, “Never seen anyone as…”
But she wasn’t listening.
“…as beautiful,” I finished the sentence to have it said.