Get your laughing gear around this quick aperitif from my novelette Teeth which is available to read in full here.
TEETH, BY AJ KIRBY: AN EXTRACTION
The pillows on Ross Marker’s bed were the kind that mould themselves comfortingly around your head. They were, like most of the products in the house in fact, freebies after a job well done. These days, apart from the major council account, the main work Marker Creatives undertook was on behalf of whatever company could provide Ross with something he wanted or needed for the house. And although he’d not won any industry awards for a long time, he tended to look upon the expensive pillows, the flat-screen TV, a couple of the cars in the garage, his regular holidays to the Caribbean as his trophies. His just desserts.
He lavished his pillows with the kind of attention he denied the cat, for one (and it was always the cat, never referred to by its real name, Henry.) He had the cleaning woman wash the pillow slips on a daily basis; had her plump them up for him too. So when he woke up that morning to see his entire pillow drenched in blood, shock wasn’t his overriding emotion. No, he was more apologetic than that. My poor pillows… Quickly he removed the pillow slip to check whether the blood had seeped through; noticing something small and white tumbling out and onto the floor as he did so, but not pausing to look what it was. The foamy interior of the pillow was indeed stained red. Purple in fact. There was so much blood it looked like a big, spongy heart cut from the insides of some large, lumbering animal.
Only when Ross Marker had stripped the bed and flung every single item off it into the big top-loading washing machine in the wash room off the kitchen did he return to the room to find out what the small, gleaming white thing had been. On all fours he tried to wriggle under the low-slung bed; he was sure he’d seen it bounce away under there. He was also pretty sure he knew exactly what it was, although he didn’t want to admit it to himself. Not yet. Not while there was still a chance it might be something else. Something the damn cat had dragged in, perhaps.
It was a tooth. There was no doubt about it. When his trembling, but well-manicured hands closed around it, he recognised its smooth, enamel polish. He pulled in his arm with the missing tooth enclosed in a clenched fist. Hardly dared look. Had to look. It wasn’t what he was expecting to see. As he slowly unfolded his fingers the tooth was revealed to him, but it didn’t look like one of his own teeth. Because it wasn’t just a tooth; it was the whole, stringy blood and guts shebang. It looked like the guts of something the cat had dragged in, but it was, when everything came down to it, his tooth.
Absently, his tongue felt around inside his mouth and he touched… He touched absence. He touched a hole about half way round his mouth on the top side. As his tongue explored the strange crater – which felt huge inside his head – he marvelled at how tingly-tender his gums were. It was a feeling like one he’d long forgotten. He’d not felt it since he was about seven or eight in fact, and then, he used to think it felt just like sticking his finger (or tongue as the case may be) in the electricity socket which powered his own skull. Tasting coppery blood took him inside himself in a way he’d not been for thirty years.
Suddenly, Marker started to feel very faint. Squeamish at the best of times, he didn’t like thinking about the inside of his own body and how it was all put together. He didn’t like to think how random it all was. How poorly designed. Why had his goddamn tooth chosen to fall out? Why had it not just stayed there, under the surface, just doing its job of winning contracts, as well as occasionally biting and chewing?
He shoved the tooth into his dressing gown pocket, staggered out of the bedroom and made for the en suite. Splashed some water on his face and dared himself to have a look at himself in the mirror, half expecting to see his face all collapsed-in on itself like someone with their false teeth removed. Like a corpse, some morbid part of his mind commented. Gingerly he lifted his head up and looked in the mirror and saw…
…he saw himself. He saw mostly the same old Ross Marker, still looking bright-eyed and bushy tailed despite the morning’s shock. Maybe it was the fake tan. With more confidence, he started to contort his face into ever more unlikely poses. The gap in his mouth, he concluded, was hardly noticeable. The missing tooth was a wisdom tooth, after all. And who needed wisdom when you had money?
He tried his full range of Ad-Man smiles in the bathroom mirror, realised he could get away with pretty much the whole lower end of the spectrum; the damn right smile, the sure-thing smile, the trust me smile. Sure he couldn’t risk a full-blown the deal’s sealed, honey smile, but he could go a day without that particular one. And the dentist would sort it all out before Thursday Date Night anyway.
He returned to the bedroom and called up Maggie on a phone so razor thin he could have cut ivory with it.
‘Won’t be coming in this morning,’ he said, realising with some alarm how strange his voice sounded. One tooth gone and it had changed his self-secure voice into something resembling McCall’s drunken slur from the previous night. McCall! The curse.
‘You okay, Mr. Marker?’ asked Maggie. ‘You don’t sound… uh… your usual self.’
‘Can you get me an emergency dentist appointment, Mags? This afternoon. ASAP.’
‘Euuurgghh,’ spluttered Maggie. ‘I hate the dentist. All them needles. Eek. You got something wrong with your teeth, Mr. Marker?’
‘One of my teeth fell out in the night,’ he said, wondering why he felt the need to explain himself to the woman. ‘I’ll be fine, but get me that appointment, will you?’
‘You know what they say,’ burbled Maggie. She was like a proverbial stream at times like this. Usually the only way he could stop her was simply to walk away, but on the phone? Couldn’t put the phone down yet until she’d confirmed she’d book the appointment. She was the dreamy-type. The type that needed telling twice, just like Gemma was… had been. ‘They say it symbolizes money,’ Maggie continued frothily. ‘You’ll come into money and good fortune. I read it in my dream book only the other day. Isn’t that good news?’
Marker had put up with quite enough of that kind of nonsense for one call. ‘Just get me the appointment,’ he snapped. ‘And give that damn tooth fairy a call as well. She owes me some money…’
He snapped his phone shut and gurned some more in front of the full-length bedroom mirror. But he was no longer so comfortable looking at himself. His sudden memory of McCall and his curse had given him pause for thought. What if?
‘What if nothing,’ he muttered at his reflection. ‘It’s fucking bad luck, that’s all. Got nothing to do with nothing.’ He pulled his best suit from the wardrobe and unpacked a new shirt ready for a trip to the dentist.