1. On Wednesdays, Gary comes to collect the teeth.
2. The things Gary has parked in the driveway on various Wednesdays: a pop-topped Vanagon with a constellation of faded stickers across the rear window. A pink Corvette. A Hummer the color of a traffic cone. A motorcycle with a small trailer hooked to the back. A mail truck. Usually just regular cars, regular things, but sometimes ones like these.
I wonder sometimes about the neighbors.
Also on Wednesdays: how I jump when he rings the doorbell. Every time. I see his form through the dimpled, hazy glass of the front door, and I open it and there is Gary. Short man, handlebar mustache, the fabric unspooling in the bill of his baseball hat. I have never seen him smile. I’ve watched him grow old, seen the back of his hands grow their first few mottled spots, faint enough but there. Before Gary was Luis, and before him, Etienne. Before that, I don’t even remember anymore, which bothers me when I let it.
Hi, Carol, he says.
Got everything squared away?
Sure thing, I say. Come on in.
And then Gary steps into the house and takes his hat off and stuffs it bill-first into the back pocket of his jeans. We walk into the spare bedroom, Gary taking the lead. I trace the hallway wall with one hand; it makes a noise as faint as a whisper. Gary stands in the doorway with his hands on his hips, assessing.
Every week we do this. Every Wednesday.
The room is empty save for the tens of thousands of teeth carpeting the floor. Mounds of them. Hills and valleys of little pale teeth. The room is not particularly big, but still. Sometimes Gary has to really force the door open, really work at it. Skeins of daylight sift themselves through the gauze curtains.
Gary, not one to be impressed by the quality of light or much else, grunts and says, Looks like a twelve-binner.
Or a ten, or a fifteen. He’s never been wrong, either. He always calls it just right. He packs them snug – I’m not allowed to touch the teeth once they’re home, but I can carry the bins – and he’s always right. They’re heavy, those packed bins, and it’s a chore to carry them out to whatever car’s in the driveway.
Speaking of which, it’s a rust-shot Plymouth Newport this time, unwieldy as a battleship. Gary grabs the bins from the trunk, puts gloves on and begins shoveling the teeth in. Always by hand. I don’t know. When he’s filled one, he stacks it in the hallway, where I’m standing and smoking.
This is how it’s always been. Before Gary was Luis. [End Page 81]
Gary says, Shouldn’t smoke, Carol.
I laugh, blow a jet of smoke at the ceiling.
At least not inside, he says. Brings down the property value. His voice echoes; besides the teeth, the room is empty.
It takes a while, but he fills the last bin and we do a sweep of the carpet, making sure we haven’t missed any whole teeth. There are always fragments, every time, the common detritus of their living: crumbled teeth, flaked enamel, the tiny nubs fractured off from decay or simple fragility.
Gary starts taking the bins out to the car. Sometimes I’ll help; usually I stay inside and vacuum the carpet. Recently – maybe before Baby Jill and maybe not – I have felt a curious halving at the sight of all that newly-returned blue, that skyblue swatch of carpet where previously, just moments before, thousands of teeth lay mounded and still like little carapaces. Part of me is overjoyed, a sense of completion at what we have done, a sense of wholeness. But there is a part of me that feels a clanging hollowness, a kind of sad and empty thunder. Like I’m, I don’t know? An automaton, maybe, or a marionette? Just performing a function.
Before Luis there was Etienne.
Gary pokes his head in. His hat is...
- Baby Jill
- Cream City Review
- Department of English, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
- Volume 38, Number 1, Spring/Summer 2014
- p. pp. 81-86
- View Citation
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