- Dientes for Dentures
Abuela would never scream my name. Not even when I was being an eleven-year-old descarada, strutting my stuff in a uniform skort, a half block in front of her so the seventh and eighth graders would think I had parents that let me walk home alone. (This being after la pobre vieja walked across Hialeah so I wouldn’t have to, so Mami wouldn’t have to imagine my kidnapping and suffer eighteen anxiety attacks whilst speeding toward Job Two). Whenever Abuela had it up to here with me, when I swiped her sewing scissors and dulled them with canvas paper, when she caught me holding them by the blades like a Victorian barber, or when I lost said scissors indefinitely (usually around crunch time for a seamstress, like Halloween or Noche Buena), Abuela would bark my name, a bark that echoed like she was chasing me in a cave, a bark like a Rottweiler’s, like the Rottweiler she fought off with her bare hands in ’99 on the corner of La Ocho y La Cincuenta y Nueve. She was seventy-six and gouging the eyes of the freaking Chupacabra in the middle of the street; I was nine and catapulted onto the sidewalk, sent sailing out of harm’s way by esa vieja loca. By the time Chupa’s owner bolted out of his house, said Rottweiler was without his right eye.
“Señora, señora,” Chupa’s owner begged, holding the bloody dog by the fat of his neck, “Let’s take you to a hospital.” I remember him in work boots and faded jeans stained with every shade of paint, shaking so ferociously I thought the stains might liquefy and drip off. Abuela waved him away, threatening him with her owl eyes when he attempted to come to her aid. She inspected her massacred calf with pursed lips, patting the little ivory hairs that had escaped her impeccable sock bun. I was freakishly unscathed, like she’d cast a protection spell before she flung me, sent me floating with magic like some bruja, although she was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and would’ve set the Rottweiler on me for even making a demonic joke like that.
“Abuela, y si tienes rabies?” I’d asked. She didn’t respond, just sucked her false teeth. [End Page 3]
I know, per Cuban and/or American myth, that if one dreams of teeth loosening from gums and dropping, it means someone close to the dreamer will die. Abuela’s been toothless in her sleep since before I was born. Back in Cuba, in her mid-50s, she willingly substituted her dientes for dentures. Mami told me so, over two decades after Abuela maimed the Rottweiler. By then Abuela was speechless and unable to explain herself.
Although Abuela was mi Papá’s mother, Mami frequented Seasons Hospice, warmed the turquoise pleather chairs in Abuela’s room, more than I did. I made time at least once a week, and the two of us would find ourselves watching la vieja on a bed so white I figured they were trying to give it the appearance of angel wings, make it as close to a chariot to the other side as possible. A broken femur, a surgery to fix it, and the dementia that inspired Abuela to claw at her stitches like they were proof of alien experiments, had her strapped to super-white beds.
“I hate seeing her without her teeth,” I said, watching Mami moisten Abuela’s tongue with a little sponge. Abuela’s eyes were half-closed, but she was asleep. Her mouth was open and wrinkled inward in an uninterrupted black hole, like the well that was her only water source en el campo en Cuba, before Castro’s men seized her mother’s farm.
“She looks even less like herself,” I said. Abuela had suffered a stroke the night before, and half a functioning face wasn’t enough to keep dentures in place.
“She’s had those false teeth,” Mami said, returning the sponge to a glass of water and wiping her hands on her jeans, “since before...