T h e P l a s t e r To o t h
Joe Granato Fiction Writing Workshop Elise Juska January 31st, 2011 The Plaster Tooth Somewhere in the world, at this very moment, a father slips his weathered hand beneath a pillow in the ritualistic exchange of a Susan B. Anthony for a baby tooth. Somewhere in the world, at this very moment, a son slips his narrow hand beneath a pillow in the faithful search for a Susan B. Anthony. Yet after millions upon millions of these transactions, one must wonder, what becomes of each tiny tooth? Leo had been awake for the past four and half hours trying to make the most important list of his life. Well, minus the three hours he spent enthralled by a looped infomercial, something about sponsoring a child in Guatemala for only a few dollars a day. Leo, a pushover, adopted half a dozen and thought, “what a deal.” He didn’t do it because morally, it was a good thing to do. The day prior he bought one of those little plastic picture sleeves for his wallet. The kind that folds out like a Jacob’s Latter, or a never-ending FBI badge. He had nothing to fill it with, but assumed finding a family would be easier than going through the police academy. “And I’ll be getting a wallet sized of Jesus and little Cesar in 3-5 business days? Perfect”, Leo confirmed with telemarketer. Okay so maybe Leo had been working on the most important list of his life for the past twenty minutes or so. Over the course of the past five years Leo had grown to resent all that is apartment 8c. From its spacious rail car kitchen, to its breathtaking view of the neighboring building’s brick wall, it just wasn’t shinning the way it did when he had
Granato 2 moved in after graduation. Now that’s probably due to the lack of cleaning products in the house, but these weren’t the kind of things that really ate at a guy like Leo too much. What he yearned for was the great American adventure. Not the kind of adventure that landed him in jail, having to smuggle in cigarettes just to not become some guy named Gunner’s girlfriend. The kind of adventure that took him anywhere but May Fair Apartments. Despite Leo’s over dramatized isolation, there were a few people who meant a lot to him and he wanted to do something for each of them before leaving for good. Thus Leo started his list. Cradled between the molding and hardwood floor, Leo lay at the mercy of an enormous plaster tooth, which sat atop a three-foot pillar in his own living room. A pale light pushing its way through the half-drawn blinds lay beside him, just as still. Leo couldn’t remember where he had gotten the thing. He must have pulled it out of storage or something. It was giving Leo awful nightmares, but all the same, it had a certain resounding power about it that changed him. The tooth’s presence had Leo thinking in a whole new way, and he couldn’t afford to lose that just yet. The only women Leo had met lately were the ones between his bedroom and his kitchen. This consisted of Mrs. Butterworth and the women from Discover Card who’d been calling him every day for the past three weeks about an unpaid bill. Leo thought this to be regular enough to consider it a relationship, but shuddered at the commitment of paying, thus decided it was best for the both of them if he just never called her back. The standard of dating had changed and the dating pool felt a bit more like a public pool. These were the women in Leo’s life, and then there was Frances.
Granato 3 Frances found the tooth to be a rather unsightly way to adorn a living room. Pursing her lips, curling each in a way that looked more like face yoga than the construction of an English sentence. “Heavens Leo, it looks like a sculpture of a behind”, she laughed. “It is a statement about patriotism and good oral hygiene, no?” rupturing an odd French dialect. She carved each word, less like a little girl would trim the dress of a paper doll and more like a recent divorcé shreds a wedding certificate. Leo often feared any abundant use of R’s or S’s would result in a good deal of her spit on his face. “It’s a wisdom tooth”, said Leo, “I bet it fell off the trailer of a travelling gypsy circus passing through. I bet folks came from as far as Layton County to see this ol’ boy shine, sitting high on some pedestal.” “Gypsies steal your dogs”, said Frances, “and sometimes from your vegetable garden. They don’t move from town to town holding enormous plaster molar exhibitions.” She wrinkled her petit nose in a very specific way, which Leo adored. This later brought Leo to discover an unexplainable affinity for the face of French pugs. A matter of fact, Leo couldn’t think of one thing that Frances didn’t have a very specific way of doing. Leo loved Frances. He loved her like he loved eating sautéed asparagus three times a day. Sure it made his urine smell like a bowl of overly sugared cereal, but it was–she was worth it. Leo constantly found himself seduced by Frances’ quirks, but it was more than that. There was much more to Frances that intrigued him. Named after the French expatriate who delivered her on the side of the road in Baja Mexico, using only a gym bag, Frances Fontaine was given a head start in what would pan out to be a most peculiar life. Which so appropriately began in the hands, and gym bag of one Frances Luis Sauvignon. Captain of the 1980 Olympic games fencing
Granato 4 team, Sauvignon was at one time the toast of French Republic. A man who knew what he wanted, greatness. More importantly, a man who knew what he liked, wearing white suit pants everyday expect for Labor Day and grooming his streamline mustache with precision. Also pomade, a low shine wax, and a high shine cream. To his teammates he is remembered as the fallen prodigy of French Fencing, to the rest of the world, just that guy who regurgitated his lunch onto the laps of most of the front row. But to Frances’ parents, he was no more than an uncanny roadside obstetrician. Despite such bazaar beginnings, Frances grew into your standard American girl, kind of. Last summer Leo had to take Frances to the emergency room four times, as she is quite allergic but can’t seem to stay out of the way of poison ivy. Taped to Leo’s refrigerator is a Polaroid of Frances barbequing on the Fourth of July, bandaged poison oak up to the elbow. And Leo could never forget her fully entertaining irrational fear of large ships. Passing the harbor, on their way to picnic, she nearly ejected herself from the moving car, yelping, “they’re so terrifyingly enormous, how is it possible they are all floating?” “Leo, Leo, anyone in there?” Frances asked, knocking on his head. “You know you tend to do that rather often.” She continued. Leo replied, “do what?” “That thing where you daze in and out of a conversation. Like you are thinking of an old story. It’s kind of like changing the channels on the tube,” Frances laughed. “I have to run Leo, lets meet up this weekend, okay?” “Oh I wanted to talk to you about something, I might take a trip or like a–well yeah I’ll just talk to you about it later.” Leo said. Frances bustled out the door. Leo slumped sort of cockeyed onto his couch and pulled out his list, adding
Granato 5 Frances’ name to it with some satisfaction. Leo admired the aloe plant she had just given to him that same day, until– BANG BANG BANG–The door–The unmistakable heaviness of a coarse Russian fist. “Leopold!” The voice billowed out from beneath a mangy salt & pepper beard and crashed into the door. Sinking through the splintered pressed wood it quickly became, “Meomold”. Leo pocketed his list while inching open the front door. He flexed his hand like five miniature weight lifters prepping for Mr. Universe. But all it took was one of Dr. Yeltsin’s old country handshakes to crush Leo’s phalanges into a "phalamily" under soviet rule. “Dr. Yeltsin”, Leo squeezed out of a plastic smile. “And how are –“ Yeltsin’s muddy "Russan-glish" trampled Leo’s words. Throwing his burly flannel arm around Leo, shaking him back and forth, singing, “Like baby who catch cold, lazy, lazy Leopold. Think he find rich but just fools gold, crazy, crazy Leopold.” Leo, transformed into Yeltsin’s human crutch, was dragged back into his own apartment. “LE–swinging him– O–again–POLD”, like a tilt-a-whirl in Stalin-land. “Next verse in Russian, ready Leopold? Von–Two–“ Yeltsin halts as if the vastly unabridged Russian dance record in his head finally skipped, which Leo assumes was mistakenly swapped for his brain during an experimental lobotomy somewhere back in the Motherland. “Thank God”, Leo slips between his front teeth hidden in a breath. Casually taking inventory of the of rug burn on his bare feet and the Slavic beard burn along his right cheek. Yeltsin with his eye on something across the room, interjects, “I tell you get real job and you dentist for giants now, Leopold? You climb yourself bean stalk for big tooth?” A mystical holy symbol, a grail of all that is good and evil, a relic to bridge the gaps of Leo’s life. All the
Granato 6 significance that came to mind when he lay in bed at night and dream of the tooth’s pale pearly form. And in a moment of greatness, “gah, it’s like a, tooth, thing, it’s, it’s not mine really” Leo claims one dining car ticket for a train-wreak. Leo can’t help but imagine the gypsy family watching through their crystal ball, probably calling him a damn moron. All that Leo could do was hope that his own sub par English had gone safely over Yeltsin’s Sputnik sized head, and that crystal balls get knocked out every time it rains, like satellite TV. “I visit you to see if you’re wanting new job”, asks Yeltsin, “Good money. Better money than damn pill factory.“ The Struthers Dunn Pill Factory is the kind of factory that can come to define a man like Dr. Yeltsin. See, each day right around the time that creamy defused light pours down Canal street, Yeltsin follows closely behind, tailing the morning in his crippled powder blue Buick, so fittingly christened Anastasia. Meanwhile, William Struthers Jr. and Louis F Dunn take the short walk from their luxury sedans to the factory doors. Making a point to complement one another on recent layoffs. Each fluffing their own feathers while stroking the other’s ego, they stuff silk hankies into their pant and breast pockets. Yeltsin never understood why wealthy American men insist on saving their snot. Furthermore, the mere thought of stitched monograms made him want to strangle someone with one of those “his and her” resort towels. He wondered if he would live to see a president officially add a monogram to the American Flag. Or perhaps “his and her” American flags. These things boiled Yeltsin’s sense of Russian pride. All he could now think of doing was drinking plum vodka and making love to an unusually tall woman. And unusually tall women made Yeltsin’s thick flaring eyebrows arch up like two
Granato 7 startled foxtails. Dunn, the much younger of the two, and the one who fired Yeltsin, turned to the open parking lot as he heard a now routine purr in the distance. Led by Anastasia’s earsplitting groan, Yeltsin hurled one arm out the driver side window, the most commonly used of his stout hairy fingers erect. The middle, the most swollen, with a crusty gold ring the size of a chestnut. “I drop bomb on you Struthers Dunn, yuppie prick”, calls Yeltsin, followed by the most undistinguishable jargon of randomly chosen Russian vulgarity. “…And we take Turkish coffee break as often as we want”, says Yeltsin, elaborating on the job’s minuscule perks. Leo had stopped listening several minutes ago. Shifting to autopilot, with one of his “do tell” looks, followed by the occasional nod. “It sounds, great, let me, uh, sleep on it a day or two”, says Leo, shuffling through the door, “I have to run.” Leo slips out, leaving Yeltsin to leave on his own accord. Rounding the corner and making his way down the stairs Leo fishes the list back out of his khakis. He adds Yeltsin’s name to it and with a feeling of accomplishment shoves it deep in his pocket. With one hand sliding down and around the banister, he zooms by one apartment door after another, watching the small iron numerals on each door count down out of the corner of his eye. 7–6–5–4–he catches himself on a doorknob. Apartment 3a. Mrs. Rovins. Leo catches his breath, thumbing the wave of his hair just behind his right ear. He cuffs the sleeve of his sweater a few times until it bunches up around his forearm, letting the hairs gush from beneath the knit. Like one hundred tiny hairy dolphins they appear to dive and reemerge. Straightening his arm toward the yellow ocher door, Leo knocks once, twice, and a few more times before transforming the rhythm into a Morris
Granato 8 code of something often knocked but rarely sung. Then, he waits. Anticipating the amount of time it will take Mrs. Rovins just to reload her lazy boy footrest before getting up. At that age it must be like trying to set up the entire mousetrap game with just your feet. Leo looked around the stairwell. A certain comfort unfolded, maybe it was that warm Sunday feeling, maybe just the dated wallpaper. Leo thought about how much he’ll miss Frances when he leaves for his trip. He thought about where he’ll go. Mostly he thought about asparagus. Glancing downward, he noticed Mrs. Rovins’ new doormat, “we decorate with cats”. Leo put his head in his palm and smirked. After the sound of five or six dead bolts being unshackled, Mrs. Rovins’ frail voice slipped through the crack of the door like a small envelope. “I’ve got a 9mm Smith and Wesson duct taped under my coffee table. Who’s there?” she said. “No, you don’t, Mrs. Rovins. And its just Leo.” He laughed. Mrs. Rovins adjusted her tone and replied, “Oh Leonard, doll, you nearly gave me my fifth stroke just now, didn’t you? Come on in love.” Adele Rovins smelled less like cigarettes and more like recently blown out candles. Sitting in her living room, submerged in the best kind of quiet, feels like that moment when the birthday song ends, the room goes black and beneath the crowded laughs and dancing candle smoke, just the delicate sounds of someone making a wish, barely audible. She would often say that she was blessed with six loves in her life. None of which were men. The first being her tiny novelty spoon collection, housed in a large oak cabinet, which hung on the wall in her kitchen, opposite of half a dozen cherub paintings. All of those chubby little angles fluttering around blending into an adjacent Norman Rockwell scene. As though Jesus and his disciples grabbed the last super at Joe’s
Granato 9 Diner, breaking bread to “Hand Jive”. The final five things that pawed at Adele’s heartstrings was her small battalion of felines; John Wayne, Johnny Wayne, Jon-Jon Wayne, Johnny-poo Wayne, and baby Richard Nixon, because he was notorious for stealing catnip from the pantry. She’d smack him on the tooshie and holler “why, you little crook, you”. “Did you check your socks, Mrs. Rovins?” Leo asked, as the two of them hunted down another bundle of cash, which she so casually hid. Ever since the great depression, no one could warm Adele up to the idea of banks. She’d call Leo down to her apartment once or twice a week to help her track each stashed bankroll. Sometimes it was twenty bucks under the mattress, sometimes five hundred stowed in the back of the dryer, sometimes just a dollar in the sock on her own foot. Moving from room to room Leo finally spotted the dog-eared corner of a ten-dollar bill poking its little nose out of Richard Nixon’s litter box. Leo yanked a clean ten from his wallet and returned that to her instead. When Leo arrived back in his apartment he removed the now trash-like list from his pocket. He carefully found a place to fit Mrs. Rovins’ name at the end of the list, placing it on his bed stand to refer to in the morning. That night, for the first time in week, Leo dreamt only of good things. He dreamt of Frances, Dr. Yeltsin, and Mrs. Rovins. When Leo woke up mid night and made his way down the hall to the bathroom, he noticed that same pale moonlight pushing its way through the half-drawn blinds again. Only this time, Frances’ aloe plant, which had grown significantly in it’s first night, had casted a large shadow over the tooth, acting as a dark veil. Each long shadowy finger of
Granato 10 the plant rolled over the form of the tooth, and crawled the walls. At this moment, Leo noticed a very different energy coming off of the tooth and felt compelled to add it to his list before returning to bed. It’s a Monday morning at May Fair Apartments as that creamy defused light pours down Canal street, draping it’s sturdy sail about the town. In 3a Adele Rovins wiggles out from beneath her crocheted blanket, running her pruned index finger between the swirling tabby patterns of Richard Nixon’s back. She makes her way through the kitchen, a dozen cherubs and Norman Rockwell watching over her. As she pops open the dryer door to subconsciously stow a small creased wad of bills, she noticed an odd shimmer from within. Pushing a few blouses to the side, revealing a small red dial, she realized someone had placed a small child’s safe in the dryer. Attached was a note, “you run the bank now”, signed Leonard. It took Adele a few days but she eventually found the other safes, in her sock drawer, under her mattress and even next to Richard Nixon’s litter box. It’s a Monday morning and somewhere across town, William Struthers Jr. and Louis F Dunn pull their luxury sedans into the pill factory parking lot to find Yeltsin’s powder blue Buick sprawled out horizontally across both of their spots. There, Anastasia sat, like a proud piece of machinery, just leaking oil all over the place. Just across the street, Dr. Yeltsin sits at the desk of his new job. Licking his stout thumb, he runs it along his thick flaring eyebrows and takes a sip of Turkish coffee. While reaching into his jacket pocket for a pen, Yeltsin felt something unusual. Gripping the silkiness between two fingers, he quickly yanks it out like a magician. Baring some confusion, he unfolds
Granato 11 the silk hankie and lays it out on his desk. The maroon stitching read “you’re the boss now”. Yeltsin, slightly overwhelmed, pulled the silk hankie to his broad nose and blew as hard as he knew how, before retiring it to back into his pocket. “It’s a Monday morning”, says the news anchor, as Frances Fontaine passes the television while getting ready for work. The anchor continues, “It’s a beautiful day for a picnic or trip to the harbor to see the ships.” Frances laughs. “Well I sure do agree sir”, she responds to the program in pure irony, brushing her short brown curls over to one cheek. Frances paused, looking at herself in the mirror. Momentarily absent of vanity, she watched as millions of tiny lustrous dust particles hung weightless in the golden air, between her and her own reflection. Each signified a suspended moment between yesterday and tomorrow. Each broke the rules of time. Each had been there all along. All they needed was that flash of illumination to transcend invisibility for visibility. Frances gathered her things and backed out the front door to lock up. She felt the heel of her shoe catch something behind her. On the hardwood just outside her door lay a wallet. A small leather clamshell folded over onto itself. Recognizing its wear, she gently brought it to her chest, cupping it in her hands like the commencement of a baptism. With the tender underside of her thumb she unfolded the vessel. Spilling like a Jacob’s Latter, she inspected the wallet-sized sleeves. Each archived the photo of a Guatemalan boy or girl whom Leo had pledged to sponsor the prior week. Preserved in the first plastic window was not a photo, but a note, which read, “Frances, I still have this one empty slot, which I have no photo to fill with. I hope you wouldn’t have me raise half a dozen kids on my own. – Leo.”
Granato 12 Somewhere, behind the sizable patch of dirt where Frances managed to get poison ivy four times last summer, Leo presses his able hands into the soil, guiding blankets of moist earth over the plaster tooth. As Leo buried itâ€™s pale pearly frame, he couldnâ€™t help but wonder if this is what happens to each tiny tooth.