I was just a little boy when mama’s teeth began to fall out. She told me that mine would do the same one day and soon. Them was my baby teeth she was mentioning and sure enough she was right.
“Now you leave that tooth under your pillow,” said she, “and the Toothfairy will come get it and trade you a quarter.”
I asked: “How will she know that it’s there, mama?”
“See that little hole in the bottom there? The red? She can smell the blood.”
She told me that us Savinos have got bad teeth and she’d probably be comin’ around again when I was an adult, after I’d lost all the big ones too. That would probably be when I was less than 30. I’m 28 now. It’s starting again.
When my teeth began to fall out again last week, I put them in the garbage at the 7-Eleven. She can smell her way over there.
Mama did warn me, but I didn’t listen as young boys are known to do. I should have listened.
“If you’re awake when she comes, you better close your eyes tight and keep ‘em that way. Keep your lips sealed strong across your gums, just like this.” She showed me a smile, her front left canine was missing and one along the jaw too. She then smacked her smile closed real quick, pursing her lips into a grimace and squeezing her eyes into an angry scowl.
“Mama, you don’t look like you’re sleepin’ though,” I told her, “you look like you ate a dang ol’ lemon!” She laughed ‘bout that for a long time, bringing it up again for hours just to start laughing ‘bout it again.
“Dang ol’ lemon, he says! Ha!”
Mama said the Toothfairy brought you a quarter when you were a kid because a quarter’s all you’d need. Kids were supposed to be asleep. Adults got different things because they got different needs; they didn’t need quarters no more. She wouldn’t tell me what them things were that the adults got, but I put all them teeth under my pillow as they fell out one by one and spent all the quarters I’d won on gumballs and toys that were bouncy balls and slimy hands to throw at my bedroom walls.
When my baby teeth were almost gone, I was seven or eight. I had just a few more of them to go and two of the suckers fell out the same day. What a score! I was so excited that I spent half of the night tossing and turning in my bed thinking about the handful of Runts and M&M’s I was gonna get when my quarters made the vending cranks spin.
That’s why I wasn’t asleep when she came. The excitement had kept me awake. The Toothfairy ain’t like you think. She’s not a small little thing. She ain’t flying fast as you please through the woods. She ain’t living in a hollowed out tree. She doesn’t smell like sunshine and forest breeze. She smells like what a corpse does if a corpse drank cheap beer and smoked cigarettes. She’s got wings but she looked too fat to fly. I should have listened to mama when she told me to make sure I closed my eyes.
She climbed in through my open window, the buckle on her cheap pumps snagging on the curtain, tripping her into a roll onto the tatty rug on my bedroom floor. She was covered in dirt like she’d stumbled drunkenly down into some mud puddle and had to climb her way out. One would expect a creature like the Toothfairy’s appearance to mirror her benevolence; collecting the teeth and making gumdrop wishes come true… All for no reason other than finding joy in giving a light of magic to twinkle in the eyes of a child…but she ain’t like that. Not at all.
Her face was twisted and bloated with a bulbous nose broken red from gin. She had three or four sagging chins and I couldn’t tell where her stomach ended so her legs could begin. She wore a ratty tank top that was a bit too short with her paunch hanging out and cut off jean shorts with holes throughout.
A barbed wire tattoo adorned the arm on her left, and she flicked a lit cigarette with deft out through the open window and smiled, mad with glee.
“Ain’t you s’posed to be asleep?”
I closed my eyes tightly and pursed my lips just like mother had shown me, but I had remembered to do it too late.
“I know you ain’t sleepin’ I just seen you awake!”
So I gave up the ghost and opened my eyes. She licked her lips and I saw with surprise the teeth that glistened, all slavered inside, were a mismatched array of color and size.
“Three,” she muttered seeming pleased. “One from your ma and your two makes three of them here in this house for me.” Her bloodshot eyes beaded with glee, then I heard her say: “This must be my lucky day. I can smell that much blood from a mile away.”
She had a hungry look on her face and licked her lips once again. Her tongue was gray, pocked and abscessed.
She plucked a mirror out from beneath her bra and after a moment examining her jaw, pulled out from her mouth three of the most rotten teeth I ever saw. She sniffed the air, strong and deep, and out the window chucked those three teeth.
I could hear mama humming down the hall. I wanted to scream out for help but fear kept the scream somewhere down inside.
“Now you know the rules,” she stared down with those reddened eyes, “when I come in here you ain’t s’posed to see, so I’m gonna reach underneath your pillow here and after that, kiss you to sleep.”
Her kiss did not put me to sleep. Not mama neither. I was kept awake because mama’s humming sound changed to wet smacking slurps.
That night was the night I learned what the Toothfairy brings you when you don’t need quarters no more. When your husband leaves you and there’s no one to love you like before.
The tooth fairy kissed mama the same way she’d kissed me, snaking her leprous tongue between my lips and teeth and writhing it around like a worm–the difference is mama sounded like she enjoyed it.