Big Tooth: A Short Story
Mary Alice slips out of the party when the author starts signing his book. The reading had been dull and she’d drunk way too much cheap white wine and now feels a touch of heartburn coming on. She pops a couple of Tums and begins walking home on the boardwalk, hoping the breeze coming off the ocean might help sober her up.
She can’t help but think if that guy had wrangled a book deal then certainly she ought to be able to do the same. After all, everyone loves the stories about her eccentric Virginia family. Wasn’t it William Faulkner who once wrote that northerners hide their crazy relatives in the attic while southerners put them on the front porch and let them wave to everybody?
Mary Alice’s problem, though, is “putting them on the porch.” Her head feels swollen, congested with relatives that are both her distraction and her muse, her own sort of rhythm and blues. Her purpose in renting a condo in Rehoboth Beach for the summer is to put some distance between them and her, and to figure out how to start putting her stories onto paper.
Lost in thought and navigating lazily through the Saturday night crowd on the boardwalk, she suddenly spies a well-dressed gentleman on a bicycle pedaling fast towards her. Clearly, he doesn’t know bikes are banned from the boardwalk during the summer months. He should also know to yield the right of way to pedestrians, but it doesn’t look like he’s going to be chivalrous. Forced to leap out of harm’s way, Mary Alice stumbles over a little boy and knocks him down. She feels the snap of bones as her outstretched arms hit the wooden planks. The jackass on the bicycle keeps right on going while she lays there like road kill beside the crying boy.
The next day finds Mary Alice pondering life in a cast extending from left elbow to hand. The broken arm and wrist will require eight weeks to heal. How in the world was she going to write, cook, drive, or even floss her teeth?
Mary Alice decides to do what any Southern writer, published or not, would do when facing such dire circumstances. She shall drink. After all, nothing’s stopping her from holding a cocktail in her right hand. Soon she’s drinking beer in the morning, followed by Bloodies and then rum and Cokes to get through the afternoon. Every evening she sits at a little bar on the Boardwalk, sipping cold vodka martinis and sharing her stories with anyone who will listen.
On her way home one night, a little tipsy and with a large bucket of French fries tucked between her cast and boobs, Mary Alice trips over a pair of flip flops and tumbles face first onto the wooden planks. Amidst howls of laughter from a group of teenage boys, she picks up herself and what remains of the bucket of fries. Her nose is bleeding and not one of the hyenas offered a helping hand to a damsel in distress. Heck, they probably set the flip flop trap.
Examining herself later in the bathroom mirror, she’s confident a dark red lipstick will hide her busted up lower lip. Her nose has stopped bleeding and it looks okay. Her front tooth, however, feels a little loose so she gives it a wiggle. It comes off in her hand.
“Good Lord,” Mary Alice gasps, staring at the hillbilly in the mirror’s reflection. “This is just too much; something has got to change.” With that pronouncement she pops a sleeping pill and climbs into bed, carefully placing the big front tooth on the nightstand. Mary Alice is prone to making life-changing decisions before going to sleep. They never amount to anything.
In the morning, Mary Alice awakens surprisingly refreshed. She tugs on the remaining front tooth. Solid. She slips on an old Dave Matthews Band concert t-shirt, a pair of shorts, and dark sunglasses then proceeds to take a brisk morning walk— two miles, the length of the boardwalk and back. It’s the first exercise she’s had in over a month since the bicycle incident.
Upon returning to the condo, she pours a big glass of ice coffee instead of her usual morning beer, sits down at a table on the balcony overlooking the ocean, and writes for a full hour about the time her four hundred pound, bi-polar brother went on a rampage in a Chick-Fil-A parking lot. He began ramming automobiles with his Chrysler PT Cruiser and then led the cops on a car chase, before finally abandoning the vehicle to make a lumbering run into a K-mart. He was certain he could shake them. He was off his meds and had gotten fed up waiting in the drive-through lane for a chicken sandwich. Mary Alice could understand. People go crazy for those chicken sandwiches.
One day becomes four days becomes four weeks. By now Mary Alice has established a nice little regimen of walking and writing. Running her tongue through and around the empty socket, Mary Alice is beginning to think she might not get it replaced. Somehow, the missing tooth had freed Mary Alice from her fear and perfectionist tendencies, letting the stories flow like saliva through the gap in her teeth. Her friends and family will be horrified, both by her smile and her stories, but every author needs to be memorable. If she could teach herself to spew an arc of wine through the gap, she’s sure her book party wouldn’t be dull.
Rich Barnett is the author of The Discreet Charms of a Bourgeois Beach Town. More Rich Barnett