Louisa watched her mother pass the potatoes to her husband, a neat pat of butter softening into the top “Mom?”
“My tooth.” Louisa grinned and revealed the bloody warrior in her palm.
Her stepfather rolled his eyes, helped himself to the pool of butter and a large portion of potatoes beneath. “Must you do that at the table?”
“Oh, let her alone, Charles.”
“Eleanor.” Louisa could taste the sharp menace in his voice. A warning her mother too-often ignored of late.
“What harm in a tooth?”
“Rinse your mouth, child.”
Louisa immediately rose and went to the lavatory. She sat on the toilet, admiring her prize: the soft crimson center, the long roots on the left side that hadn’t quite been ready to surrender; the rootless right side that had long ago given up their claim to her mouth.
With a safety pin she found in the medicine cabinet, she extracted the pulp from the tooth, her tongue prodding the place where her tooth used to be. For days, she knew, her tongue would return to this emptiness, questioning gently, until she grew accustomed to the emptiness, forgot about it entirely, and was later surprised to find it filled in with something new and extraordinary.
A gentle knock. “Louisa?”
She pocketed the tooth; fixed the pin to the hem of her dress. “Yes?”
“All better, dear?”
“Yes.” She opened the door, trying not to notice the bruise blooming on her mother’s left cheek.
Her mother wet a tissue in the sink and wiped the blood from Louisa’s mouth. “Let’s go have our dinner.”
“Fixed up, then?” Her stepfather. Hermit-crab eyes, eyes on slow wavering stalks, prodding eyes, tentatively questioning.
“Yes.” She sat and accepted the dish of mashed potatoes, wishing for a bit of butter.
“How was school, then?”
“Fine.” She made a well in her potatoes.
“Making any friends?”
“Some.” Filled the well with gravy.
“I’m thinking,” her stepfather said, “we ought to get a cat.”
She met his eyes, refused to yield. “You’re allergic.” She forked the side of the potatoes, her eyes worrying the mark on her mother’s face.
As she watched the gravy bleed into her corn, Louisa realized that missing teeth were painful truths. A person could be broken, shattered, even. A person could feel so strangely rooted to a place…or a person…that she refused to let go.
But, eventually, Louisa thought, looking at the angle at which her mother now held her chin and the straightness of her spine, eventually a person’s need for that old thing she so clung to would melt and fall away. Something new and better, and quite possibly something extraordinary would grow in its place.
Louisa lifted a spoonful of mashed potatoes into her mouth, shoved them into the empty place in her mouth, filling it with a warmth painful yet comforting. Outside a gentle mist settled upon the landscape and she felt a mixture of melancholy and tenderness and the first hints of exhilaration.
This was written for this week’s Write on Edge prompt.
We could choose between a photograph of a misty mountain scene in which one tree has been taken down or this quote: “Why is summer mist romantic and autumn mist just sad?” Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle.
The taken-down tree, the missing tree, for some reason reminded me of a missing tooth, so I went with that image.