Bernard Dudinski was an idiot and there was no savant about it. He picked up the paperweight to examine the tooth encased within it at a closer angle. He was convinced it was his own. Bernard had a perfect smile — which never failed even when someone kicked him in the shins. He was certain that the tooth trapped within the paperweight was one stolen by the tooth fairy when he was seven.
Stolen because he hadn’t left it under his pillow — he had locked it in a tiny safe and hidden the key in his underpants. Stolen because she hadn’t left a single cent.
He paid the shopkeeper fifty dollars and clutched the paperweight to his chest. He was afraid a thieving fairy would fly by and pinch it. On the journey home, a hawker tried to swap the paperweight for a hot dog, and a cat sniffed his shoes and clawed at his trouser leg. Despite these obstacles, he and the paperweight made it to his apartment intact.
Glass smashed as he threw the paperweight at the kitchen table. The tooth rattled out. It was a dull yellow, tobacco stained, and larger than he remembered.
“That’ll be the fairy magic.”
Standing before the mirror, he opened his mouth and looked for a place to screw in the old tooth. Finding no gap in his uniform smile, he picked up a knife and a hammer and began to knock out an upper incisor. Blood smeared across and dulled his smile.
He pushed the tooth into his gum. It wobbled as his tongue played with it.
Afraid a fairy would break into his apartment while he slept, Bernard sewed up his lips with a needle and grey thread. He concealed the scissors beneath his pillow.
The sound of someone snoring woke Bernard at six-thirty the following morning. He licked his lips, and then ran his tongue around his mouth. Something was wrong. The thread lay in a heap on his pillow.
Sweat dripped from his nose as he stood in front of the mirror. He opened his mouth. A single yellow tooth poked down from his gum.
It no longer wobbled.
Bernard scratched his head and wondered if he had imagined his brilliant smile. As he walked into the kitchen, glass crunched under his foot. He dismissed it as a broken whisky bottle — even though he didn’t drink anything other than water — and brushed it up.
He then pulled on an old grey coat, removed the belt and replaced it with string, and stuffed yesterday’s newspaper beneath his shirt.
“Good morning, Mrs. Bleasdale,” he lisped. “Don’t be alarmed if you find me sleeping on the doorstep this evening.”
“I won’t,” she answered, and slammed her door.
Bernard found the dirtiest corner on the scruffiest street and promptly sat down next to a lamppost. He sat there for thirty-five minutes before tiring of the game and then picked himself up and returned to the store where he had purchased the tooth.
He looked up at the sign: The Lost Emporium.
“I would like to return something; it’s broken.”
“Do you have a receipt?” The assistant sneered. “We can’t give you cash without proof of purchase.”
“Oh, I don’t want any money. I made a mistake; this tooth isn’t mine.”
He grabbed hold of the tooth and tried to pull it from his mouth. It wouldn’t budge. He picked up a paperknife and attempted to pry the tooth free.
The assistant sighed.
Bernard sank against the counter resigned to the futility of his task when something caught his eye. He crossed the store and pointed up to a wig perched on a mannequin’s head.
“Why, I believe that belongs to me?”
“You do understand that by purchasing said item you are agreeing that you are the original owner, and that any changes to character that result from a mistaken purchase are the fault of the buyer.”
“Of course,” Bernard replied, running his fingers through his hair.
Cate Gardner’s fiction has most recently appeared in Fantasy Magazine and Necrotic Tissue. Her novelette, The Sour Aftertaste of Olive Lemon, is available from Bucket ‘O’ Guts press. You can visit her on the web at www.categardner.com.
This story was sponsored by
Camilla d’Errico: A character designer and artist who dances on the tightrope between pop surrealist art and manga inspired graphics. Explore her paintings, characters and comics: Tanpopo, BURN and Helmetgirls.