Good Brusher

By James Cato

An empty bar

I met the Tooth Fairy at a bar-club called Revolution. I sat alone with an IPA, letting the bitterness pinch my cheeks and heeding the cartoonish scene of three college kids dancing to a pulsing beat on an otherwise empty floor. In the opposite corner, a floating grin caught my eye—a woman lifted a tiny box filled with teeth from her pocket. 

It was the end of the night. Actually, the night was over; it was nearly 3 AM, and my friends had all slipped home. Now I engaged in a lonely ritual: I people-watched. It was the emotional equivalent of cleaning up after a parade. Some weeks I witnessed secrets slipping as people vacated the club. The bartender knew my tradition and left me to it. 

Usually, I soaked in anonymity, watching folks gather up their jackets, noting how women folded them neatly and men balled them up like sleeping bags. Some folks left alone, some left with strangers, and some left with friends. I’d seen a woman with a shiatsu in her purse and a biker-gang with silver knives clipped inside their waistbands. Other nights I simply blinked at the stuttered bubbles in my beer and recounted the week’s events, reminiscing on the notable moments. 

Tonight I would not be reminiscing.

The woman with the carton of teeth sat across from a man. Both were older than the average clientele of this extraordinarily purple bar-club, middle-aged at least. They wore khaki coats and I could only imagine the humid air sticking to their skin like raisin jam and invading the spaces between their garments. Their drinks looked like props in this setting, whiskey on the rocks and Shiraz red wine, hardly touched. They seemed loosely acquainted in the way of mutual friends.

The clear container sat on the table between them. There must have been fifteen or twenty teeth inside. “You’re the Tooth Fairy!” the woman exclaimed, just audible over the music. The man cocked his head in a silent laugh, wide mouth illuminated by submarine strobes, and laid a bill in her palm in exchange for the box, which I’d recognized was a plastic pencil case.

As she pocketed the cash the Tooth Fairy flipped open the case and plucked out a molar, regarding it like a gem. I leaned forward, IPA forgotten, curious and slightly nauseated. Whose teeth were those? Why had he purchased them like a pack of cigarettes? Were they removed by a dentist? Blasted out of their rows by a thrown fist? Were they even human? The Tooth Fairy found my sharp gaze and furrowed his brow. 

My eyes shot away instinctively. I pretended to observe the film of adventure on my shoe. It wasn’t convincing. “Hey!” came the call. He was scooping air toward him, beckoning. The woman’s eyes flicked over and she smiled a bit, offering the fugitive friendliness found at bars. I swam toward them, off balance, hypnotized by the skeleton’s mouthful in a box. “You alright?” asked the Tooth Fairy, rattling his prize. His face was wide and frank, not unlike a mobster’s, while hers was calm and searching.

“Yeah, sorry. Are those…?”

The woman laughed. “This must look bizarre.”

“Weird place to do business,” admitted the Tooth Fairy. “These are her daughters. I asked Mama here for permission to be Tooth Fairy.”

“Well, Melanie is your daughter too, in a way,” said the woman. 

“Yes.” There was weight on this word. He tucked his brow together. “I’m her sperm donor. This is where we meet.”

The mother winked at me, sloshing her wine. “He wanted a part to play, isn’t that sweet? Gives me Easter eggs and Halloween spooks. One day papier mâché skeletons pop up in the yard and chocolate eggs sneak under her pillows. Keeps Mel believing in magic, the lucky girl. I found my baby teeth in a jewelry box.” She tilted her head at the Tooth Fairy, a splinter short of affectionate. “I’m glad you checked that box on the form.” 

“Me too,” he said. They seemed to forget about me for a moment. The Tooth Fairy rolled a bicuspid between his thumb and index, clutching calcium from a grin he’d never seen. Her mother took a generous swig and swallowed. “She’s a good brusher,” he mentioned, chuckling. He patted my arm, dismissing me. “Now you won’t call the cops on us.” 

I agreed and retreated to my drink, the conversation joining a catalogue. As a kid I never imagined a holiday fantasy wearing my face. When Melanie learns the truth about the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause, she’ll have more biology to wrap her head around than I did. Chuckling down the chimney is a warped painting of herself previously unknown, adult and male, the result perhaps sweet.

Category: Featured, Short Story