‘I think it could come out tonight.’
‘It might. You never know.’
Two weeks later (and every evening in between)…
‘I really think it’s definitely going to come out tonight.’
‘Maybe. Don’t pull it though, it will come when it wants to.’
The following evening…
I was in the kitchen pouring warm milk into a bottle for her sister, when she approached, with the same tooth held in the same pincer grip and — with an intake of breath which had now also become somewhat familiar — declared, ‘It’s definitely going to come out tonight, Daddy. Look!’ She opened her mouth, wide, for me to look into, unaware, as she had been with each exhibition previous, that her finger and thumb were obstructing any possible view of the precariously dangling tooth.
‘You need to take your fingers out of the way,’
A rictus of lips and teeth and cavernous shade revealed itself for inspection. The tooth was hanging from the top gum like a leaf from a branch that had nearly seen out Autumn. Last night it had still seemed fairly well hinged to its root, and could be pushed back and forth like a cat flap. I now had to agree that it really did seem like its time was very near.
‘Will you pull it out now?’, she asked.
‘Erm, I’m not sure. What did Mummy say?’
‘Mummy said to ask you to do it.’
‘Oh, er, well, you can do a lot of damage if you try and force it out before it’s ready.’
For the last fortnight, at the same time most evenings, the saga of this little front tooth had been reenacted afresh. So frustratingly close to letting go of its purchase on her flesh. Two weeks ago, she had begun a full-on assault to dislodge it: asking for an apple to be added to her lunchbox; requesting treats in the form of Drumstick lollies or other paper-wrapped chews. Aiming to make life for that little tooth unbearably difficult. Her sustained attack on this enamel-coated square had been the central focus of her hours between tea time and bed, and a satellite concern circling the preoccupations of her mother and father. Her fingers were there constantly, finding all manner of ways to tease around the area and some special means of unlocking this source of frustration, though her efforts were akin to blindly foraging for a keyhole in the dark.
Thirty years ago, her father had pulled at his own just-hanging-on tooth, seeking to relieve both tingling pain and flapping impediment. The force had caused flesh to rip. Blood had spilled and his frustrations had been replaced by a far greater discomfort, which lasted long into the days that followed. But the morning after that first night, he had lifted his pillow and discovered the thing which made it all worthwhile.
‘Darling, I’m not sure I should–’
‘Look! Look!’, and she held open her hand to show me a tiny milk tooth sat in the middle of her palm. It was clean and almost flat. No bloodied stain at its hollow end. The fifth one to fall; the first from the top row. Her smile was instantly different, something she could feel as plainly as we could see it. She walked hurriedly into the lounge to show her mother, and then quickly upstairs and back down half a minute later clutching a glittery bag with ribbon ties and the tooth inside it. She told us she had cleaned her teeth, those inside her mouth and the one now outside of it.
Over the next hour, she pushed her tongue in and out of the cavity, contented, the bag next to her on the sofa. She devoured a bowl of cereal, impaired not in the slightest for being with one fewer teeth. And she went up to bed at the first time of asking.
She has the heaviest head, my daughter. My hand had slid underneath the pillow without stutter or sound until it found that middle point where her weight was centred. I managed to pull out the note she had written first, then, via a few jerks and jolts, I made it to the bag. I tugged at it and brought it all the way out from under the pillow. I untied the ribbon and found the tooth with thumb and forefinger, and looked at it, diminutive against the coin I held in the palm of the same hand. Her tooth.
I put the coin in the bag, re-tied it and pushed it back underneath where her head rested. I pushed a note under too to acknowledge the one just removed. I dared to brush her hair back; nothing would wake her now, not fairies, not her father. I left the room, pulling the door to behind me and then pushing it back open just enough to make the dark a little less dark. Back downstairs, I put the tooth onto a high shelf, away from where she might see it again. I hid the card intended for another which I’d taken from under her pillow inside my bag and would take it to work in the morning and keep it in my drawer.
All these things: hidden and obscured, hiding and obscuring – the tooth, her fingers, the bag, the pillow, the door, the dark, the shelf, the bag, the drawer. This little tooth. There, and then, no longer there.