Georgia's Loose Tooth
This transplanted fairy tale gives new meaning to the word vegetable.
Of all the teeth -- a good twenty of them at least -- in Georgia's six-year-old mouth, the first one to come loose was the rearmost lower molar on the left-hand side.
"How very unusual," Dr. Benoxious exclaimed when he finally prised open her mouth far enough to see the molar. "Indeed, this is passing strange." He was a frustrated actor who had taken to dentistry only as a last resort and always spoke dramatically.
Georgia wrinkled her nose and opened wider to receive the fat, nimble hands of her dentist. They were clammy and cold, as if he had soaked them in ice water and then shelled a few oysters. She did not like them at all -- they smelled rather like her granny's compost heap.
"Nrmph grmnp kmpt hhp," Georgia mumbled, pushing her tongue between his fleshy fingers, trying to dislodge them from her mouth.
Dr. Benoxious finally, after much prodding and probing, withdrew his hands. He methodically removed his surgical gloves and inquired, "Did you brush your teeth this morning?" He knew, of course, that she had not, for her youthful mouth smelled uncannily like his old uncle Wilfred's compost heap. Over the rims of his wire-frame bifocal spectacles, he peered at her knowingly.
"No," Georgia mumbled.
"How serious is it, Doctor?" asked Hilda, leaning over to look. She wrapped her fingers around her daughter's tiny hand and squeezed it consolingly.
"Oh, pish-posh," Dr. Benoxious exclaimed, throwing one massive hand to his forehead. "Unusual it is -- but ends well -- for this is nothing to be alarmed over. 'Tis naught but a loose tooth." Adjusting his spectacles, he added seriously, "Happens frequently to children of her age." He waved his arms in the air, then pulled Georgia up from the dentist chair and set her on her feet.
After receiving a heavily-padded check to cover expenses, Dr. Benoxious brought out his jar of sweets and let them each choose a nice lollipop. Hilda took a small red one; Georgia chose green with milky swirls and popped it joyfully into her mouth.
"Do have her brush more often," the dentist sighed, gazing over the tops of his spectacles. He bade Georgia and her mother good-bye and shooed them out of the office.
"Can I have some ice cream now?" Georgia asked as they walked down the steps to their car.
"All right. I promised, didn't I?" Hilda said, smiling. She tousled Georgia's hair. Hilda had hated to have her own hair tousled when she was a little girl, but she did it to Georgia on the presumption that her daughter would get used to it as she never had.
They stopped at the Luscious Ice Cream Emporium on the nearest corner and had one strawberry sundae with two flimsy spoons. Georgia ate all of the strawberries while her mother was stuck with the ice cream, which did not take well to being plastically spooned. The spoon finally broke, and Hilda returned both pieces perfunctorily to their waitress, who brought a sturdier one to replace it. She attacked her portion with renewed vigor.
Georgia's father George, many years older than his wife, was a stamp licker in the small post office near the corner of Potrero and Wichita and had attained notable seniority in the position, obliging him to work long hours supervising his apprentices. That evening, however, he returned from work somewhat early, looking unusually haggard. The children were in their accustomed spots in front of the TV, surrounded by their towering collection of video tapes.
"Machinery and gadgets!" George bawled, slamming the front door and unbuttoning his uniform shirt. "Balderdash!" His mood was foul and he did not stop even to pinch Georgia's cheek or pat Henry's head. Henry was Georgia's little brother, only four years old, and he stood dejectedly for a moment with downcast eyes. Then he remembered the news and followed his father eagerly into the kitchen. Georgia jumped up to follow them.
"Daddy! Daddy!" Henry yelled, leaping around.
"Hey!" Georgia yelled, shoving Henry aside. "I get to tell him. Daddy?" She gouged Henry in the ribs and twisted his ear while her father was looking into the cookie jar. There were no cookies -- only a few crumbs and a stray chunk of pecan.
"Yes, Georgia?" George threw himself heavily into a chair in the breakfast nook and scooped off his wig. He hated the thing and wore it only to hide the shiny bald spot in the center of his scalp. The moment he took it off, he felt years younger and pounds lighter. After tossing away his sweaty uniform shirt, he scratched his chest without even washing the glue from beneath his fingernails. The sounds of animated mayhem on the TV drifted in from the living-room.
"Daddy," Georgia said, opening her mouth wide. "Look! I have a loose tooth!" She jumped into her father's lap and pushed her face right up to his eyes. George had to lean back to focus on her teeth.
Georgia dragged his hand into her mouth to feel the tooth wiggle. "So you do," he agreed. "Loose as a goose. Well, it looks like the Tooth Fairy will soon be here."
"Hurray!" Georgia yelled.
Henry was sulking near the garbage can, holding his ribs with one hand and looking for scraps of aluminum foil to add to his already burgeoning collection. "Phooey!" he yelled, and made a face. "She always gets the good stuff."
"Now, Henry," their mother said, walking into the kitchen. "Georgia's older. When you get to be six, you'll have loose teeth, too." Hilda cast a faint smile at her husband and adjusted her skirt. She had been on a frugality binge for some time, and her bargain-basement panty hose did not fit very well. "How was your day, dear?" she asked, opening the cupboard to bring down plates and bowls. "Here, Georgia, put these on the table, dear."
George mumbled a ritual answer to his wife's ritual question and helped Georgia to set the table.
All through dinner, over the din of the evening news, between polite cries of "please pass the sauerkraut" and "more grapefruit juice, please," the family discussed Georgia's tooth. Afterward they sat around the table and looked up "tooth" in the encyclopedia.
In Georgia's room they had a bedtime story about the Tooth Fairy, but little Henry fell asleep before the end. George closed the book, declaring, "To be continued, tomorrow."
"How much money will the Tooth Fairy leave?" Georgia inquired.
"Oh, I don't know these days," answered George, setting the book aside. "But she doesn't always leave money."
"Oh, no," he replied, as he tucked Georgia's blankets in around her. "Sometimes, she'll bring another surprise. Now sleep tight." He kissed her on the cheek and turned out the light, then gently carried little Henry off to his own bed.
After the children were soundly asleep, Hilda and George retired to their bedroom and had a long bath. The cheap bath beads with which Hilda scented the water left a horrid ring in the tub, and as it was her fault for being overly frugal, she was obliged to rinse the tub. George brushed his teeth, then flossed while Hilda brushed hers.
"Hilda," said George as they settled into bed. "I cannot tell a lie. I got laid off today. The whole department." He whisked one hand through the air. "Ousted by an infernal machine."
"Oh, George!" Hilda crooned soothingly, patting his shoulder. "That's really too bad -- and so near retirement, too. You'll find something better next week." She flipped out the light on her side of the bed, then rolled over and turned up the red NO side of her pillow.
George read a few chapters of a pulp Western before he got tired enough to sleep. He would certainly have to look for new employment in the morning, and that was an unwelcome chore -- even the excitement of a fictional gunfight could not keep his mind fully occupied. With a deep, bed-shaking sigh, he finally curled up against Hilda's back and went to sleep.
Georgia, snug in her own bed among flannel sheets, was so excited she could hardly sleep that night. Long after her parents thought her safely in the arms of Morpheus, she lay awake with pounding heart and kept sucking on the loose tooth at the back of her mouth. The tooth made a little clicking sound whenever it popped up and flopped on its side, and she could stick her tongue down into the soft depression beneath it. She kept wiggling the tooth with her tongue. It got looser and looser, until it was held to her gums by a thin thread of tissue -- but it would not come out. The last thing she remembered was wiggling it, wiggling it...
Georgia jumped out of bed in the morning as soon as she awoke, not waiting for her mother to roust her. Something strange had happened inside her mouth! Her loose tooth was nowhere to be found, neither among the disarrayed bedclothes nor under her pillow -- but there was something new in her mouth. A little, bumpy, soft thing had sprung up right where her loose tooth had been. But there was no sign of any present from the Tooth Fairy. Georgia's spirit was crushed. Her first lost tooth -- and no present!
Hilda consoled her with a bowl of cinnamon oatmeal and told her gently that the Tooth Fairy would certainly find her that night -- for the fairy never missed a lost tooth. Georgia pointed out the soft patch in her gum, and Hilda, thinking that a piece of broccoli had probably lodged in her daughter's teeth, brushed them all extra carefully, with individual attention. Afterward, she took a toothpick to the spot.
"Owie!" Georgia yelled as soon as the toothpick plunged into the pulpy, green mass.
"Does it hurt, dear?" her mother asked, probing again.
"It feels icky," Georgia replied. "Tastes funny, too."
Georgia spent the rest of the day in front of the TV, uncomfortably poking her tongue at the soft extrusion and looking in the mirror during every commercial break. She believed the mass was growing larger.
Late that night, George slipped quietly into Georgia's room and left a shiny Susan B. Anthony dollar under her pillow. Satisfied that he had done well, he looked down at her sentimentally for a few moments, then retired for the night.
The sight that greeted Georgia and her entire family early the following morning was truly astounding.
"Mommy!" Georgia yelled from the bathroom. She wailed again. "Mommy! Mommy!"
Hilda, snapping to maternal attention, tromped over her sleeping husband and went running -- to find Georgia sitting cross-legged on top of the sink, staring into the mirror. A long green tendril drooped limply from her open mouth.
"Well, pull it out!" Hilda said angrily. She was not a morning person and resented being awakened on a Sunday when she should have been able to sleep until noon. It was the family's custom for George to attend to the Sunday morning chores while the children watched cartoons and Hilda slept.
"It won't come out!" Georgia wailed. She fingered the tendril. Little tears bunched up at the corners of her eyes, threatening to leap away and roll down her cheeks.
Hilda reached over and gave the green tendril a firm yank.
"Yeow!" Georgia's tears burst forth.
"Here, turn around," said Hilda, holding the girl's shoulders. "Now open your mouth," she insisted, pulling down on Georgia's lower lip.
Georgia opened wide, and Hilda gazed into the pink, cavernous recesses of her daughter's mouth. Plain as the winged lady on the bonnet of a Rolls Royce was the green tendril, its whitish roots sunk deeply into the depression left by the lost molar. "I'll get your father," she announced, tousling Georgia's hair. "He can take the pliers to it."
George had already been awakened by the unexpected tromp of his wife's foot across the inside of his right thigh and was sitting up in bed. Alarmed at the news, he put on his wig, which perched nearby on his nightstand, and ran to the bathroom. Try as he might to dislodge the extrusion, however, his pliers had no effect on the tenacious green tendril and he finally gave up.
The tendril grew longer, almost visibly, and by evening was a good two feet in length. Its girth was about that of a pencil, and the stem was spongy to the touch. Leaves had begun to sprout from the end just after lunch -- poor Georgia had to choke the first bite of her liverwurst sandwich past the tendril and could hardly chew. Hilda made her a nice, hearty bowl of chicken soup instead and gave the rest of the sandwich to Henry. Late in the evening, George and Hilda decided it was time to call upon Dr. Benoxious again.
The following morning shortly before nine, George set out to beat the pavement looking for work -- he did not have high hopes and really would have taken any sort of labor. He was just that short of retirement and worked as a hobby, for his family had all the necessities of suburban life and a swimming pool besides. Immediately after her husband left, Hilda deposited the children in front of the TV and walked the five blocks to Dr. Benoxious's office, where she managed to slip in before the first customer of the day.
Dr. Benoxious was not in the habit of making house calls, for that silly pastime had gone out of fashion before his heyday -- but Hilda's extraordinary story, rendered in breathless excitement, soon had him cowed. He could find nothing, however, upon the subject of house calls in his dog-eared copy of Eichler's Etiquette. Baffled and unable to decide how long his errand might take, he finally sent his receptionist home for the day, closed up the office, and accompanied Hilda, assured of a good solid fee.
"Extraordinary," he agreed once he had examined Georgia's mouth. "This will go down in the annals of American dentistry, sure as I'm John Benoxious, DDS." He swished his surgical gloves in the air and tossed them into the wastebasket.
After they had eaten lunch, Dr. Benoxious called in a photographer friend, for the little girl patently refused a ride in his shiny new Jaguar, even though it was painted the color of her favorite fruit -- strawberry. The dentist and his camera-toting chum took close-up and wide-angle shots with various lenses and filters, along with a few photographic views of the tendril's root system. Hilda declined an invitation to have her daughter's mouth X-rayed, having recently read a lengthy magazine article which cited the deleterious effects of X-rays upon youthful bone tissue.
The plant -- for what could it be called but a plant? -- had grown by strident leaps and springy bounds. Georgia was, by mid-afternoon, having severe trouble swallowing even chicken soup without a straw. The girth of the tendril was that of a broom handle.
Dr. Benoxious took Hilda aside while the photographer adjusted his tripod and prepared for another series of macro shots. "We'll have to put her on an IV," he said seriously, looking down Hilda's blouse.
"Oh, heavens, no!" screamed Hilda, throwing a hand to her chest. "Not my baby!"
"I'm afraid -- what with the way this phenomenon is growing," the dentist continued, shaking his head, "we are left with little mortal choice. It's either that -- " and here his eyes shot sternly toward Hilda -- "or amputate."
Hilda swooned into his arms and he lowered her gently to the floor. After she recovered and took a few tranquilizers with a cup of coffee, she saw the sense of what the good dentist proposed. Along with a number of oral-surgical acquaintances of Dr. Benoxious, a reporter and a local news camera-being were called in for further opinions. George and Hilda's humble two-story home was soon a rip-roaring madhouse stuffed with thrill-seekers. The camera crews pulled the front door off its hinges and knocked out a sidewall for better lighting and access. They soon had portable cinematographic lamps installed in all the corners. Multicolored cables draped across the front garden from their vans, wound along the front hedge, and into the front picture windows. They snaked across the living room, leapt atop the furniture, sprawled upon the end tables, coiled threateningly in the corners. More and more cables were pulled in until the living room resembled the set for a bad Hollywood production of a Tarzan epic. A steady stream of gawking neighbors filed in through the front door to glimpse the goings-on and then filed out through the rent in the sidewall. Central Precinct later sent down a rookie police officer to keep traffic moving along the normally quiet, elm-lined suburban street.
When George arrived home in the evening, having woven carefully between the vans that littered the sidewalk and pulled his car into the driveway, he was at first not sure that he had come to the right house. Through the gaping hole in the sidewall, however, he glimpsed Hilda meandering around the living room among tropically-hued cables and suddenly realized that the hounds of the press had ferreted them out.
George shouted an obscenity and went berserk. He ripped the cables from the vans and fetched his heaviest sledgehammer to bash out their windows. With a stout pair of garden shears, he cut all of the cables into tiny pieces no longer than Havana cigars, after which he tossed the unctuous press people and swarms of goggle-eyed photographers into the street. This was not done without token opposition, and he softened a few heads and broke an arm or two in the process of clearing his living room.
Quite late in the evening, George was arrested for assault and vandalism. He promptly filed suit against seven newspapers and four television stations charging vandalism, littering, and trespassing, along with several small-print pages of minor offenses suggested by his astute attorney -- who had taken the case pro bono.
Georgia was a one-day wonder and might have been more, but the press -- except for a few paparazzi -- abandoned the incident under George's legal onslaught. The tendril, however, did not stop growing. Poor Georgia was unable to walk at all after Tuesday morning and had succumbed to lethargy. By the previous evening, in fact, Hilda had been obliged to tote the mass of growing vines behind in a sturdy plastic container whenever her daughter went to the powder room. On Wednesday, Hilda, exhausted from carrying bedpans, had the family physician install a catheter. The IV soon followed, for Georgia's lethargy had reached such a state that she could no longer walk and certainly could consume no nutrition orally. The tendril's girth was that of a baseball bat and it showed no sign of imminent wilting.
By Thursday, the vine had spread over the entire living room and was heavily, inexorably in flower. The flowers -- in great variety -- were intriguing -- even to Georgia, who giggled delightedly (through her nose, to be sure, as her mouth was completely stoppered by the tendril) every time Hilda brought her an exotic new sample found springing up somewhere. Attached as she was to catheters and gadgets, she settled into immobility. The resplendent vines cascaded about the room, climbing vividly up the walls, and hung down like thin, wavering stalactites -- slowly dripping onto the plush carpets, where many of them began to take root. In that cozy environment, filled with colorful blossoms and hanging vines, Georgia sat in a tall wicker chair before the family's best television set and watched a number of Henry's jungle films: the room was perfectly suited to that form of entertainment, and Henry did so love Tarzan. He was frankly glad to have the final word, for once, as to the programs they would view -- for Georgia could utter not a word of protest.
Sensing her daughter's frustration with the situation, Hilda appealed to her husband. "Don't you think we should let Georgia watch what she wants?" she inquired. "She is ill, after all."
"You're right, as usual," replied George. "It won't hurt to indulge her, I suppose." He moved the video player and a stack of tapes to a table where Georgia could reach them and left her happily in command of the remote control. The family's other television wound up in Henry's room.
Saturday morning brought unexpected delights: The vines, which had been in glorious blossom all week, had begun to bear fruit. By that time the vines had completely subdued the living room, vanquished the formal dining room, catapulted across the family room and the stairwell leading to the upper floor, and spilled lavishly across the back verandah. At first the fruits were small things -- kumquats and strawberries and such. But by Sunday afternoon -- cabbages! Great succulent watermelons and apples! Zucchinis larger than their neighbor's Great Dane! Passion fruits! Cantaloupes! Rambutans and jackfruits! Breadfruit, coconuts, pineapples! Pomegranates! Oranges! Crook-necked squashes and pumpkins and tomatoes! Seven species of beans!
Inundated with far more variety and quantity of edibles than they could possibly consume in a year of unbridled gastronomy, George and Hilda deliberated at length and finally decided to go into business. They promptly applied for a business license, packed George's car to the brim with all manner of exquisite produce, and sallied downtown. No sooner had they set out their sumptuous array than they were cited for illegal parking. They moved further down the block, out of the red zone, and lay out their blankets again.
Atop the blankets, Hilda and George piled their vast store of treasures. At first there were few customers, so they lowered their prices and took to waving vine-ripened pineapples at passing motorists. The next day, they attracted a few more customers -- for their produce was truly world class, and the word had spread. Within the week, the shocking news had leaked that all of this gorgeous fruit -- out of season, every piece -- was positively dripping from the bounteous vines growing out of little Georgia's mouth. The tabloids had the story within the fortnight, complete with illicit photographs of the catheterized, open-mouthed youngster -- and a somewhat distorted botanical analysis contributed by an anonymous gardener.
By the end of the month, the family members were wading in cash and invitations from various media moguls -- most of which they refused, for the sake of domestic privacy. Even little Henry was finally able to purchase the enormous jungle gym he had so long coveted. The family was able to knock out the living-room walls and refurbish the entire ground floor of their home to accommodate Georgia's handicap, simultaneously ensuring good ventilation and lighting for the vines.
George and Hilda continued to sell their magnificent produce, even elevating the rates in recognition of its extraordinary nature -- and they began to charge admission to the newly-constructed atrium where all of their produce was gently, organically grown.
Snug in the atrium's heart, amid the splash of jungle foliage, her eyes glued to the TV, sat Georgia -- happy as a vegetable.
Richard McGowan (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a software engineer in Silicon Valley. His two young children are losing their teeth.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 4, Number 4 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1994 Richard McGowan.