It came when she was twenty-five. She was annoyed.
What had happened to being an adult? To being unchanged and unchangeable? To being emotionally mature? She had stopped growing at 5’ 10, nine years ago. Her hair, which had been darkening since birth, had settled at a bark-like hue when she was fourteen. Her feet had been sixes since she was twelve and her freckles were few and faint. She had no bruises. She never bled.
She no longer shuffled around Manchester in the heavy woollen fleece of her adolescence. She no longer wore childish hats starring Totoro or Pikachu. She wore a smart black leather jacket and an occasional beret. Her once-bobbed hair was now long and permanently pinned back in a sophisticated twist.
And yet here it, was, this tooth. It arrived with no formal warning. A large amount of pain preceded it, but she brushed her teeth too hard and expected pain. When the yellow crown broke through the gum, like some ugly animal that had been living underground, she was appalled.
The tooth was doing nothing wrong, she admitted. It was just being. It was uninvited. If she had thought about having another tooth, and decided it might be a good idea, then maybe the situation would be different. The fact was it was an intruder, it was unplanned. Like a pregnancy, she thought. She knew that would never be a problem.
Every morning after rising from her bed she examined it in the mirror, very cautiously touched it. Then she shut her mouth, washed, dressed and didn’t look at or acknowledge it until the evening, last thing before switching off the light. When she was in her nightdress. When she was not beautiful. That was when she could bear to see it.
It grew steadily. By the time her dentist’s check-up came around it was more or less through. The dentist was pleased with it, said it was healthy. He felt around her other gums and said she didn’t look set to have any more. She thanked him, expressionless.
Soon after, she attended the opening evening of a new art exhibition. She vaguely knew some of the people involved. She remembered being a kid and doing endless activity days at the art gallery, being a tween and taking on yearly projects. She’d been one of their shining stars, had graced their website time after time. She hated those photos now, the grinning gap-toothed freckly blonde kid she would never be again.
She wrapped her heather-coloured scarf more tightly around her neck. It was hot but it looked chic. She stepped up to a painting, a cacophony of blues and greens and yellows, and tried to understand it. She couldn’t. She couldn’t make them talk to her anymore. She blinked back tears. She couldn’t cry, not now.
“It’s part of my sunset series,” a voice said.
She turned to see a guy of around thirty by her side.
“It’s an unusual colour for a sunset.”
“The blue and green and yellow? No, they’re not the sunset. They’re everything else. The sunset is the line at the bottom, that black line. That’s the moment the sun disappears. It’s the important part that no-one sees.”
Suddenly great sadness filled her.
“Thank you,” she said.
On slipping out of the gallery she was greeted by snow. It was light, gentle. It would have annoyed her earlier. She wasn’t prepared for it. But she just walked. Oxford Road was quiet. She remembered the paintings, a whole gallery of them, each a mess of colour with one thin black line. They caused her a pain she could hardly bear.
She sat at a bus stop and felt for her tooth with her tongue. It felt smooth, firm. Like it belonged. She took a hand from a glove and touched it. She was shocked at how cold her hand was. She sucked it. Some snow landed on it and she sucked that. It tasted acidic.
The bus came and she boarded and paid. She sat and felt her tooth again. She couldn’t keep away from it now. It was so perfect it astounded her. How had she done it? How had her body grown something new, now? Could it… Could it possibly do it again?
She rang the bell, not knowing or caring where they were. She stepped down into the street and broke down in tears. She poked her tooth again and then, bracing herself, bit down. Blood spilled over her finger and hand. She stared at it, red on white, alien.
The snow fell harder and she shivered and longed for a woollen fleece. She was 5’ 10, she was thin, she was classy. Her hair twist and heather-coloured scarf and navy gloves hid the tooth she couldn’t stop and the blood she couldn’t start.
She sank down in a heap of snow and the sky turned from black and white to purple and turquoise and pink Technicolor swirls. Psychedelic. She lay down, numb, her body a long black line in the snow.
Elizabeth Gibson is a Masters student at the University of Manchester and a Digital Reporter for Manchester Literature Festival. Her work has appeared in The Cadaverine, London Journal of Fiction, Now Then, Far Off Places, Severine and Ink, Sweat and Tears. She tweets at @Grizonne, Facebooks here and blogs here.
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