All Stories, General Fiction

The Tyranny of Teeth by Sandra Arnold

Delphine’s teacher cracked a joke. Delphine didn’t smile because she didn’t think it was funny. The teacher said, ‘Oh dear, Delphine. I do feel sorry for you. At the age of seven you ought to know what humour is.’ She brought her out to the front of the class. ‘Now, everyone, let’s show Delphine how we express humour.’

Her aunt kept saying, ‘Cat got your tongue?’

Her uncle kept saying, ‘Why have you got your face on upside down?’

Her grandfather kept saying, ‘Now that’s a face that would turn milk sour.’

In university a lecturer asked, ‘Delphine, you look so serious.’

‘It’s a serious subject,’ she said.

‘But it wouldn’t hurt to crack a smile now and then, would it?’

The soon to be ex boyfriend said, ‘Smile, Delphine,’

‘Did you say something funny?’

‘No, but women look better when they smile.’

During feedback after her first teaching practice, the supervisor said, ‘You smiled only once during that whole lesson and the effect on the children was electric. You need to smile more often.’

She left teacher training and found a job in a museum where the bones of dinosaurs didn’t care about smiles. Neither did the curator of the museum. So she married him.

On her wedding day, her new mother-in-law said to the photographer, ‘Say something to make her smile. She’s quite pretty when she smiles.’

The photographer looked at Delphine. ‘Now you don’t want your wedding photos to look as though you were at a funeral, do you, ha ha?’  He pointed his camera.

A new colleague in the lizard department said, ‘Hey there babe! It might never happen.’

‘Get used to it,’ she said.

His smirk didn’t entirely cover his annoyance.

On their tenth wedding anniversary, Delphine said to her husband over the candle-lit dinner he’d prepared, ‘You know why I love you? You’ve never once told me I should smile.’

His brow creased. ‘Why on earth would I do that?’

He died when a brontosaurus reconstruction fell on him the day before they were due to fly to Italy to celebrate their silver wedding anniversary. At his funeral, his sister told Delphine, ‘At least now you’ll have an excuse for wearing that face.’
‘Oh you mean my resting bitch face?’ Delphine said.

‘That’s a highly inappropriate comment to make at my brother’s funeral!’

“Fuck off,” Delphine said.

On her sixtieth birthday, the lawyer read out her mother’s will. It meant Delphine need never work again. She did, however, because she loved dinosaurs. When she cleared her mother’s house she found, inside her jewellery case, a small pink box with Delphine written on it in her mother’s cursive script. Inside the box was her first tooth and a silver coin. She placed the box on her bedside table so she could look inside it every night before she drifted off to sleep.

Over the next ten years her teeth begin to crack. The dentist filled them with amalgam for a while, but eventually he extracted them all and replaced them with dentures.

The night before her eightieth birthday she lit a candle on her bedside table. On one side of the candle she positioned her dentures in their glass of water with the Steradent. On the other side she placed the silver coin. She put her baby tooth under her pillow. Inside the glass two rows of pearly white teeth grinned at her. Delphine poked her tongue out at them. She lay on her back watching the flickering flame of the candle throw shadows across the walls. She reached her hand under the pillow and felt the tooth. Her mother’s voice was just a whisper at first: ‘In the morning, Delphine, you’ll find something beautiful.’

Sandra Arnold

Image by ExplorerBob from Pixabay

11 thoughts on “The Tyranny of Teeth by Sandra Arnold”

  1. Hi Sandra,
    I really did enjoy this. Maybe it resonates as I am not one of life’s smilers!!
    I thought his death by dinosaur bones was inspired.
    Hope you have more for us very soon.

    Liked by 1 person

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