Thursday, June 10, 2010

Baby Teeth

I wrote this as a 10,000-ish word novella some years back. It had its moments; overall it was a little misshapen, a little unwieldy. I condensed it to a paragraph last week, and like the result better. If I had simply done it this way in the first place I coulda saved myself a summer of writing.

Baby Teeth

Her name is Betty Bowens, though all the neighborhood kids call her Betty Bones, and she lives in the old house at the end of the street with her three dead children. They are dead; she is not, merely old, very old. Her children died of different causes, at different times: hit-and-run, cancer, suicide. Two were adults when they died, the cancer and the suicide. Her boy Tristan, poor lovely Tristan, he was the hit-and-run, he died at five. But here in her house, in Betty Bones' house, they are all children again, all toddlers again, their trikes endlessly squeaking down the sidewalk, their food endlessly spilling down their bibs. They need comfort when thunderstorms loom, cold washcloths on their foreheads when they are hot with fever. They gather in the living room every Christmas morning. They blow out candles on birthdays. They are losing their baby teeth, over and over again, forever smiling at her with loopy gap-toothed grins. She finds the teeth in odd places. Tilting in the drain of the bathroom sink. Rolling in the backs of kitchen drawers. Curling in the gray tendrils of her hair as she combs it out at night. She keeps them all in a fragile teacup perched on her windowsill, the cup now filled to overflowing, tiny enamel pearls dropping to the porcelain saucer below like tears, bone white and shining.


slommler said...

I wondered if it was just her memories that she kept alive...until the teacup showed up and it was filled with their baby teeth!!
Wowzers!! Good one

Shayna Prentice said...

Clowncar, this beautiful dream-like story truly touches me. Thank you for it.

Fresca said...

Oooh... teeth!
Very effective.
It's like the Blair Witch Project filtered through personal grief.

I have a piece in this vein about bones fragments and ashes (cremation remains).

It also started out very long (though not 10,000 words) and ended up condensed, like maple syrup.
But, like maple syrup, it wouldn't have existed if it hadn't first been much waterier.

Could you have written this as a paragraph at the beginning of the summer?

meno said...

Very evocative.

Margaret said...

You write like you trust the reader; I really like this.

Clowncar said...

I wouldn't take them to be too literal, Sue Ann. Or too figurative. Think of them as kind of in the space between those words. Mostly, though, she is just grieving for them.

Thanks Shay. I was hoping to achive a dream-like quality, so I'm happy it came across that way.

I like the idea of condensing it down to syrup, Fresca. And, no, I certainly couldn't have written it without the 10,000 word version first. I hadn't thought of it in years, til my kid lost a tooth, and while I was playing tooth fairy, switching out the tooth for a dollar coin, the phrase "bone white and shining" came to mind, and I remembered the original.

Thank you meno. I live to evoke.

Margaret, I guess I do. More than I used too. The longer version did not trust the reader as fully.

ArtSparker said...

Have you seen the film "Dark Water" with Jennifer Connolly? This post makes me think of it - ghostly children.

Clowncar said...

I haven't. That one of those j-horror movies, isn't it? I loved The Ring. One of the scariest movies I've ever seen. The idea of an ancient evil trickling out through modern technology - videos, faxes, phones - is powerful and creepy.