"Ouch, that hurts!" proclaimed Maria, as the pain started shooting up inside her gums. She was having a crown fitted and doing it without an injection.
"It will save us hours," her dentist had said, "if we skip the injection".
But Maria hadn’t thought of the consequences. The dentist hadn’t mentioned anything about pain. She might have known, though. There was always pain. It had been wishful thinking to think there wouldn't be any. Still it was too late now. No use wishing she’d had the injection. There she was and the pain was shooting up inside her mouth and there was nothing she could do about it. At least she could let her dentist know what she was going through.
‘"Ouch," she said again. It was difficult getting the noise out with all those contraptions in her mouth. Why on earth had she decided to have it done at all? It had seemed like a good opportunity. She could get it on the National Health. Soon there wouldn't be any more National Health treatments. It was all going private, like everything else. She might as well take advantage of it. She had been lucky to get it done in time. Otherwise it would have cost her hundreds. This really was a bargain. She’d never had a gold crown. Nor any other kind of crown, for that matter. She hoped it would stay on. The temporary crown had dropped off. She hoped it wouldn’t be the same with the permanent one. She would hate to have to go through it all again.
Just at the point where she thought she could stand the pain no more, the dentist, Mrs. Kronstadt, took out the cast she had made of her teeth, and held it in front of her face.
"Look", she said, "These are your teeth."
It was quite a shock to see the inside of your mouth in plaster of Paris held up in front of your face like that. Maria started to laugh.
"My goodness," she thought. "Is that what the inside of my mouth looks like?"
"I’ll give them to you as a keepsake," said Mrs Kronstadt. "You can put them on your mantelpiece and keep them as a party piece".
The thought took her mind completely off the pain. Maria could already imagine the sight of someone’s face as she produced the teeth. Mrs. Kronstadt might not be able to stop the pain but she had certainly diverted her attention from it.
"Come again in a few day’s time, if you want me to file them down a bit," she said. "I mean the crown, " she added, in case there was any misunderstanding.
Maria put the keepsake in her bag and walked out. When she got home she took out the cast and religiously put it on the mantelpiece just as Mrs. Kronstadt had said she should.
There, she thought. Just what the dentist ordered. The teeth glowered at her from their spot on the mantelpiece. Maria tried to go about her chores. She got out her ironing board and did a spot of ironing, and then she tried a bit of writing. But somehow or other, she just couldn’t settle to anything properly. She didn’t know what it was, having the teeth in the house like that, she felt as if she weren’t alone any more. They unnerved her. They were her teeth or rather an imitation of them, sure enough, and yet somehow they didn’t feel like hers. They felt more like Mrs. Kronstadt’s. After all, it hadn’t been her idea to take the cast home in the first place. It would never have occurred to her.
Somehow just having them in the house like that, it felt like having an alien body there. It was preposterous. The whole idea of it. What on earth did she want with the things? After all, when did she have parties, anyway? She had a few friends round from time to time, but even that had been cut to a minimum these days. And she wasn’t really into party tricks anyway. The cast would have to be got rid of somewhere.
She'd put them in a drawer.Out of sight, out of mind. But somehow putting them in a drawer didn’t work. The trouble was she knew they were there. Every time she had to search through for a sock or something, she’d come across them, leering up at her. Hideous. Perhaps she should find a more secret place. Under the clothes in the airing cupboard? Yes, that was it. She took them out of the drawer and hid them deliberately at the bottom of a pile of clothes. There. That was it. Done. She’d never come across them there.
That night as she was lying in bed she had a strange dream. She could see the teeth appearing in the room. They were coming out of the airing cupboard, walking, as it were, but without legs. They walked straight through the closed bedroom door and into her room and plonked themselves down on her bedside table, where they started chattering.
Maria woke with a start, half-expecting to see the teeth there. But that was enough. She could stand them in the house no longer. The teeth would have to go. Keepsake or no keepsake. She couldn’t bear the blessed things around her any longer. There was nothing else for it.
She took them out of the airing cupboard and wrapped them in a brown paper bag, and then went downstairs, out of the front door and deposited them in the dustbin.
There. That’s the end of it, she thought. Now she could relax. She need think about them no more, or Mrs Kronstadt . Gone. She’d hated having the damn things in the house, anyway. She’d only really accepted them to keep Mrs. Kronstadt happy. To humour her really. They’d served their purpose by taking her mind off the pain. She didn’t need them any more. She’d never actually wanted them. Who wanted to know what the inside of your mouth looked like? It was enough to feel it. You didn’t actually have to see it as well.
With relief she walked back upstairs and brewed up a cup of tea. The job had finally been done. A decision had been taken. She felt proud of herself. How strong willed she had been. Quite out of character, really. Yes, she could be happy with her action. Now she could get on with her life without the wretched things, leering at her from the mantelpiece, or appearing in the middle of the night to spoil her dreams. Why did she always have to listen to other people? Throwing the teeth out had been an act of self-determination. It had been her deciding her own future. She sat back in quiet contemplation. Now she could look forward to a more decisive sort of life. She felt in tune with herself. Her future suddenly opened up to her. She was going places, moving.
She took herself off to bed with a book and soon drifted into a quiet slumber. About four o’clock in the morning, the bedroom door opened. In came the teeth. Majestic, as if they owned the place. They seemed to have grown even larger so that they were almost a foot in size. They moved slowly over to the bedside table and took up their previous position. And then the chattering started.
Bio: Jenny Palmer has previously published fictional stories with the Women's Press, Serpent's Tail and Current Accounts magazine and also articles on family history in the Lancashire History Quarterly and Industrial Heritage Magazine, January 2006