My short story “Elephant Teeth,” which was a finalist for the Jack Dyer Fiction Prize, has been published by Crab Orchard Review.
You can order a copy of “Elephant Teeth,” which appears in Volume 20, Number 1, Winter/Spring 2015 of COR. In Step 3 of the ordering instructions, be sure to enter “Vol. 20, No. 1” in the “Submission Content” section so you receive the correct issue.
Here’s an excerpt from the story:
Elephants have six sets of molars, I learned the summer that I made Gerald move downstairs. They use the front set to eat. When those wear down, the back molars push forward, ejecting the dull ones and leaving fresh ones for chewing. Once the final set wears down, elephants die.
That summer, I related these facts to my daughter, Lucy, whenever I brushed her teeth. She was seven years old, but our dentist claimed children aren’t dexterous enough to do it themselves until they’re at least eight. Brushing her teeth had been her dad Winston’s job before he moved out of our duplex’s lower unit to make room for Gerald, whose insistence on an open relationship prompted my request that he live downstairs. What I couldn’t see up close wouldn’t hurt as much, was my reasoning.
Before then, Gerald and I had lived upstairs with the kids for two years, since the birth of our son, Tate. Winston and I had a much longer history, dating back to college. He was my dearest friend, my confidant. After he and his husband divorced, we’d decided to have Lucy, fulfilling our freshman year pact to have a baby together if we were still single and childless as middle age loomed. We’d bought the duplex so we could co-parent while maintaining separate lives. Which we could still do. Lucy would adjust to Winston living a few blocks away. I would adjust to Gerald sleeping around. We would survive.
The first time I brushed Lucy’s teeth was the morning she started zoo camp. I was alone with the kids. Gerald had been downstairs a week, and Winston had just left for Vancouver to produce a movie. Winston always made brushing Lucy’s teeth fun, singing silly songs or sharing animal facts to keep her attention. She was crazy about animals. “We’re lucky you’re not a chinchilla or water would make your fur mold. I’d have to use volcanic ash instead,” I’d hear him say sometimes while I changed Tate’s diaper in the kids’ room. “Teeth don’t have fur,” she’d giggle.
I sat Lucy on the tub’s edge and started brushing while I recited what I knew about elephant teeth. I had to yell over Tate, who stood beside me babbling an off-key lullaby and grabbing for the toothbrush. Lucy squirmed, her lips frothy with toothpaste, and glared at him. The tiny bathroom felt sweaty, close. I strained to hear noises from downstairs, but there was nothing, no flushing toilets or clearing throats like I heard sometimes when I was up late trying to write. Gerald was probably still asleep. Alone, I hoped, though I couldn’t object if he wasn’t. We had agreed: no asking about visitors; no spying on backyard activities; no policing the other’s comings and goings. To successfully navigate an open relationship, we had to respect each other’s privacy.
Tate hugged my knees, making me sway. “Go asleep, sweet noodle,” he sang and yanked the toothbrush out of Lucy’s mouth.
“Ow!” She poked him hard. “You’re so annoying.”
He shrieked, hit her.
“Dammit, enough!” I yelled. Immediate silence. Then, scowling, he started singing again. She stayed put, watching me. I took back the toothbrush and kept brushing. “Teeth are important,” I said brightly, as if this were so much fun. “We can’t eat without them. If we can’t eat we die. So brush, brush, brush to keep on living.”[bctt tweet=””We can’t eat without teeth. If we can’t eat we die. So brush, brush, brush to keep on living.””]
Lucy stood to rinse, then pushed at her glasses with one small finger tipped by chipped blue nail polish. “I’m not supposed to sit on the tub,” she said. “I could fall and hit my head.”
I dropped the toothbrush into the sink. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Why didn’t you know?” She stomped out.
Tate grabbed the toothbrush and sucked on it. I leaned against the counter, too tired to move.
You can read the rest of “Elephant Teeth” by ordering Volume 20, Number 1, Winter/Spring 2015 of Crab Orchard Review. In Step 3 of the ordering instructions, be sure to enter “Vol. 20, No. 1” in the “Submission Content” section so you receive the correct issue.
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You had me at “…I made Gerald move downstairs.” I cannot wait to read more! Ordering now.