Applesauce for Life by Kristen Seikaly
Susie began to pull her teeth out as
soon as they grew in. One by one, her pearly whites would emerge from her gums
and one by one, she would yank them out. No one ever saw her do it, but if they
had, they would have grimaced reflexively. Susie pulled out her teeth in the
most gruesome ways imaginable.
The first time, she simply yanked it out with her pudgy little fingers. It hadn’t required strength so much as brute force. After the second one, this method grew dull, so Susie found a pair of her father’s pliers and tugged and tugged until the third came out. When she released it from the pliers, it turned to dust in her hands, crushed by the force. She smiled her toothless smile as the dust scattered in the wind.
Her favorite method of removal became the tug on the door. She heard a mother suggest it to her young son, a son older than Susie whose teeth were ready to come out. The boy wailed at the prospect. Surely his mother must be joking? Susie did not think the mother was joking. She thought the mother was a genius. So when tooth number nine came in, Susie waited as long as she could for that little sucker to grow. Then, she tied one end of a string to the pebble of a tooth and skipped to the door handle to tie on the other end. Stepping away from the door, she slammed it as hard as she could with a broom to make sure the distance was just right. She could not stop smiling at all the blood and gore.
Susie’s parents, after a bit of time, grew concerned about the absence of their daughter’s teeth. Surely she should have grown some by now? They took her to a pediatric dentist, a specialist they never knew existed and asked what was wrong while clasping their sweaty hands to Susie’s dry ones. He took an x-ray and could not fathom what he saw.
“It looks as if those teeth did appear because they’re not in her gums anymore,” he said while scratching his chin. “See the adult teeth in there? And see how some baby teeth have yet to come up?” Susie’s parents nodded at the news, while Susie’s eyes widened. She’d get a whole new set of teeth? What a delight!
That night, her mother tried to comfort her daughter who did not seem distraught enough at the news.
“Your teeth will come,” she said, not at all convinced. “And when they do, the Tooth Fairy will come and bring you money!”
Susie had no interest in money. So, as far as her parents could tell, her teeth never came, and they brought her back to the pediatric dentist once more.
“That’s odd,” he said, scanning the fresh set of x-rays. “See how there had been baby teeth here before? They’re gone now!” He pointed to the old x-ray, then the new, while the parents sat and puzzled with him. Susie licked her gums, then smiled. The pediatric dentist glanced over.
“May I have a moment to speak with Susie alone?”
This made Susie’s parent’s uncomfortable, yet everything about the situation made them uncomfortable. So, they left the room. The pediatric dentist sat in his chair and stared down at Susie while she laid on the patient chair.
“Susie,” he said, “do you know where your teeth went?”
She smiled her gummy smiled once more and pulled out a baggie she kept hidden in her pocket at all times. Inside were seventeen lumpy, bloodied pearls of teeth, one for each she had pulled (minus the one that had turned to dust). Some were too small to have fully formed. The pediatric doctor had never seen anything like it in his thirty years of practice.
“But Susie… why? What have you done?”
Susie shrugged her shoulders.
“Haven’t you ever wanted to control your own body?”
The pediatric dentist had nothing to say to that. He sent Susie home, telling her parents he would think over her case a little bit more.
That night, the pediatric dentist stared in the mirror, lips sealed, until finally, he bore his own teeth to himself. Each one immaculate and cared for, he had never once considered doing to himself what he had done to others. His teeth were fine, he thought. Or were they?
He clasped one of his dental tools in his hand. Meant for a child, it felt small for the first time. Then, he brought it to one of his teeth and pulled. Blood gushed everywhere as he examined what had been a perfectly healthy tooth. He smiled.
“Ah!” he cried. “I understand now, little Susie.”
Kristen Seikaly is a Michigan native who lives on the outskirts of Philadelphia. Her work has appeared in Thrice Fiction, Story Seed Vault, Lost Balloon, and Flash Fiction Magazine. Her piece “Planetary Disappointment” was longlisted for the Wigleaf Top 50.