by Lauran G. Strait
Janice stood in the kitchen studying her daughter's tooth. She'd seen it a thousand times, but always in Annabelle's mouth. How could it be that her one and only baby was growing up so fast?
Poised to speak, Janice looked at her husband. As usual John was hiding behind the financial page. Today he'd almost wrapped it around himself like a cocoon.
"Why don't you answer me?" Janice said, lips pinched, hands on hips, eyes narrowed.
John rattled the paper.
Rattle, rattle, shake. "Huh? You say something?" John said, ennui evident, from behind the paper.
Janice smirked. She placed the tooth in a small dish, then slapped a plate of greasy bacon and congealing eggs in front of John, making sure she pushed the food against the bottom of the paper. That ought to get his attention!
"I asked you how much you thought the tooth-fairy should leave."
"A quarter? Who cares?"
"Oh, that's great. Break her heart, why don't you? It's not like she didn't get a silver dollar for her last tooth."
John lowered the paper just enough to expose his eyes and glare.
"Fine, Jan. Then the tooth-fairy will leave a dollar this time," he said. "What's the problem? Why are we talking about something as unimportant as a tooth? In less than an hour I'm scheduled to meet with the CEO of the company. If everything goes well, I'll be the new chief financial officer before lunchtime. Now that's important!"
John disappeared again behind the paper.
What she wouldn't give now for a witty comeback, for something, anything to knock John down a peg or two.
"You know the real problem?" Janice finally said. "You! You're the problem. Do you even remember how many teeth our daughter's lost?"
"Two," John said, throwing the paper across the table.
"Ha! This is the third tooth, and you'd have known if you ever paid attention to me."
Before John could reply, six-year-old Annabelle skipped into the kitchen, her nose awash with tiny freckles, the blue of her eyes accentuated by the turquoise top she wore under her red jumper.
"Hey, Daddy, did Mommy show you my tooth?" Annabelle smiled, the gap in the upper gum prominent.
"Morning, pumpkin. I saw it." John's eyes never left Janice as he reached across the table and gave Annabelle's hand a dismissive pat. But then he pulled his daughter to him and stroked her golden hair. "I can't believe my baby is growing up so fast, but you'll always be Daddy's sweetheart."
Janice gaped. Feigned fatherly love. How disgusting! Not that she was jealous of Annabelle's relationship with John or anything, but he really hadn't even looked at the tooth. In fact he'd stared at little more than the financial pages from almost the instant he rolled out of bed. Heaven forbid he miss an opportunity to make another buck!
"Are you two fighting again?" Annabelle's eyes darted between each parent and her brow furrowed. The sprinkle of freckles over her nose made her skin seemed more pale than usual.
John laughed without a great deal of humor. "We aren't fighting, goofy girlie." An exaggerated smile accompanied his facile response. "We're all one big hap, hap, happy family!"
"That's right," Janice added, before showing off her own toothy grin. She couldn't let John seem like the only cheerful, good guy in this.
The brow creases remained another few seconds, Annabelle seemingly mulling over the words, but then her forehead smoothed out. "Okay," she said suddenly ebullient, "where's my tooth?"
"What the ... Where's the ... John, did you do something with the tooth?" Janice held the empty bowl out to her husband.
"Didn't touch it."
"My tooth's lost?" Tears glistened in Annabelle's eyes.
"Yoo-hoo, folks. Lookin' for this?"
John jumped, overturning his chair. Annabelle and Janice cowered behind him.
A man wearing a gold lamé dress and large glass slippers stood by the stove. At least three hundred pounds, his enormous gut bulged, and his face was as large and round as a globe. He had pale skin with noticeable pores and a sweeping black mustache that topped his lip like a sleeping caterpillar. Sandwiched between his fat thumb and index finger, the man held out Annabelle's tooth.
"Well don't just stand there gawking, peeps. Aren't you gonna offer me a seat? These crystal loafahs are awful hard on my aching feet."
"Who's that?" Annabelle asked, her voice a mix of awe and surprise.
John shook his head.
Janice managed little more than a squeak herself.
"WHO AM I? Annabelle, I'm crushed you don't recognize me." His voice was deep and smooth as ice cream. "I was certain you were sleeping with one eye open last time. I'm the tooth-fairy."
"Janice, call 911. Tell them there's a nut on the loose."
"M..m..m..me? What about you?" Janice stammered an octave higher than normal. There was no way in hell she was going near the phone, which was right next to the man in the dress.
Annabelle slipped from behind her father, moving toward the tooth fairy. "It's okay, guys. This really is the tooth fairy."
"Honey, get back here," John stretched his hand to his daughter without taking an accompanying step.
"No, really, it's okay," she said.
Annabelle touched the shimmering fabric of the fairy's dress as she looked up at him. "You wore a silver outfit last time. Not that this one isn't pretty, but ... well, you know what I mean?"
"Yeah, I know. That was one of my favorites," said the fairy. "But it's at the cleaners. A little boy in Jersey barfed on it. One too many Oreos." He shrugged. "So anyway, getting back to this fine tooth of yours, whatdaya want for it?" The fairy man held up the incisor, admiring it like a jeweler might admire a brilliant diamond.
"You mean like money?"
"Nonsense. It's a myth that I only leave money. I can give you anything you want." The fairy raised the hem of his dress, then tugged at his pantyhose, smoothing them up from his ankles. "Dang these shoes, they're so uncomfortable and the frickin' stockings keep sliding down. Pardon my French, little lady. But I mean what are ya gonna do? I get blisters on my heels if I don't wear the stockings." He scrunched his nose and snorted, then rolled his eyes.
"Annabelle, get away from that ... that creature," Janice said from behind John's back. "Don't talk to it anymore!"
"Relax lady! If you don't mind, me and the kid are working out a deal here. I'll be on my way just as soon as we've come to an understanding."
The fairy turned to Annabelle, a wide grin across his face. "Sheesh, like they think I wanna be here now? I won't even mention that it's already three hours past my bedtime. Anyway, dearie, where were we? What'd ya want in exchange for your tooth?"
Annabelle's forehead and nose wrinkled. She looked at her father. "Daddy, you're good with money. How much is my tooth worth?"
"That's right, ask old money-bags there," the fairy said, lip curled in a sneer. Once again he began working the pantyhose up his hairy, log-like legs. "I'm sure he'll know the real value. I think he mentioned the paltry sum of twenty-five cents a while ago."
John's mouth dropped open and his eyes narrowed. "How could, I mean how'd you..."
The fairy chuckled. "Like I don't have ears? Jeez, John, just because you don't see me doesn't mean I'm not here."
"Can you read my--"
"Mind?" The fairy-man snickered.
"Nah, relax, just teasing ya, John. I can't read your thoughts. But I can see through your clothes. Xray vision, dontcha know?"
Blood rushed into John's pale face, coloring him tomato-red from the neck up.
"Ha! Fooled ya again!" The fairy looked at Annabelle. "Honestly, dear, where'd you get these parents? I'd ask for a refund if I were you. But you'd be lucky to get a dollar for them. Now, about that tooth. What shall it be?"
"May I whisper it?"
"Well of course, dear."
The fairy waggled his eyebrows at John and Janice, then leaned close to Annabelle.
Five seconds later, the tooth-fairy placed Annabelle's tooth in a glittering evening bag.
"Pleasure doing business wit ya, little lady. I can't remember when I've had so much fun. Almost makes up for the kid who barfed on me."
"No, thank YOU! This is better than the million dollars I almost asked for."
Annabelle smiled as she studied the shiny silver dollar. She saw her father trapped on one side, his eyes shifting as if trying to figure out where he was. Her mother's face, mouth jabbering silent words, occupied the other side of the coin.
Nearly choking on giggles, Annabelle started dancing in circles around the kitchen. "Oh, man, this is so great. Dad always will be surrounded by money now and good ole Mom always will be there right next to Dad, on his back like usual, talking to him even though he doesn't hear her." Annabelle tossed the coin up, caught it, then slipped her parents into her pocket. "I wish I'd thought of this two teeth back. But better late than never, I guess."
"Hallelujah, sistah. From your lips to my ears."
Annabelle ran her hands over her chest, admiring her new breasts. "By the way, thanks for these. They're great."
"Yeah, they are." The fairy wagged his eyebrows, leering. "Sorry they aren't bigger, but you didn't specify a size, just an age so I had to wing it."
"Don't sweat it," Annabelle said. She slipped the tip of her tongue into the space where her baby tooth had been a short while before, then smiled. "When I asked you to make me 18, I didn't really think about getting boobs. But this has turned into a nearly perfect day. Damn, but I wish I'd asked for a B'mer too."
"Better luck next time," the tooth fairy said, seconds before he disappeared.
Annabelle tongued her teeth again, feeling the gap. Could it be? She ran to a mirror.
Minutes later, she left the house, a skip in her step, smile enormous. Thank goodness she still had seventeen more baby teeth. No telling what the tooth fairy had in store for his next visit!
Copyright 2003 by Lauran G. Strait. All rights reserved.