BY THE TEETH

JULIA DIXON EVANS

 

   “Are you sure it’s a thousand?” the first scientist asks.

 

   Her name is Beth, the scientist.

 

   “I don’t know. I used to count them all as they came in,” I say.

 

   “It’s more than a hundred,” I say.

 

   “There’s a hundred on just her right forearm,” I say.

 

∘∘∘

 

   She came to me like a gift, fatherless. But the pregnancy was long and severe. The labor was long and severe. As lonely as I was, I was so happy to begin our life together. I knew she was my only chance. I needed her.

 

∘∘∘

 

   Her first tooth was a little bit late. She was eight months old when it started cutting through her lower gum, and then they never stopped, her mouth full by ten months. Two full rows on the bottom, three on top.

 

∘∘∘

 

   The crying was so difficult.

 

∘∘∘

 

   The first time one pushed through somewhere else, it was her elbow, and we were at home, because we were always at home, because I stopped taking her places when people could see all the supernumeraries when she cried. She was always crying. She showed me her elbow, and with her mouth full of teeth, she said, “Ouch,” but it only sounded like a groan.

 

∘∘∘

 

  “There’s nothing we can do,” the second scientist says.

 

  His name is John, the second scientist. He has yet to touch the child.

 

  “I’m sorry,” John says. “I’m sorry I don’t have any better news for you.”

 

   I turn to Beth, the first scientist, the one who is holding my daughter in her arms, her arms with falconry gloves all the way up to her elbows.

 

   Beth looks away.

 

  “Is there someone you can call?” the second scientist asks.

 

∘∘∘

 

   There’s nobody I can call.

 

∘∘∘

 

   The first time she drew blood, we were in the back yard, nearly two years old and still not walking, because her feet were covered in teeth and how does it feel to walk on your mouth? How does it feel to press your teeth back into your body with your entire body weight?

 

   She cried, louder than usual, different. I rushed to her, alarmed by the new sound, the sound full of teeth in the same way her sounds always are, but this one. This one was worse. This one scared me.

 

   I scooped her up, bare-handed, operating only on instinct. I forgot that I was not a normal mother to a normal child. I forgot the last few years of my life. I forgot everything except evolution, everything except my progeny in pain, everything except creature fears. As the hundreds of teeth along each limb and along her spine dug into my arms, I let go instantly, and this is what mothers do: they do not drop their children so I grabbed at her again, trying to break her fall. She rolled to the grass, rolled down my arm, sliced down my arm, so many points of contact, so many cuts.

 

   She cried again. My blood scared her and I felt so responsible.

 

∘∘∘

 

   “The x-rays,” the second scientist says. “Are disturbing.”

 

∘∘∘

 

   The first time she passed out, we were home, because we were always home.

 

   She was screaming, muffled, cutting screams, and I was making dinner, when suddenly, silence. Suddenly, she stopped. I finished rinsing the cilantro because for a moment, I thought, maybe this is a new chapter in my life as a mother, where you can rinse your cilantro and make your dinner while your child is quiet. But then I remembered myself, and I left the water running and the cilantro fell into the drain.

 

   She was on the floor in the living room, in a puddle of blood, asleep. The blood seeped from everywhere but mostly around the teeth protruding from her skull. I left her there, passed out, in her own blood, and walked to the kitchen. I turned off the faucet. I picked up my falconer’s gloves. I carried her outside to the car for the first time in a year. She did not wake up. I took her to see a doctor for the first time since the teeth.

 

   It was the last time she was home.

 

∘∘∘

 

   “There are no longer any positions that are bearable for her,” Beth says.

 

   “She’s always been able to sit,” I say.

 

   “No longer,” Beth says. She rolls my drugged daughter over onto her side. “The teeth on her spine and tailbone draw blood every time they bear weight. And the internal teeth…”

 

   “So, now what?” I ask.

 

   Beth doesn’t look at John.

 

∘∘∘

 

   That night, at home, I climb into her crib. It’s blood-stained, blood-stained like everything is in our house. Every day when I carried her inside my body, I cried, hormonal and sick, back when her bones were just beginning to take their shape, before her cells had decided to make her like this. When she was born, I felt such joy and relief to no longer be creating her, to no longer be birthing her.

 

   In her crib, my knees to my chest, I feel my brow contort, I feel the pang in my sinuses, but crying doesn’t come.

 

∘∘∘

 

   The phone wakes me and I know it’s the scientists, even though they have never called me here before. I don’t get up. I’m on my side, lying down in the crib. My back hurts, curved and wedged against wooden bars.

 

   It rings again.

 

   And again.

 

   It’s difficult to climb out of the crib, more difficult than getting in, but, I think to myself, at least I’m not having to wear falconry gloves while I do this. At least there is no screaming while I do this.

 

   I silence the phone and I crawl back into the crib. I lift my left hand to my mouth, and I take the fleshy, meaty part of where my thumb meets my palm, and I bite.

 

 

∘∘∘