by Raymond Cothern
I suddenly develop a malady called James Dickey Syndrome, becoming a lapsed and demented guitar player who emerges from the swamp with a gap-tooth grin and knocks the first guy he sees to the ground after ripping his newly pressed camouflage jumpsuit off and telling him to kneel and squeal like a pig, immediately adjusting the guy’s attitude toward womanly rape.
(I could digress here, but it is so soon in this cheery narrative.)
Before the long 4th of July holiday weekend, Dee and I sit down to enjoy some tender chicken breasts she had smothered in mushrooms and caramelized onions.
Not long after the first bite, my tongue hits a gap in my teeth previously not there. Naturally concerned I am dissolving, like one of the bad guys in Raiders of the Lost Ark, I find a tooth among the food in my mouth and take it out, staring at it like I do in the mirror at my ever-growing and sagging man-breasts. But this is not just any tooth though. Oh, no, it’s the one next to my two front teeth.
Putting the delicious meal on hold, I hurry to the bathroom, a wounded moth in flight, mushy and comfy evening garb flapping around me, looking in the mirror and this time not even noticing the handfuls of man-titties under my shirt. I have been transformed into a denizen of the swamp, the new gap now separated by one tooth from another old gap around the side of my mouth, a leering jack-o’-lantern grin that would inspire Stephen King to write another novel.
My beauty gone in an instant.
With my other broken and loose teeth, the deep pockets from periodontal disease, and generally having bad teeth since I popped out of my mother’s womb, I was told by more than one dentist that false teeth are coming down the road, the unstoppable 18-wheeler menacing Dennis Weaver in The Duel. So besides all the head adjustments to self-image—and that is huge for me—trying to convince myself it’s not the end of the world—there is the very real cost of five to ten-thousand dollars for pearly dentures, upper and lower tectonic plates ready to rub against each other for the duration of my eternity. What with a lack of much surplus funds, this old age thing is everything people said it was cracked up to be. And the topper is being told by friends with false teeth that the first look at yourself without any teeth is quite a shock, a flashback to Walter Brennan advising John Wayne they are about to be scalped by Indians, except in my movie The Duke is staring at Walter’s black maw and Walter’s whirlpooling lips and he can’t hear a word of the warning before it’s too late.
O barefoot old man with sunken cheeks of pale . . .
At least Walter put his look to good use, winning three Oscars for Best Supporting Actor.
For me, I am afraid when they come to visit that my granddaughters will run screeching into my daughter’s arms, forever traumatized that Pop Pop is now the monster under the bed.
So no smiling through the weekend, although the tongue is constantly probing the opening, feeling the sharp edge of the tooth at the gum line so it looks like I’m eating caramel candy and can’t dislodge it from my front teeth. At work on Monday morning and the rest of the week there is no problem of people gawking since no one really looks at anybody else. I do notice a leakage of air when I say certain words, a sibilant hissing sound with room to roam.
Some solution will have to follow.
All 4th of July weekend, any time I visit the bathroom for a quick sit-down pee so I can read a page or two in a novel or memoir without standing and dribbling around the toilet bowl, my penis a leaky garden hose, I always pause and grin in the mirror. Well, grin implies humor and there is nothing humorous about the snaggletooth look and the missing neighbor in the yellow enamel housing. Or standing nude while the water for the shower or bath heats up, I absolutely cannot resist turning and opening my mouth, my lips curling up like those of a horse going after a carrot or a lump of sugar, wide open and me staring like maybe the view will be different, the tooth fairy operating in reverse, missing teeth but a dream. All that weekend, grinning as I pass the mirror with a full bladder or standing with sagging stomach and breasts while the water heats up, I cannot thwart that impulse to look, to gauge what has happened to the fairest in the bathroom at that particular moment.
I don’t even do any holiday beer-drinking to blunt the dilemma for a while.
Something is wrong with me.
It must be that holding a beer bottle would complete the picture, the imagined mob of friends rushing toward me holding not torches but goalie hockey masks and screaming for me to put one on.
About the author
Raymond Cothern studied writing at LSU under Walker Percy and Vance Bourjaily. He is winner of both the Deep South Writers Conference and the St. Tammany National One-Act Play Festival. Two of his plays have been produced in New York City, The Long Hymn of Dilemma as part of the DTE New Play Festival, and Fat Girl From Texas in the Distilled Theatre Company Short Play Festival. He was also a 2011 semi-finalist in the Playwrights First Award sponsored by the National Arts Club of New York City and a finalist in the 5th Annual Play Tour sponsored by cARTel Collaborative Arts Los Angeles. His fiction, poetry, and essays have been published in Manchac, Intro 8, Two Thirds North, American Antheneum, Burlesque, EWR: Short Stories, and in the book Meanwhile Back at the Café Du Monde. He recently completed work on a memoir, Swimming Underwater, about growing up in Louisiana and framed by the story of the devastating effects of viral encephalitis on his daughter and of her triumph in achieving a normal life.