The Man Who Made Teeth

Maria Bruno

It was at a party that I met the man who made teeth. He was standing in a dark corner, wearing shaded glasses. I could not see his eyes. But I saw his teeth. White and clean and perfect–gleaming like diamonds in the darkness. I stepped closer to him, seeing my reflection in the black glass that covered his eyes. I smiled. He smiled. I looked at his teeth. They were like nothing I had ever seen before. I always remembered teeth. Like Billy Xavier’s in fifth hour high school French. His teeth wore little yellow cardigans, each and every one. When he turned around to face me, his pimpled nose scrubbed raw, his thin, purple lips slanted over his yellow mouth, he’d say something he thought was particularly pithy, like “voulez-vous couchez avec moi?” and I’d frown, and think how I’d like to get into that mouth with some of those Playtex rubber gloves, unbutton those sweaters with a stiff wire brush, and set his teeth free, but of course I didn’t, on account of I was always thinking of something equally pithy to say back to him in French, like “I’d rather sleep with cow dung,” only I never could find the word dung in my French/English/English/French dictionary fast enough. And I remember Mindy Marinelli’s teeth from my early years playing on the Detroit streets. The boys would tease her and call her dog mouth. Her teeth were all jagged and misshapen and hung like mottled stalactites from her swollen gums. She would never smile, on account of the boys would bank when she walked by, and she would grip her teeth together like a workman’s vise. And I told her when she grew up she would have new teeth and no one would laugh at her, but she would laugh, a rich full laugh, with her mouth wide open. And then I thought of my lover Richard’s teeth. He was still wearing braces at thirty years of age, braces he would have tightened every week, braces that would trap strands of my long hair, that would cut into my tongue, make me bleed.

“I can’t see your eyes,” I said, staring at his silver hair instead.

“That’s the way I like it,” he said and sipped slowly on his drink.

I really wanted to ask if they were real and all, his teeth, if he had made them himself to sit so perfectly like white knights in his mouth, but I didn’t. I talked other teeth instead. I told him how I didn’t have a cavity until I was twenty-seven, how my dentist had told me I had “masculine bicuspids” and then proceeded to file them away with his drill, letting the shattered bone jet from my mouth like demons, until he had whittled them into “feminine bicuspids”; rounder, smoother, the teeth of complacent Polynesian goddesses. I told him about how I saw George Washington’s teeth, all wooden and disfigured, sitting in a glass case at Mount Vernon, how I liked to watch Richard slip the tiny rubber bands onto the hooks of his braces, how Billy Xavier’s yellow mouth was right out of Les Miserables, how I hoped Mindy Marinelli’s teeth had turned out all right.

“I could fix her teeth,” he said, smiling again. “I’m very good at what I do.” 

He talked teeth too. He told me he could make anything for anybody. Porcelain teeth, like your toilet bowl, he chuckled. Teeth with diamonds, teeth with gold, teeth the color of eggshells or warm cream or tusks. He smiled. 

I imagined him biting into my neck as if it were a piece of delicious cake. 

He talked about Consuelo from Caracas, the prostitute he hired when he was in Venezuela making teeth for a prince. She could do a backbend, he said, while she was screwing, a regular Nadia Comenici, with a perfect score of 10. She could go on TV, he said, eat wheaties, smile for the camera. And when he looked into her mouth, he whispered, “Gold crowns. A high priced whore.” I envisioned myself doing a coital backbend, my tapioca thighs locked in some primal battle with gravity and age, my unexceptional third molars bruxing together like knives. I thought of how my back might go out, or I’d be screaming for Jesus, or my boyfriend, who was convinced that the male-superior position was the only game in town, would pout, letting his pink swollen lips press into his braces and maybe he’d even flick a few used rubber bands at me, calling me a whore too.

The man who made teeth told me how he did it with the Roma triplets, Vene, Vidi and Vici, all at once. He told me how they would each take turns doing the tarantella on his back, sharp toenails etching his skin, and how they nibbled his smooth buns like little rats with their ninety-six perfect teeth nurtured all their lives on wine and pasta. And he told me about the seventy-five women, read my lips, seventy-five, he said, he had had in the last ten years, some with chipped teeth, impinging overbites, discolored teeth from well water and antibiotics, women with periodontal disease, retruded mandibles, pegged laterals.

“David’s car is in the fast lane,” said my friend John, sliding into the darkness next to me. I watched the man who made teeth move through the shadows toward another woman.

“So?” I asked.

“Yours is parked on the shoulder waiting for a tow truck,” he said, laughing at the brilliance of his metaphor. He had long brown hair that fell over his ears, and his Albanian-wide face wrinkled as he smiled. He was protecting me, I knew. He looked like a Buddha standing there all plump and swollen with beer.

“Oh, real funny,” I said. “I was just talking to him.”

“You wear your heart on your sleeve,” he said, pushing his wirerims up off his small nose, taking a sip of his beer. “And men, more often than not, come round and wipe their noses on it.”

“John, it’s okay. I’m all grown up. He didn’t misrepresent himself. He’s a wild boy, plain and simple.”

“It’s a defense,” he said, “like anything else.”

“Don’t worry about me, Johnny,” I said, hugging him. “I’m very good at reading between the lines.”

That night Richard slept inside of me. I could feel his full weight on top of me, like one of those crushers you see in action movies ready to flatten the hero who struggles to push free. I could not breathe. I felt like a beached baby whale suffocating under a human protector that only wanted to save me. Making love to Richard had no sound to it. He didn’t like to make any noise. He explained it to me once, how he always thought of a certain sequence of images to achieve orgasm. I never knew the precise order, but he somehow always had to think of the eating scene in the Tom Jones movie, black net lace against moist skin, the Stones singing “Under My Thumb,” split figs, kiwis, avocados, and Catherine the Great riding her equine pal, Trigger, and if I even said something as muted as a “Yes. Yes,” or an “I’m coming, I’m coming,” I’d destroy his concentration and he’d have to start all over again envisioning a wine-sogged Albert Finney sucking on a chicken thigh. I felt, for the most part, that I didn’t have to be there, like it could be anyone lying next to him, anyone who silently mirrored his rhythms.

Listening to Richard’s heavy breathing, I thought of the man who made teeth, and I was suddenly in Venezuela, the clacking of castanets somewhere in the background; and I was doing somersaults, double axles, and silky backbends, as he urged me on, until I became a regular Mary Lou Retton, going for the Olympic gold, pirouetting in the air with my lover by my side, urging me to scream, to bite, with my still pointed bicuspids, into his neck which tasted rich and moist like a guava or a mango. 

“Are you awake?” asked Richard, as he lithely removed himself.

“Hmmm,” I said.

“I love you,” he whispered, kissing me.

“Me too,” I replied. And then I felt the silence, the inextricable silence before you ask the question, “What’s wrong with this picture?”

A few days later I had lunch with an old high school friend, LaWanda Peters. LaWanda and I had been lab partners our senior year in high school and we had worked diligently dissecting a male cat that we christened Duane, after her ex-boyfriend. Boys were a mystery to both of us then–it seemed like we did everything in our power to win their approval. I ironed my kinky curls with a steam ‘n’ press to wear my hair in a smooth pageboy, pinking my nose, scorching my cheeks. I bought those pointy cotton bras at Kresge’s that all the fast girls wore to make my breasts perkier, like iced cupcakes. I bought Passion Fruit lipstick, Maybelline everything, and I lisped on every date to appear more vulnerable. LaWanda learned to blow smoke rings through her thick lips so the boys who owned motorcycles would exclaim “Bitchen”; she inhaled and exhaled allowing her padded chest to expand like chimney bellows. She said she knew a special way to French kiss that would make the boys think they had died and gone to heaven, ratted her hair into black flames that spiraled from her head, and wore those leather mini skirts like Gracie Slick and Marianne Faithful. Her boyfriend Duane had gotten a girl at the Catholic school pregnant, and he had to quit school and work in the Vlasic pickle factory. LaWanda had wanted to name our cat Duane, because she wanted the pleasure of dissecting him, piece by piece.

When I looked at Duane’s retractable penis, all flaccid and the color of snot, I was reminded of the sea lampreys pictured on page 257 of our text, You and the Universe. I imagined a boy’s penis to be like the blind lamprey, sheathed in a phlegmy skin, groping for some aquatic cavern of light. “I’ve got news for you,” I remembered LaWanda telling me. “Someday you’ll have to touch one of those.” “We have to touch it?” It really hadn’t occurred to me. I suddenly felt queasy.

“And if you’re real good,” she whispered, “you’ll have to…” and she pointed to her mouth with her lacquered fingernail.

“Gross,” I exclaimed. “You cut today.”

So that day at lunch, I told her about Richard and about how I knew he loved me but how I felt I couldn’t breathe, and then I told her about the man who made teeth, and about Consuelo and her gold crowns, the Roma triumvirate, the seventy-five women, and my Mary Lou Retton Olympic fantasy of flight. I also mentioned I felt the man who made teeth was imbued with a certain power, a certain mystery.

“The only thing that a boy is imbued with is a dick, Rosalie,” she said, still blowing perfect smoke rings into the air. “He sounds like a ‘Fuck and Run’ to me.”

LaWanda had several categories for men. She placed them in neat little boxes, like the “Fuck and Runs,” the “Love Me, Love My Dicks,” the “Vacillators,” and the “Ambivalents,” and the “Possible Significant Others.” It was a way to protect herself, I guess, and besides, she said, men do that to us all the time. “They’ve got their basic Bitch, Whore, Virgin, Ball-Buster,” she told me once. “And then they say they can turn us all upside down and we all look alike to them. Hah!”

“What am I?” I asked at the end of our lunch. “What category do men put me in?”

“You’re real, Rosalie. You expect too much,” she said. “You cost way too much for most men.”

Making love to him, how can I explain it? It’s like being in the jungles of Venezuela with Robert DeNiro. DeNiro’s in a white suit. You’re doing the fandango. There’s all this green–large leafed trees, hot crimson flowers that splay open, tendrils of vines scrape your neck, DeNiro dips you, you shout “Yes,” and you roll together in the lush weeds, dodging snakes and lizards. There’s always a danger, a darkness, and it’s never really over.

“Who are you?” I asked the man who made teeth after we made love.

“You’ll never meet anyone like me,” he said, turning toward me, his dark glasses still placed steadily on his nose.

“That doesn’t answer my question,” I said.

“Who are you?” he asked, smiling.

“Rosalie. My name is Rosalie. I bet you didn’t even know that.”

“I know everything I need to know about you,” he said, as he pulled me towards him. I could not see his eyes, but his teeth, I could see them in the darkness, and he bit into my neck as if it was sweet dough before the hot oil.

“Why don’t you take them off?” I asked him after we made love again. There was a silence. “Why do you wear them anyway?”

“A defense,” he said, “like anything else.”

“Or something like, if you can’t see me, you can’t hurt me? That sort of thing?”

“If you want to think so,” he said. “But everything doesn’t always fit so neatly into categories.”

“Do you take them off for any of the women you’re with?”

“Once. Maybe twice. There have been times.”

“What does it take?”

He turned towards me and I removed his glasses to reveal very ordinary blue eyes. He pulled me on top of him and wrapped his legs around me as if he wanted to squeeze the life from me and make it his own. “David,” I said. It was the first time I had ever spoken his name. “I feel you have given me something.”

“I haven’t given you anything, Rosalie,” he said, stroking my hair. “You’ve had it all along.”

I had this dream. I was in the jungles of Venezuela again only Robert DeNiro was doing the fandango with Consuelo who was wearing three Olympic gold medals. Billy Xavier had grown up, he still had his sweatered teeth and he still wanted to “…couchez avec moi,” but I was too busy standing there braless, wearing Passion Fruit lipstick, my hair in ringlets, communicating with the iguanas and the rubber trees. Richard was in the corner of the dream, braces gleaming in the tropical sun, standing with a muzzled horse and a black negligeed woman who looked an awful lot like Catherine the Great. Richard was sucking on a chicken thigh, motioning to the Roma triplets to join him. David appeared, silver hair springing from his head like an aura, his glasses were off, his blue eyes shining. He said he had two porcelain central incisors that would make me look like Farrah Fawcett or Christie Brinkley or Jacqueline Bisset. I declined. He understood. And right when David was telling me to quit making men into such mysteries, I could hear the sound of castanets, the ticking of lizard’s tongues, wild petals silking against soft bark, sea lampreys winding through the clear pools of water, and I could hear, at last, my own rhythms, strong and fluid like the Amazon River. In the distance LaWanda came towards me bringing a resurrected Duane as an offering, and further on I could see Mindy Marinelli, laughing, a rich full laugh, with her mouth wide open.

“Are you sleeping?” David asked.

“You’ll never meet anyone like me,” I said, and turned towards him.