The Tooth Fairy
A Fable of the Absurd
Part of the Tales from the East dark fiction series presented for your reading pleasure by Mr. Ira Pennygent
…for “Ted” back home
With the downturn in oil and gas, I should have seen it a long way coming. I was freshly out of an MBA program (fifty-thousand dollars deep in student loan debt!) and although proving myself an excellent, qualified employee in business development, could not have expected to stay at my company for long — no sir. Not unlike those with seniority. Leaving the company that day, all I could see were the nervous, toothy grins of those who had barely escaped the mass layoff; their grins told me —
“Boy, James! Does this suck! Really wish you the best — but glad it wasn’t my ass!” or, “Gees, James, at least you’re still young! Hang in there man! You’ll get another oil and gas opportunity soon enough!”
What they should have said to me then was — glad it wasn’t my teeth and bones.
Ah! Little did I anticipate those maddening, aching evenings awaiting me in the Old Country. But at the end of it all, I will tell you — as a married man, with a child (and another soon on the way) it was worth it. I ask myself then, could I have faired better back in Texas? Perhaps not. For you see, everyone at Wide Open Drilling (my former employer in Houston) was seemingly hanging by a tenuous thread of doubt and doing their damnedest to hold on to their jobs. O, to live in a near-constant state of wondering if your job will be pulled out from under you! Now that continuous gnawing feeling, I think, is a poorer way of living than the few momentary sacrifices I made when I moved East. Sacrifices that may cause many to think that I was — rather am — out of my mind. But most will no doubt wince at my predicament, I am sure haha!
But I ask you, what is a few tootheaches in exchange for peaceful family life? I tell you, what I did was but pay a small price for the glowing sense of security we Calderns now enjoy in the Old Country. A few sacrifices for an enduring sense of peace in a curious landscape, you see. I see it now — and I will let you judge for yourself — that in some ways our way of life here is more pleasant, more family-oriented — and all without that gnawing doubt for job security I left behind in Texas. But what if I told you too, that in spite of it all, I still manage to hack away at all the ol’ student loan debts from abroad? Now you will say that I am truly out of my mind — hah!
Well, you must know I’ve always been a curious guy — adventurous to see where opportunity can lead a man. A few years’ back I went backpacking across the globe only to have brought back a sweet little thing from Eastern Europe, my wife Milica that is. (But if you find that hard to pronounce, then just say “Milly”; hell I call her “Milly” most of the time). Now, we had quickly (dare I say happily, ah, accidentally?) grown into a family of plus one. Now I can only hope my two little boys will have a better business sense than their old man, given that invariably, they will be old enough to ask one day,
“Why is daddy missing so many teeth and fingers?”
But such was my desperate situation at the time. I always told my wife Milica, that although the States was a great place to become wealthy, provided you could pass for white (check!) and took out enough student loans to last till you grey over (double-check!) that the unfortunate thing was that as soon you stopped grinding away in the machine — you were basically crushed like a bad tooth. Spat out. Fallen down from a higher rung in the social ladder with no safety net below. And with oil and gas laying people off left and right, the machine no longer had any need for me. MBA or not. But ah, the bittersweet life I left behind! I will confess, I look not without affection at our home in Texas we left. Not without fondness for that bright, white-collared future that surely would have been mine — if only! Not to mention those perks that came along with that way of life, like affording my little lady and me excellent, chemical white teeth among other luxuries. And yes, our chemical white teeth is a near-constant source of fascination with people here in this country.
Now, I am writing to you here precisely because no one would believe my story — no, not even my only friend Ted, back home (who still works at Wide Open Drilling in finance, the lucky devil). Mind you, Ted possesses quite the imagination, in no part diminished by his prolific consumption of science fiction novels and good Texas dope.
But alas, Ted in his finance wisdom suggested, economics and personal finance aside, I go back to waiting tables at Houston’s most eminent steakhouse, where Jesuits and the movers-and-shakers alike dined- and that I also pull a reverse mortgage on my house. That is if I still wanted to keep afloat in our newly acquired home. But alas, that was a hasty decision. Funny how a man can give away his former life sooner than he will his own bone.
Arriving at our home (such a lovely home it was! in that enclave outside of Houston, the Woodlands!) I had to break the news to my old lady. Needless to say, women are women and mine wasn’t too pleased to hear about my layoff. The little tyke, now about one-and-a-half was bumbling his way through the kitchen to see his daddy. Oblivious in the happy blissful way that babies or toddlers are, he bared his little teeth, and ah, God such a beautiful smile he has! And with more teeth, my little man is only growing more handsome by the year. The golden-haired devil has all the happy-go-luckiness of his mother, but picking up my little Boo Boo, I knew my wife knew that I got canned. Daddy was home at 2 PM after all. Looking upon Milica’s face, I felt a pang of inadequacy — call it quiet desperation. Our American way of life was to quickly come to an end, for my sweetheart doesn’t work.
Now, as much as it hurt to make the deal that I did, it hurts a man, even more, to not put food on the table. And look, I’m no writer, and I won’t avoid cliche’s, but you get my drift. With the layoff and my financial prospects drying up, it was either go back to waiting tables — which was unacceptable (God forgive my tremendous pride!) for a man with an MBA — or go to the Old Country. And so, to Serbia, the Caldern family went.
And in that strange and forgotten part of Europe where I made the deal — it is my sincerest hope that one day my sons will look upon their father in no way desperate enough to have convened with the Supernatural — but man enough to do what it took to keep us going.
At first, they were all excited to see me. For some odd reason, Milica never bothered to tell her parents back home in Eastern Europe that we were married and with a child (and pregnant again). To be honest, she never talked much about her parents. I had thought little of it, trusting Milica — she was not a gold digger, after all, you know, like so many of my friends, including Ted, warned me about.
When we were finally able to settle in Serbia — you know, the former Yugoslavia, I was able to meet her parents one night for dinner. They are simple people, and well-meaning. But I will confess that I cannot help but feel that her father is a little bit of a boar when it comes to manners. Oh, he was so excited to hear that Milica’s husband is an American! Nevermind that we hadn’t communicated with them back in the States. And nevermind we had settled a month before we invited them to over dinner.
“Oh, what a lovely child!” Mr. Mitrovich exclaimed. He tousled our boy’s golden-yellow curled hair, threw him up in the air — practically sending Petar’s toddler head through the ceiling. Mrs. Mitrovich, a severe, behemoth woman, stood unnaturally still before we sat down to sup, holding a tray of pastries. She was a heavy-boned woman who I fancy wore the same expression for the last fifty years of her life. Severe, but agreeable; restrained and dignified but also very intelligent looking.
When Mr. Mitrovich’s playing with the tyke came to an end, we made a toast with some of his home home-made spirits, a type of plum brandy that is as strong as vodka, which is also the national spirit, which Serbs called rakija. Needless to say, it can go down easy and boasts many tonic properties. Among them, being a poor man’s painkiller.
“Oh, here’s my son-in-law! What a handsome, American devil! I see where Petar gets his good looks! Oh, my grandchild and American son-in-law who you neglected to tell us anything about, Milica dear! Ah, I forgive you — for this is a joyous occasion, and let there be no bitterness tonight between us,” he said. (Milica translated simultaneously. The Serbian language, needless to say, is mastered after no small feat. It is as difficult as speaking Hungarian drunk and backwards.)
Mr. Mitrovich continued, shooting his daughter a glance. His wife staying weirdly still, still holding a tray of cherry baklavas. She had not stirred.
“Such a lovely child you both have given us! You know, I don’t believe in no God — I’m an old Socialist dog, one of the last of his breed — but this is indeed a blessing upon us!”
“Mmmhmm.” chimed Mrs. Mitrovich in agreement. She had not yet blinked, I think.
Over a hearty dinner of meats and cheeses, vegetable stews and chopped cabbage, and more rakija (the plum brandy) it became uncomfortably apparent to me that Milly’s parents were hoping that I had transposed some of my wealth from the States to Serbia. It was such an uncomfortable position to be in — and I was already a little lightheaded from the rakija.
“Well, Mr. Mitrovich,” I said, as he chewed on tender roast pork. “I will be straight up. This is, of course, a joyous occasion to finally meet you and Mrs. Mitrovich. But you must know, that this is a temporary stay until we can get our feet off the ground. We would have stayed in the States — but there is simply no safety net to catch us, you see”.
Mr. Mitrovich raised his eyebrows even as he ate. I continued.
“But rest assured I have done my best — and will continue to do my damndest to provide for my family.” It was important for me to sell him on this idea. I wanted to speak to him man-to-man; give him my word we were just temporarily suffering a downturn in oil and gas. My family would lack for nothing, I told him. That is, until I could figure out the next step — even so, in Serbia! And this I kept privately to myself!
“Tata,” Milica addressed her father, “Because of James and his job and fancy degree, you must know we had a comfortable life back in the States. We had such a nice truck tata — oh a nice big, shiny black one!”
“Ho-ho! Was it American? A Ford?” Mr. Mitrovich asked through chews.
“Japanese,” I said.
“But you are an American? A Toyota was it?”
“Yes, a Tacoma.”
“Ah, like ISIS drives. Hearty trucks they are! Never owned one.”
“Oh, but listen to us Papa!” continued Milly, placing her hand on her father’s arm. “If only you could have seen the spacious house we had in a nice Houston enclave — ”
“Tell him ‘community’ maybe he’ll understand,” I told Milly. After Milly had explained the nice gated community we lived in, with the manmade lake and the ducks, Mr. Mitrovich expressed some confusion.
“I really don’t understand, why all these gated communities in the States, like I read in the news? Nevermind the ducks. Is it because of all the guns you have? Because someone is going to wander in with a gun — like a crazy person?”
“Well, even if they did — ” I was going to add that I did indeed have a gun, back in Texas, but changed course mid-sentence.
“Well, it’s to keep the riffraff out.” I decided to say.
Milly explained what riffraff means.
“Oh, I see,” he added, “You mean like colored folks? Or poor people?”
I think it was silent enough to hear Mrs. Mitrovich’s intestinal retchings now. In a strange way, she had picked up on this awkward cue, silence descending on the table — all too painfully clear! She excused herself on account of her bad stomach, a condition she had been dealing with for some time, I later learned.
“Well, the idea is that you pay for what you get for,” I continued. “And with my salary, we did enjoy a comfortable home in a safe, gated neighborhood, you see.” I patted our little, bumbling Petar on the head before he disappeared to play.
“I really don’t understand — maybe for the ultrarich here in Serbia, or say like a man that has to look over his shoulder, like a mafioso (and mind you, there more here in this country — O Bože — than I would care to admit!) But ah, what do I know, I have never been to the wild, wild west — ” he said, to which he referred to as America.
“But now, tell me,” he continued, relishing more of his belovèd spirits, “it all sounds sumptuous, new cars, new houses, gated communities to keep poor or colored peoples or gunslingers out — or how about poor, colored gunslingers out — haha!
“But could it be true that our Milica was really living this charmed existence even with your handsome salary in — what industry did you say you were in again? Insurance?”
“Oil and gas.”
“Ah, my mistake. This home made liqour is quite strong, you see.” Mr. Mitrovich belched spontaneously.
“Oops, well there is your gas, haha!” he said, not in ill-humor. But he did politely apologize after himself.
“Well, to answer your question, yes — we managed quite well, and with minimal credit card debt.”
“Credit card?” he asked. Milly explained credit cards, which to my shock, seemed a concept foreign to Mr. Mitrovich.
“Ah, even with credit cards you still didn’t own anything, per se?” he asked me. Milly translating all the while, putting herself in an uncomfortable position as well.
“Yes, well,” I interjected, “you must understand, Mr. Mitrovich, that it is a higher standard of living afterall back in the States. Not to mention that I owe fifty-five-thousand or more for my MBA. You see, I took out loans which I have to pay back monthly.”
Now I was sure that the rakija or plum brandy was getting to my head.
“Well, I mean to say sir, that once see — hiccup! — what I’m trying to say is that education as an investment — as I’m sure you would agree. I was sure that even with my salary, I would in time have all our expenses covered. I could not see me staying unemployed for long — least not with an MBA!”
“Ah! well, the American dream! It is grand! But what do I know?” he shrugged. “I may be something of a peasant, ill-informed about the States or economics and what not — I may even look a poor man to you — ”
“O come now —hiccup! ”
“ — but I can say that at least I own this meager house we are in — the one where you will make your home for as long as you need, my son — and I am glad for it! At least I own a home and a crumbly old apartment back in Belgrade and a cottage too! Not to mention my Romanian refurbished car your mother sneers at (even if it is ugly as sin — phuey!) But ah well, here’s a toast!”
And with that, Mr. Mitrovich raised his glass high and with a flourish. We had toasted once more. And shortly after, Mrs. Mitrovich returned with a large, chewey bundt cake. And, a little out-of-it from the booze, biting clumsily —
I must have bit too hard into my fork effectively shattering one my incisors. My teeth were already brittle from the stress of my previous job, you see. Shit. I aprubtly excused myself from the table to check the damage in bathroom. It was not good, and there was plenty of blood. From the dining room Milly was echoing —
“Sweety! Are you alright?! Should we see my cousin the dentist tomorrow?”
But with enough spirits circulating in my system, I soon passed out on the couch, but not before hearing Milly tell her parents that we were pregnant again. Perhaps the spirits made Serbian intelligble to me? I don’t know. But I knew my Milly’s tones.
Now, I don’t know if her parents’ exclammation was one of joy or worry as to how we could possibly provide for a second child, but I couldn’t bear my state any longer and am sure I sunk into a deep sleep soon after. I cannot be too sure, I confess — for I was experiencing a cocktail of many different sensations: pain, drowsiness, worry — and wondering if I had spoken too much.
Thus concludes our excerpt from The Tooth Fairy. If you enjoyed what you have read thus far, please follow here and on Twitter.
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