The day we moved into our new home, my husband, Roger, dropped a box and out spilled his
collection of vintage little green army men. A machine gunner got stuck upside down in a sidewalk
crack and an infantryman stumbled toward the sewer grate.
"You told me you sold those," I said.
"Yeah, well, the guy was lowballing me."
"I saw you put them in the car and watched you drive away."
"I tried, Rachel, I really did."
"You came back fanning yourself with the money."
He got down on his hands and knees to collect the miniature warriors. I looked around at our
new neighborhood. Chainlink fences and brown grass yards, long, squat houses with winter-burned
junipers. Lawn ornaments of the cement variety. An inordinate amount of lava rock.
As I returned my gaze to our new house—new to us, old and crumbling to the world—I noticed
a man standing on his stoop next door. He pointed two imaginary six-shooters my way, unloaded, and
The man, our new neighbor Stu, had a head of close-cropped curls and a twitchy, sniffly nose which
gave him the air of a heavy cocaine user, which he was. Curls are one of my personal weaknesses and
the cocaine habit—verified with a glance at his chalky coffee table when I popped over with a piece of
his mis-delivered mail—ignited my lust for the party girl I never was. Those two factors, combined
with a lifetime of indecision and a new spark of fluttery worry at having bought a house with a man
who once yelled, “Thar she blows,” during sex, helped convince me, sometime in the second week of
living in our new home, to sleep with Stu.
He was receptive in the way I imagine a fifty year old heavy coke user is required to be, and the
sex was frenzied and mostly fun, although the presence of Stu's cat at the foot of the bed, with its
owner's same twitchy nose, was mildly unnerving. Afterward Stu offered me some blow—his word—
and I almost accepted. I felt wild.
When I came back home with the cup of sugar I had ostensibly gone to retrieve, there was
Roger, organizing his record collection by color, absentmindedly searching for something on the gray
scale to help ease the White Album's transition into the heavier stuff. His back was working its way
toward scoliosis and his bald spot shone fiercely in the light streaming in from the picture window.
“Dinner time?” he said and I abandoned all my excuses for my thirty minute sugar excursion. I
noticed my pants were unbuttoned and I did nothing about it.
“Sugar,” I said and walked to the kitchen.
I met Roger at an accounting conference, which should have been warning enough. I figured
accountants were like some kind of easy-going stockbroker, or that they at least moved around enough
money that some was likely to end up in their own wallets. I'd finished college the year before. I was
feeling sad and alone. Roger and I were stuck in the registration line together and, as I swiveled looking
for a friend, he said, “What do you call an accountant with an opinion?”
“A little early for accounting jokes, isn't it?” I said.
“An auditor,” he said and laughed one, exploratory snort.
We got married four years later, thanks largely to Roger's persistence, which can be mistaken,
by certain women in certain hopeless situations, for love.
Roger wanted to put his hot sauce collection on display somewhere eye-catching. Above the stove, or,
if the kitchen was off limits, which it was, then maybe along the mantelpiece above the gas fireplace.
“Also off limits,” I said.
“I had them up at the old house,” he protested.
“We were renting. We're adulting now. Adults don't prominently display empty bottles of
“That's one bottle of many. And the least interesting.”
I had a single collectible item. I got it in college, at a party my girlfriends and I threw. Around
midnight, some drunk asshole grabbed me and tried to kiss me. I told him to get lost and when he
didn't, a boy I'd been making eyes at earlier in the night took it upon himself to punch the guy in the
mouth. I was thrilled.
In the morning, I found a tooth amongst the empty Solo cups and bottles. I kept it for years.
And by years, I mean, I still had it, in an empty Altoids tin in my sock drawer. It was my collectible
because I had collected it from the floor and―like Roger's hot sauces, records, army men, Cracker jack
prizes and baseball cards―it was of value to no one but the collector.
I suddenly yearned for Stu, a man who had somehow managed to carry his youthful
predilections gracefully–or, if not gracefully, at least confidently–into adulthood.
“I need to borrow some sugar,” I said.
Roger's response to my bloody noses was to buy me a humidifier.
“Dry air,” he said. “I've really had to slather on the hand lotion lately.”
I looked at his hands. They were baby hands. Accountant hands. The hands of a man prone to
purchasing items of which there was even the remotest possibility of collectible appeal.
“Might need more than one though,” he said. “Bedroom, living room, potentially the kitchen.”
He ticked off the dry rooms of our house on his smooth fingers. I shoved more tissue up my
nose. I craved the exuberance of my coke-addled romps through Stu's zebra print sheets.
When I was a little girl my great-grandmother died and my mother took my sister and me to her house
before it was emptied and sold. It was musty, dusty and mothballed, and the open curtains letting in the
orange fall sun felt like a betrayal. My mother told us we could pick out one thing from the house for
My sister lit up at the possibilities and roamed far and wide through the house looking for the
perfect addition to the random grouping of mementos she'd begun compiling on top of her dresser. I
prowled the house poking half-heartedly into closets and dark rooms, examining a ceramic clown here,
a jar of marbles there. I considered a mottled and browning banana on the kitchen counter, but a fly
landed on its tip, claiming it before I could.
In the end, my sister walked away with two glass birds and I left with nothing. Apathy or
indecision? Your guess is as good as mine.
The firm Roger worked for gave him some kind of award at the Christmas party and, as he accepted
the slice of engraved glass, he pointed at me and said, “I couldn't have done it without my wife, Rachel,
who's stuck with me through thick and thin.”
Someone opened the door at the back of the room and a cold chill traveled up my spine and
made my appreciation of Roger's praise look spasmodic. I couldn't guess what thickness he might be
referring to. Everything felt thin, like if I leaned too hard in any direction I might go crashing through. I
felt a nose bleed coming on and dug in my purse for a tissue.
A short, fat man in front of me started in on a rousing rendition of “For He's a Jolly Good
Fellow,” but by the time I joined, it was over. It's a short song.
That night, while Roger gargled mouthwash in the bathroom—he was very good at gargling, which I
found disconcerting—I took the tooth out of its tin and held it between by thumb and pointer finger. It
was a bone. I had a man's bone in my sock drawer. I felt dangerous. I felt like cruising the strip in a low
In the bathroom, Roger gargled like he was methodically drowning.
I touched the tooth to my tongue and felt an electric tingle. I set it there and closed my mouth.
Roger came into the bedroom, his thumbs poised for the pointing, his breath fresh and sterile.
“Who's your jolly good fellow?” he said.
The tooth clacked against my teeth.
Four months after we moved in, Roger bcc'd me on an email announcing our housewarming party. A
minute later, he sent another email to just me.
Sorry, just got the urge, it said.
Stu was not on the email and I was hoping Roger would leave it to me to invite him, which I
would not, but when I came home, there was Roger on Stu's front porch, chatting away. Roger turned
to see me pulling into the driveway and Stu gave me another of his point and winks.
"You two troublemakers," I said as I stepped out of the car. I smiled. I don't really smile.
Stu's warm hands around my waist as I bent over my bathroom sink and vacuumed up a line of coke
made me feel dirty and crazy and sexy and sad. The party's muted noise was a distant thing. The nail
clippers, resting on the sink's lip, had a nail still in their clutches. We were out of hand soap. I would
need to buy more hand soap.
I reentered the party to the sounds of one of Roger's salsa albums he'd bought years ago after
our first and only salsa lesson. I was revved up and ready to be wild. And then I was mournful and
terrified and convinced I had coke on my face and my college friends drinking wine on our couch
would know I was some drug fiend. I started to cry. I laughed a little.
Roger was dancing alone in the middle of the living room and I joined him, buried my face in
his shoulder and, as Stu came out of the bathroom wiping at his nose, I danced the least sexy salsa
anyone has ever danced. I wondered if Roger could feel the tooth in my pocket.
We made wonderfully sad love that night and when it was over, Roger asked me, “Feeling better?” like
he could just fuck the sadness out of me.
“Yes,” I said. “Much better.”
Stu's coke guy got busted and Stu turned into Stewart, an irritable fifty-year old late on his car
payment, with bad taste in ties and a sink full of empty sardine cans his cat spent most of the day
“I should get going,” I said. “Roger'll be back from his golf game soon.”
“Golf,” Stu said and made a motion as though he were simultaneously jerking off and swinging
a club. He rolled his eyes and sniffled.
“Hey, Rache, listen.” I hated when he called me Rache. Sweet cheeks, babe, sugar—those were
okay. Those fit what we were. “If ol' Roger's got any extra dough laying around, I could use a little
“It's my money too. I work.”
I kneeled down to put on my shoes. The cat rubbed against my leg, reeking of spoiled fish.
“Yeah, yeah, okay.” Stu ran a hand through his dyed black curls. “Hey, I should have some
more, uh, stuff soon.”
“Okay, Stewart,” I said and stepped out the door.
For Halloween, we decided to stay home and hand out candy. It felt like the responsible thing to do as
homeowners. Roger bought enough candy for a small army of children. He mussed up his hair and put
on a bow tie and suspenders and called himself a mad scientist, although he looked more like a
disheveled Oktoberfest boy. I drew on some whiskers and put on my old cat ear headband, but left out
the tight black dress that I'd worn for Halloweens gone by.
“Rawr,” Roger said when I came downstairs.
“Purr, purr,” I said and let him kiss my nose.
After a slew of witches, Spider-Man's and zombies, plus a few kids too old to bother dressing
up, I opened our door to find Stu, in a silvery spacesuit, his helmet tucked under his arm, a silken
pillowcase I knew well held open in front of him. A little girl in a princess costume peaked out from
behind his legs.
“Cute kitty,” he said. Roger came out from the kitchen with a restocked candy bucket which
seemed to remind Stu of the little girl clutching at his shiny pant leg.
“This is my niece, Princess Lizzy.”
The little girl nodded. Her tiara fell onto the bridge of her nose. Behind her, some teenagers
went tearing down the street, pumpkins tucked under their arms like footballs.
Roger got down on a knee and said, “Do princesses like Reese’s or Snickers?”
Stu smiled and mouthed, “Rawr.”
I swallowed the tooth. I didn't mean to. I just wanted to feel it click against my teeth, wanted to be
reminded of the only time a boy had ever fought for my love. Then I stubbed my toe on the bedpost and
down went the tooth.
I kept an eye on my stool for a week. The tooth did nothing for me wending its way through my
digestive tract. I wanted it out. I didn't want a boy's bone stuck inside of me. One night I had a
nightmare in which a mouth, with bright ruby lips and a missing tooth, came to reclaim its birthright,
and when I told the mouth that I'd swallowed its tooth, it ate right through me.
I woke with a start. Roger snorted and kept sleeping.
In December it was wet and cold and gray and I got pregnant. I'd been forgetful and sloppy about my
birth control, although I couldn't say if it was intentional or if I was just having trouble with routine. I'd
forgotten before, when planning for the wedding had started stressing me out.
Roger and I had talked about kids, as in, "Look at all the kids at the park today," but not as in,
"Alice, for a girl's name?" We had very little money left after buying the house. I was twenty-nine.
Roger was thirty-three, going on fifty.
He wouldn't let me cook dinner or stand for more than twenty minutes at a time. He booked a
birthing techniques class when I was six weeks in. He bought a high chair we wouldn't need for a year
and a half. Swaddling blankets, a jumper, onesies, a bottle warmer, a bassinet. He'd found a new reason
to collect things and I tried to think it was sweet.
I'd probed and prodded, with plungers and brushes, in toilets at work and at home and, once, at
a Mexican restaurant, but I never found the tooth. I imagined the baby being born with it, one giant,
monstrous tooth in its gummy mouth, my baby destined to grow into the kind of boy who lost teeth at
college house parties.
I fell asleep at work. I vomited in the mornings and cried in the evenings and Roger kept buying
I knocked on Stu's door to tell him about the tiny lump of cells inside my belly, to assure him it wasn't
his, although I had no way of knowing if it was or wasn't. Instead, we had awful sex. There was a new
stain on the zebra print sheets as though the animal had been shot. Stu cupped my breasts, but if he
noticed their fullness, he didn't say anything.
He offered me a “bump" and I politely declined.
“I'm moving up,” he said. “By the way.” I thought Stu had already reached his pinnacle. Or at
least I thought that Stu thought so.
“To where?” I said as I frantically searched for my underwear.
“I'm selling now. Just a little.”
He smiled a wide, confident, sniffling smile. A dark curl looped down his forehead. He looked,
suddenly, like a drug dealer.
A week later, when I spit after brushing my teeth at night, there was blood in the sink. I looked in the
mirror and saw little red rivulets trickling down between my gums. I reached in to probe my mouth and
smeared blood over one of my front teeth. It was not a good look. It was a disintegrating look.
The tooth wanted company. I imagined it burrowing into my uterus, the cells clumping around
it, the tooth a foundation for new life, a petri dish, a scaffolding, a boy's bone rebuilding itself to full
boyhood inside my body. It needed more teeth, more bricks, to reconstitute its prematurely-ended self.
It had a whole life to lead yet. Frustrations to accrue. Denials to fume over. Girls to grab and to kiss
against their will. Two months in and it already felt so hopeless, so out of my control.
I wanted, for once, to control my story. I tried, staring at my bloody mouth in the mirror, to
think of myself as a modern Mother Mary, the tooth-swallowing the genesis of my immaculate
conception, neither Roger nor Stu the father, the tooth orchestrating the building of a new savior inside
me, one whose sole mission was to save me. But then the boy from the party entered the scene, glowing
like some sort of cocky, vindictive god, playing a long con with my ovaries, and I abandoned the story,
let myself sit with the knowledge that one of two disappointing men was the father of my child.
“Still pregnant in there?” Roger called.
I spit more blood into the sink.
“Yes,” I said. “Definitely yes.”
Roger had an important meeting at work, so I went in for the second ultrasound, the one you're really
supposed to be able to see the baby in, alone. It was cold and snowing and the roads were icy, so I gave
myself extra time to get to the appointment and arrived early, the hospital quiet.
I ran my hand over my belly in the elevator. I had just the tiniest bump. It was hard. The baby
was turning me lumpy and hard. There was no one at the reception desk yet, so I sat and waited to be
received. On a table to my right was a magazine with a woman on the cover running across the street
with a baby held tight to her chest. "First sighting," the magazine claimed. The woman looked
determined, fierce, her own navigator. Perhaps she was running away. Perhaps this would also be the
I ran my tongue over my teeth. I felt for looseness and I found one, wiggling tooth. Then, deep
in the back, a few more loose in their sockets. The baby, calling for more bricks.
The elevator opened at the end of the hallway, but no one got off. It looked lonely, so I stood
and went inside it and pushed some buttons. I rode it up and down, up and down and no one else got
on. When it opened in the parking garage, I stepped out.
I blew past the exit to our house. I knew what the baby needed. It was me, not Stu or Roger, just
me. All of me. I thought that maybe if I gave it what it needed, if I gave it my whole body, the baby
would turn out okay, shake off its sad beginnings and be something new, something better. My body
was now the baby's body.
I decided I would just drive and drive until the baby unbuilt my body. I felt it kick then, its first
kick, a hard one, like it was trying to shake down the house. Or at least shake loose a few teeth.
“Keep kicking,” I told the baby. “Keep kicking.”
JP Kemmick has past work in Carve, Beechers, Toad and elsewhere. He also appeared in the Barrelhouse special edition Superheroes issues. He lives in Seattle with his wife, the writer Courtney Bird, and their newborn son.