Fiction from NER 37.2
The first strange thing was the tooth. Of course I was used to hearing jokes about putting my heart into my work; blood, sweat, and tears, etc. My mother never got tired of telling me that love was the most important ingredient of all, which is of course bullshit. But a tooth? It was the first day I opened the bakery after the funeral—my wife’s mother. Seventy-seven years old, brain cancer. We’d gone to Baltimore for the burial and stayed a week. Kathy wasn’t taking it well. She crawled into bed the day we got back to Mississippi and didn’t get up except to eat a sandwich and use the bathroom. Then the nightmares started bolting her awake every night, shaking. I offered to stay home with her—she’s a sixth grade teacher, off for the summer—but she said no, of course you have to get back to work, I’ll be fine.
On the Day of the Tooth—as I later came to think of it—Cheryl, the hairdresser from next door, had purchased a loaf of sourdough but came swinging back through the glass doors not ten minutes later.
“Look look look,” she said, holding out the remains of the bread on its paper sack.
Teri, the counter girl, drawled, “Well, yuck,” and I turned off the mixer and came down to the cash register and peered down at a gold tooth shining in the crumbs.
“Your tooth came out?” I said. This would be bad for business, is what I was thinking.
“Not my tooth,” said Cheryl. “I don’t have any gold teeth anyway.”
“Well, yuck,” said Teri again.
“I’m really, really sorry about that,” I said. “I have seriously no idea.” Could it have been in the flour? That was the only explanation. I took the tooth and the crumbs to the back and returned with a warm baguette. “On the house,” I said. “I can personally guarantee there’s no teeth in it.”
“Hmm,” said Cheryl, and took the baguette with a frown.
“That’s just weird is all,” said Teri.
“It is pretty weird,” I said.
Becky Hagenston is the author of three story collections: Scavengers (University of Alaska Press, 2016), Strange Weather (Press 53, 2010), and A Gram of Mars (Sarabande Books, 1998). Her work was selected for the O. Henry Award in 1996 and 2015. She is an associate professor of English at Mississippi State University.
Soren James is a writer and visual artist who recreates himself on a daily basis from the materials at his disposal.