S. Nadja Zajdman
strong black coffee
I sat at the kitchen table, running my tongue around the loosening tooth in my head. Everyone in my class had already lost their first tooth. Everyone had already had their first tooth replaced by the Tooth Fairy with a quarter under their pillow. Everyone, except for Sheree Nudleman, who held court in the schoolyard, and smoked cigarettes. Sheree swore that her real father was Tony Curtis, and he was coming to get her and would take her to Hollywood as soon as he finished his latest picture. Sheree Nudleman gave no credence to the Tooth Fairy. She insisted the Tooth Fairy was as big a fib as Santa Claus, and told me I was a sucker for believing in grow-up garbage.
As my tongue teased my tooth, I watched Mark’s pudgy fingers pat the Jello in his bowl. “Lellow Jello!”
“Mark,” Mum reminded my little brother. “Jello is for eating, not for playing. Use the spoon.”
“Poom. Poom.” Mark picked up his spoon, tapped his dessert, and stared, bug-eyed, as the golden globe wobbled. Mark’s Jello was like the sun rising out of the deep sky of its dish. He curled his chubby fingers around the glinting handle, dipped the oval end into the slippery orb, dropped a glob into his open, expectant beak, and cool sunlight slid down his throat. “Ahhhh.” A beatific beam lit his full round face. “I like bazert!”
As my tooth twisted, I mused. If there really is a Tooth Fairy, he’d find my tooth no matter where I hid it. Mum and Daddy said the Tooth Fairy would fly in with a quarter. Mum and Daddy wouldn’t lie to me.
The terminal tooth dropped onto my tongue. I removed it, like a wad of gum, and stuck it up my right nostril. As soon as I did, I had doubts. . Maybe there really isn’t a Tooth Fairy, after all—nobody I knew had seen one. And anyway, how would a Tooth Fairy know whose tooth had fallen out, and which pillow to visit? I grew uneasy. Teeth were suppose to sit inside mouths; they weren’t meant to ride up noses. I attempted to retrieve my tooth, but it had already disappeared.
Mum was gulping coffee, and Daddy was nursing his nightly glass of tea. Maybe, I reflected, maybe it would be better to tell them.
“Abram! The car!” Mum erupted. She scooped Mark into her arms and herded us onto the street and into the green Chevrolet. Only the front of the car had functioning doors. Deliberately. Mark and I had been taught to climb into the back, and to stay there, so we couldn’t fall out.
“But why?” Daddy turned from the steering wheel, to Mum. “Why did the child do such a thing?” Mum’s gender, Daddy believed, gave her clairvoyant understanding of his children.
“With her imagination?” My creative imagination was a double-edged sword. “Who knows?!” Daddy sped to the Jewish General Hospital.
“Noely is sick?” Mark was unnerved by the abrupt shift in environment. X-rays were taken of the inside of my nose, but nothing was found. “Some kids will do anything for attention.” The attending physician glared at me. “We have more important things to do.” He cast a cursory glance at my frightened parents. “Relax,” he growled. “Take her home.”
“Noela? Why did you make up such a story?” It wasn’t an accusation. Mum knew it wasn’t in my gentle nature to intentionally cause trouble.
“I didn’t make it up.”
“But the doctor says he can’t find anything.”
“I don’t make up stories!” Generally a docile child, I now flared at the doctor. “I’m not a liar! I don’t tell lies!”
We shuffled out of the hospital and into the car. I slumped sulkily, in the back. Mark patted my hand, in sympathy. No one believed me when I told the truth. Not ever.
Several days later, on Sunday, in the afternoon, Mum received a call from the hospital. An alert intern, struck by my staunch defence of personal integrity, re-examined the X-ray, and located the tooth.
I was taken from my family and led into a room that was bare except for a long table and a tray filled with sharp metal instruments. There were two nurses, and two interns. Dr. Payne had been located on a golf course. The four subordinates were waiting for him to arrive. I was told to take off my shoes and lie on the table. Payne entered, scowling. Some stupid kid had spoiled his game. Bypassing anaesthesia, the specialist raised forceps and rammed them up my nostril. I shrieked. Blood spurted out of my nose like oil gushing from a well. “Shut up.” Payne barked. I gasped in shock. “I said shut up!” Payne smacked my rosy, tender cheeks. “I can’t work like this.” Payne turned to his impassive assistants. “Hold her down.” The nurses rushed behind my head. One grabbed hold of my right wrist; the other grabbed my left. One intern pinned down my left ankle; the other bore down on my right. Payne, pacified, picked up the forceps again and thrust swiftly, deeply, repeatedly, penetrating high into my head. Fountains of blood spouted through my nose, drenching my dress and the doctor’s lab coat. I wailed in agony. Payne struck me across the face. Blood flowed from my nares and stained the doctor’s hands. “How many times do I have to tell you to belt up, brat!” My screams turned to sobs as Payne slid long metal daggers up my nose and into my head. My fists beat against the nurses, and my feet kicked against the interns. One of the young doctors, his wrists growing tired, sat on my turned-out ankle.
The pools of blood encircling my eyes blinded me. My sobs turned to gulps, and my whelps grew weaker. There was no mercy. I remained conscious.
On hearing my tortured howls, Mark broke away from our parents and charged towards the source of the sound. He stretched up onto his toes, pushing at the doorknob of the examination room. It refused to turn. He pounded on the locked door. He hammered at the block of concrete and launched his stocky body against it like a battering ram.
“Noely! Noely!” Tears splashed his cherubic cheeks. “Dey killing my shister! Dey killing my shister!!!” He pleaded for help to the human traffic in the hospital corridor. He latched onto passing lab coats; he appealed to the humanity of nurses. “Help me! Please help me!” Our parents were sitting silently on a nearby bench. Mum held onto Daddy. Daddy’s hands dangled between his knees. He hung his head like a miserable turtle.
“Do something, Daddy!” Mark screamed, accusatory and confused. “Daddy! Why don’t you do something?!” Daddy’s limp hands flew to his anguished face. His hunched back convulsed. Mum held onto Daddy even harder, her slate blue eyes glazing over.
Unable to enlist assistance, Mark hurled himself against the locked door. My cries had subsided to exhausted bleats. Mark pinned his ear against the door. “Noely? Noely?” Was I dead? “Open!” Mark smashed his body against the door. It opened. Dr. Payne his lab coat soaked in my blood, stepped out. Mark leapt at him. “I going to kill you!” He tackled the doctor’s thigh and sunk his baby teeth into it. Payne exploded. “Get this little monster off me!” Payne hopped on his free leg and tried to kick Mark off his other one, but the tenacious toddler clung to the doctor’s trousers, pressed his chest onto the doctor’s knee, wept, clawed, grunted, bit and kept biting, as deeply and savagely as his strength allowed. “I going to kill you,” my little brother growled determinedly, between bites and tears. “I going to kill you!” Startlingly helpless, the specialist pleaded, “For heaven’s sake, get him off me!”
Daddy raised his head. His moist chocolate eyes narrowed into dark slits. Mum dug her nails deeply into Daddy’s arm. Daddy didn’t move. Neither did Mum.
“What’s the matter with you people?! Can’t you see what he’s doing? For crying out loud, I got the damn tooth! Now get this little monster off me!”
I limped out of the examination room. My head was swathed in blood-soaked bandages. Daddy rose to his feet. Slowly, he put one foot in front of the other. Even more slowly, he put the other foot in front of the one. At the pace of a drugged snail, he approached and pried his son off the doctor. “Its alright, Mark. Don’t cry anymore. Noely is alright.”
“I going to kill him! Lemme at him!” Trapped in Daddy’s arms, Mark’s limbs thrashed and flailed at the empty air. “I GOING TO KIIIIILL YOU!” Mark howled down the hospital corridor. Dr. Hurt escaped into an elevator.
Daddy relaxed his grip, and Mark slid out of his arms. “Noely?” He flew to me, and flung himself on me. “Oh Noely!” Mark squeezed me to him tighttighttight.
I no longer cried; my skull could not withstand the pressure of crying. Gently, I placed my aching arms on my brother’s head, and stroked it. Mum took Mark’s hand, Daddy took my hand, and together we left the hospital, glumly trudging to the waiting Chevrolet which had only two functioning doors so that me and my little brother could sit safely in the back seats, without being in danger of falling out.
About the author
S. Nadja Zajdman is a Canadian author. Her first short story collection, Bent Branches, was published in 2012. Zajdman has had her non-fiction as well as her fiction featured in newspapers, magazines, literary journals and anthologies across North America, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand. She has completed work on a second short story collection as well a memoir of her mother, the pioneering Holocaust educator and activist Renata Skotnicka-Zajdman, who passed away near the end of 2013.