Meemaw flashes her teeth, the pink gums the color of taffy and the dentures straight and slightly yellowed. Weird in the palm of her hand, but I laugh when she makes them clack with her fingers.
“Luke, I am your father!” she shouts, snapping teeth in time with her words like one of those guys who talks through a puppet. A ventriloquist, I think they’re called.
Her voice turns rough when she eyeballs me and says, “They will all suffer for this outrage.” And then she grins all creepy, real gums nowhere near the color of her denture gums. I have to look away because it makes me think of what I’m going to look like when I get old and wrinkly. My tongue pokes at my molars, willing them stay put.
Still, I giggle and cover my mouth, pretending like my stomach isn’t gurgling funny noises and feeling sick.
“Can I get you some tea, Meemaw?” I ask, nice and polite, just like Momma bid me.
She nods, and her lips pull up. I turn away before those awful, grayish gums peek out, running away to the kitchen to fetch a glass of sweet tea. The pitcher is heavy and my arms shake, but I don’t spill a drop. That’s good; the last thing I want is for Meemaw to come out, dragging her bad leg – thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump – to wipe up my mess, wheezing like Darth Vader.
How does she know anything about Star Wars anyway?
I pass the doorway just outside the kitchen, trying not to look at the purple crayon wax still stuck to the rough surface of the wall. Stucco, Momma called it. That happened forever ago – at least a couple months – and I’m bigger now. Not stupid enough to draw on the wall, even if Meemaw said she liked the pictures of Yoda and Darth Vader I colored for her the day before.
“This is something a baby would do!” Momma had yelled.
Meemaw had shaken her head when she saw it, clucked like a funeral, and jawed, “Revenge is sweet, kid. You’ll never see it coming.”
I’d said I was sorry and promised to fix it, but she pinched her teeth out of her mouth and clacked them at me, biting at my chin and leaving me freaked out and confused. I still am, even more now that I’m thinking about Star Wars and Meemaw’s yelling out movie quotes.
Her head leans back against her old, brown chair, a crocheted afghan across her lap when I come back into the living room. The cracked lips sag, sucking inward, and I worry she’s going to swallow her mouth.
Can that even happen? My palm is sticky against the cool sweat on the glass in my hand, and I smack her tea down on the table next to her, all the while staring at her face.
“Didja use a coaster, kid?” This time she really doesn’t move her lips, but her words come out plain as day.
I tear my eyes away to glance at her teeth at the edge of the table, even though I don’t want to see them.
Oh god – did they just move?
For just a second, I think I see them chomp down and slide toward me . . . and then –
My high-pitched screams ring in my ears, but not loud enough that I don’t notice I’m peeing myself as I fall backwards over the rug my feet tangle in, and Meemaw lurches out of the chair, flapping her hands around in front of her like bony bird wings. These weird hoots burst out of her drooping mouth.
She’s going to take off and peck my face off.
“What in the merciful heavens is wrong with ya, Georgie?” She’s so loud, and I’m crying and trying to keep the snot out of my mouth, pushing at the stupid carpet.
“Your teeth, Meemaw, your teeth!” It’s all I can say, and my own start to chatter, hard enough to make my whole head hurt.
“Okay, okay, calm down.” Her hands claw into my shoulders, which doesn’t calm me down at all, mostly because her mouth is closer to my face, and I can see her creepy bare gums.
I shut my eyes and blurt the first thing I can think of: “Mrs. Kardy gave me an F, and I fell down in gym class.”
She looks at me funny, and I take a big, wet breath, getting to the heart of the matter. “Your teeth moved and they’re trying to get me.” Another loud suck of air. “AndohgodtheyrelookingatmeMeemawhelp!”
She starts wheezing, even as I’m writhing on the ground under her hands. Maybe she’s dying – Jimmy Marks’ grandma died last week, and we talked about what that meant in class – but I don’t see angels or anything, and her breath stinks too bad to die. That’s when she starts laughing, and I can see everything: her gross gums and her wriggling tongue and that weird punching bag thing in the back of her throat.
I’m crying again, too scared to be embarrassed. Meemaw tells me to go take a bath. She says, “Lord save me from little boys,” as I blubber down the hall.
After my bath she insists I go to bed, and I keep my eyes on the walls, on the floor, on the stupid doll on the top of the dresser – anything not to look at her – when she’s tucking me in. She flips off the light and leaves the door open and I’m staring at the ceiling, thinking about teeth, feeling around the back of my own with my tongue.
Thumpthump thumpthump thumpthump. The air goes funny, and I know – I know – someone’s staring at me. The sound of teeth clacking makes me go stiff, and I hear it . . . them . . . from the door.
“Georgie, I’m coming for ya! Beware the Dark Side!”
It’s followed by wheezing laughter and I scream so loud it hurts my own ears.
Nicole Wolverton is a freelance writer from the Philadelphia, PA area. Her short fiction has appeared in Black Heart Magazine, The Molotov Cocktail, and Trembles Horror Magazine. Her debut novel, a psychological thriller titled The Trajectory of Dreams, will be available in March 2013 (Bitingduck Press). Nicole is the moderator of the weekly flash fiction contest 5 Minute Fiction and founder of Farm to Philly, a website devoted to eating locally grown foods.Nicole Wolverton's website »