The next best thing to Santa Claus is the Tooth Fairy. As inconvenient as wobbly teeth go, a very shaky tooth means another visit from the Tooth Fairy, and that means extra money! Even better, the older you get, the more generous the Tooth Fairy seems to be. Last year, after you turned 10, she bumped up the value of your tooth from a pound to two. There’s also the joy of writing to her, alongside your eager hopes of glimpsing her whenever you snuck the note underneath your pillow, along with the tooth. You’d almost always wrap it in a Kleenex, because it was soft and sturdy enough to blanket your tiny jagged treasure.
You dreamed of meeting her someday. You longed to see what she looked like, wondered how she’d dress, whether she was more like Tinkerbell or the good fairies from Sleeping Beauty. You imagined she would be kind nonetheless. You wanted to ask her questions – how many rounds did she have that night and what did she use all the teeth for?
It was one beautiful spring day on a Saturday afternoon. Your dad was out, your mum, preparing something in the kitchen. You felt like doing a bit of spring cleaning. You sat on your bed and arranged all your toys against the wall in a neat row, wondering if you’d ever catch them alive like in Toy Story. You made sure to remember the exact positioning of Mr. Teddy so you could see whether he’d moved or not once you got back.
You sauntered into Dad’s study next, the COMPUTER ROOM as everyone called it. It was a tiny room with space only for a desk, two wooden bookcases behind the chair, and a stand right by the door. Daddy’s big black stereo system took up most of that stand, and his classical music cassettes filled the rest of the shelves. He’d labelled every single one with white stickers in his own neat handwriting – Tchaikovsky, Concerto in D major; Beethoven, Symphony No.9 in miniscule letters. Your eyes swept over all the titles and admired his long thin script, wondering how he’d managed to fit all the words on the narrow spine of each tape. Finally, your eyes turned to the complex buttons on the stereo. You only knew PLAY, STOP, and PAUSE, and no idea what the rest meant – fig.1, fig.2, fig.3 so you fiddled with the volume knob instead, swinging it round till it reached MAX, then back the other way, loving the smooth feel of it turning in your hand.
You jumped on his revolving chair to reach all the other bits and bobs on top of the wooden bookcase behind it. Dad loved to organize things – in shelves, boxes, cases, files, everything had to be put somewhere, but never everywhere. On the top shelf was a large biscuit tin. You opened it – neatly lined cassette tapes, his usual screwdrivers, golf tees. It was a huge disappointment every time you saw the biscuits on the lid first, especially when it was the swirly butter cookies and the chocolate coated ones, so deceiving. You closed the lid again and wiped away the coat of dust with your fingers. In another container were some random pins, more golf tees and a ping pong ball. There wasn’t much to sort or anything of interest here, so you bent your knees to get back down from the chair when your eye caught something small and shiny.
Rooted behind all his other containers was a small round tin, pearly white and gold rimmed at the edges, rather feminine. You prised open the lid to see a small lump of tissue. You gently took the white mass out and opened it. Inside lay a collection of something hard and dry, like bits of gravel with stained cracks of brown at the tips.
You don’t understand. Where did these come from? Why did Dad have a bunch of…? You gasp. No! Maybe the tooth fairy was friends with Dad? Maybe Dad got the teeth back from the tooth fairy in return for… in return for what? Money? Maybe the tooth fairy needed a loan? You keep staring at the little stones in your palms, desperate to keep your imagination from shattering. Someone has cut open your heart and all the magic powder is falling out. The story, the childhood dream, the fairy tale you’d believed in all these years.
Looking back, you realise that the magic couldn’t stop falling, couldn’t stop slipping out of your hands like sand every time you ate up another year. How keeping your first teeth was your Father’s attempt to preserve a little of your innocence, your life before it grew too fast.
Twenty-one years later and you are staring at an old photograph. You’re both on the sofa. He’s looking down at you in his arms, his smile up to his ears. You are pulling a funny face at him with two pairs of V fingers at your eyes.
We’d be celebrating his sixtieth today, if God hadn’t taken him away so soon.
About The Author
Jiye Lee is a British-born Korean writer and spoken word poet from Newcastle. She focuses on themes of cultural identity, travelling, family, mental health issues, love and loss. Her works have appeared or is forthcoming in Literary Orphans Journal, Bandit Fiction, and BBC Sounds.
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