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GRAN'S TEETH by Peter Dean Rickards

 

And then, one morning at Salisbury Way, our stupid epileptic dog found Gran’s teeth in the little mug that she keeps at the side of her bed and chewed them into little pink bits that he scattered all over the stained orange carpet of our rented split-level.

We were all horrified, of course, to see Gran walking around in the daytime with just three or four good teeth in her head, but we were still poor in those days and my father couldn’t afford good shoes much less a brand new set of dentures for Gran.

In itself, Gran’s appearance at home was manageable. Teeth or no teeth, she still was, after all, the same beloved matriarch who made us dinner after school and gave Paul (that’s the dog) his daily anti-seizure medication which kept him from foaming at the mouth and falling down the stairs. The same good woman who migrated from Jamaica in 1980 (or thereabouts )to look after me and my sisters while my parents worked multiple jobs so that one day we could move out of the tiny rented split-level with the stained orange carpet.

That said, nobody was really thrilled about the condition of Gran’s teeth in public, especially me, and especially at the Catholic church we attended every Sunday.

I hated that Church. It was affiliated with my high school and as a result, many of my schoolmates would see when my family would arrive at Mass in my father’s company car which featured large cockroach decals and the words PCO PEST CONTROL emblazoned on the doors.

We would all pile out of the car and sometimes Gran would have a Food City plastic bag on her head to protect it from the snow or the rain. Like many of my poorer classmates, I wore my school uniform to church which really pissed me off since it was probably the only time where I actually had to wear the entire uniform without violating the school dress code in some way.

It was an oppressive getup which consisted of a burgundy pullover, gray slacks, a white shirt and a tie that made me want to kill someone. On Sundays I was forced to wear the usually optional but always hideous burgundy blazer.

The blazer had a crest sewn onto the left pocket that featured the face of some Jesuit bastard who was no doubt scalped and burned at the stake for feeling-up everyone's girl-children and giving the Native Indians Gonnereah and Smallpox.

Now, although me and my sisters hated church, it never really instilled dread in us until the first Sunday after Paul chewed up Gran’s dentures. You see, we had actually become used to the idea of seeing good ol’ Gran with her mash mouth when it suddenly struck us that she was still going to church with us even if she looked like she’d survived a land mine.

I remember hinting to my father at how horrified I was but I also knew that I would go straight to hell for revealing my fears since it would be instantly construed as shame and therefore indicative of my ungratefulness and traitorous disloyalty to a woman who loved us all.


So, we went to church and even though I begged Jesus Christ to make Gran cover her face with her winter scarf when howling out hymns like ‘They’ll know we are Christians by our love!”, my Lord showed me no such vain mercies.

I remember going over excuses in my head as all my classmates stared at her and her four teeth
caught up praises to the Lord.

I’ll tell them she’s the maid - I remember thinking as Gran belted out verse two of ‘Ave’ Maria’- but then, if we could afford a maid, how the hell would I explain why we were still driving around in a truck covered in cockroaches?

On Monday , the first person I saw was James Ciccolini , who, as luck would have it, was respected by all as the most offensive human being on the planet since his step-father had molested him and he was bitter about an electrocution scar he had received after pushing an electric lawn mower over its own cord.

-“Hey Rickards!, he bellowed predictably as I made my way to my locker to rid myself of the imitation Michael Jackson ‘Beat-it’ jacket my parents had bought at Zellers.

-‘Yah?’
- ‘Was that your grandmother in church yesterday?’
-‘Yah’
-She’s ugly.’

For the next six or seven months (with the exception of one merciful Sunday when Gran had the flu), the ritual continued. The worst part of it was when something bad had happened during the week; like the time my parents spent all their savings on a defective vending machine which dispensed gallons of free coffee to factory workers in a seedy part of town.

When disasters like that occurred, Gran would start to cry while singing hymns with her four teeth. It was then that I realised that God was probably a lot like James Ciccolini.

-‘Here you go Gran,’I once dared while nudging her with her scarf, ‘why don’t you put this on?”

ONE SATURDAY...

Just when I had grown accustomed to having an ugly grandmother, things took a welcome turn for the better. My father got promoted to supervisor at the Pest Control company and as soon as he had the money, he took Gran to the dentist and got her some new teeth.

It all came as a wonderful surprise one bright June day as Gran walked through the front door of the tiny split-level with her brand-new set of dentures. My father, who had told us nothing, ran to his electric organ and started to play something unrecognizable over a pre-programmed Bossanova beat while Gran danced and smiled and flooded the room with an intense reflected sunlight that warmed us all and curled the leaves of my mothers houseplants.

We were all elated but noone was more thrilled than Gran , who, overjoyed at no longer looking like the witch from Snow White , was now grinning so widely that I’m sure she could feel her earlobes with the corners of her mouth.

The following day my father announced that we were all going to an amusement park that had recently opened on the outskirts of suburbia. Needless to say, me and my sisters were overjoyed. First new teeth for Gran and now this?! It was almost enough to make us forget the last 6 months of church and the fucked-up coffee machine and Paul’s epilepsy and James Ciccolini and the fact that we had to push the car to get it to start.

After a quick breakfast we were on our way; singing and eating potato chips (even Gran) and asking my father about rat killin’ and occasionally begging my mother not to have Paul put to sleep because he had shit-up the house again the night before.

When we got to the amusement park my parents bought everyone blue ice-cream and let my sisters make a weird karoke video of themselves singing Whitney Houston songs.

-‘The technology is fantastic isn’t it’, said my father in front of the dozen or so screens that flickered with images of waterfalls and psychedelic patterns floating oddly behind my sisters as they did their best to dance and disguise their still distinctive St. Andrew accents.

Meanwhile, I couldn’t wait to go on the roller coaster. The big rickety one that looked a little unsafe. I was, after all, a thrill seeking sort who took great pleasure in scaring the shit out of myself. I had been on a roller coaster only once before but it was nothing like the apparatus before us now. Indeed , this was an entirely different machine than the depressing ‘bullshit-mobile’ that I’d spent two dollars to ride one overcast day last summer in the Zellers parking lot.

-‘That one! That one!’, I begged my father when he stopped to buy more of the blue ice cream for Gran and my chubby little sister, ‘lets go on that now!” Happily he complied, and after standing in line for an hour and twenty minutes, we were finally being buckled into our seats.

And then, something peculiar happened.

-‘Sit beside Peter-Dean, Mums’, said my father.
-‘What?!’, I said, ‘Gran can’t come on this. She’ll die!
-‘Shut up’, he said, ‘you think Gran is the first old person to ride on a roller coaster? Why do you always have to spoil things?'

My head became hot and prickly as I watched my obviously crazy grandmother climb slowly into the adjacent seat.
-‘But–‘
-‘Shut up!’, said my father.

As soon as the madman took his seat beside my mother two rows ahead , I turned to Gran and whispered: ‘ Gran, you sure you want to come?!’ You might get hurt. This ride is fast.’
-I’ll be fine ‘, she cooed confidently through her new polident smile, ‘I’m only 75 you know?’

And then, just as suddenly as Paul could slip into a grand mal and pitch down the stairs of the tiny split level–the retaining bar locked and the roller coaster hissed and jolted forward.

I was paralysed with fear, but after climbing for what seemed like two miles into the sky, I soon became distracted and a little giddy as my blood thinned out from the increasing altitude and decreasing availability of oxygen.

And yet, as frightening as the whole scenario was to me , nobody else seemed to notice the impending danger. Not my father. Not my mother or sisters. Not the polite neo-Nazi who buckled us all into place back down at sea level and especially not Gran. In fact, she was grinning wider than ever with her new teeth and still eating the blue ice-cream that I thought tasted like mint-flavoured Colgate.

Eventually, the train reached the top of the gargantuan hill and paused for a few moments as gravity took over where the pulleys and chains left off. But, of course, the pause ended and within moments I felt my scrotum become inverted into my body cavity as the train plunged downwards into hell.

Up ahead I could make out the shaky image of my father with his arms stretched inexplicably upward as my mother screamed just a little louder than everyone else. My sisters squealed with delight and for a few more moments I actually found myself caught up in the sheer thrill of being hurled into an abyss with 30 or 40 white people and my family–that is, until I felt a cold , wet sensation on my left shoulder.

What I saw next was something that I have since pinpointed as a possible cause for my subsequent fascination with firearms and a seemingly compulsive desire to drive around the city in a rented turtle suit.

The first thing I noticed was the spit. Copious amounts of spit that seemed almost non-liquid in that it trailed behind my poor grandmother's head at up to 4 feet without breaking up in the wind. Her eyes were wide open but clearly not focusing as her head snapped violently back and forth each time the coaster jerked in a different direction.

In the panic I tried to grab her head but the seatbelt was built in such a way that the best I could do was to occasionally nudge her in the temple with my elbow.

"AAArraaarraaarraawwww", she whimpered through flapping lips as the coaster climbed skywards into a loop that seemed to go on forever.

Up ahead , my father--still oblivious to his involvement in what would most certainly be labelled a homicide --was still shouting "wheeeeee", albeit while clutching at his face in an effort to keep his glasses from flying into space.

Unfortunatly for Gran, however, the G-forces were too much for her feeble arms which flailed ineffectively in the 90MPH winds which were sucking the new teeth right out of her head.

" Use your lips Gran !!!", I bawled as her dentures rattled to the front of her mouth and made a gruesome whistling noise that reminded me of a nightmare I once had in which a giant bird picked my brains out after luring me into a cave by whistling that same whistle.

Bravely, the old woman held on, clutching desperatly to the dentures with every bit of strength left in her 75-year-old lips. Clearly, she understood the gravity of the situation and for that I loved her even more and hoped she wouldn't die.

Down below I could see the young aryan who was operating the ride. From a hundred feet in the air I could make out his grin. He more than anyone knew damn well that the old lady shouldn't have been on that roller coaster. Only fucking crazy people and Jamaican immigrants who don't know any better do shit like that I thought bitterly to myself as more of the blue ice cream melted in my armpit.

As the train slowed and approached the station I began howling in an attempt to alert the relevant medical authorities that there was an emergency on board.

It was then that my father first swung his head back and noticed that his mother was holding onto her new teeth by using her chin to press them up against her collarbone.

That's when things got crazy.

"MUMS!!!??? MUMS!!!!?!?!", he screamed through his badly adjusted glases, "WHAT THE DICKANCE IS GOING ON!!!?"

By now Gran was speaking in toungues--a ghastly sight to behold made all the more frightful by the fact that her eyeballs has no moisture on them and she was hyperventilating.

" Suntee, Suntee, suntee Anaguntee", she said, " Corn flakesshhhhh..thunderrrrr cage foo!!!"

When Gran spoke in toungues I would always get very freaked out. The epileptic dog would usually notice it first and start barking madly at Gran who often accompanied her incantations with a weird sort dance-step which reminded me of something I had seen in The Exorcist.

Once, after an argument with my mother and a particularly jolting visit from the Holy Ghost, I asked my father what had caused Gran to suddenly throw three plates across the room while muttering the words :"A-Ga ventipuss Roy!!!!" He looked up from the law book he was highlighting with a yellow marker and told me it was 'from God' but that I should probably not tell anyone about it since God doesn't like people talking about him behind his back.

After that, when Gran spoke in toungues I would simply drop whatever I was doing and bolt out of the nearest door--even if it was winter and even if I had on no shoes.

The coaster screeched to a halt and everyone looked at Gran. Her wavy shoulder length hair was blown straight back and she was having trouble blinking. In her hand she still held onto the empty cone and on her lap sat the teeth

After my mother administered some smelling salts, Gran stopped shaking and my father quickly directed us to the PCO cockroach car.

-"We're leaving!?? Already?", I protested mildly as he opened the trunk.

-"Shut up", he said, " don't you see Gran isn't feeling well? You want her to have a stroke and die?"

-"But you..."

"I SAID SHUT UP!!!!, he repeated, " if I hear another peep out of you I'll have that damn dog of yours put to sleep!!! You think I was put on this earth to clean DOG CRAP every morning of my life?!?!?!!?"

" KILL HIM THEN!!!!, I exploded in rare defiance as my sisters burst into pleas for Paul's life. That's when my mother turned around and scowled at us.

Nobody said a word after that.