HER MOTHER WOULD give her lovely teeth. Pale slabs designed for wide smiles in long afternoons, for precise first kisses with elder boys. She’d never see crookedness or the tang of blood swirling in a porcelain basin. She’d never need to mute her grin or remember it in photos as lukewarm, a twitchy ordeal. Hers would be tough things, tougher than sticks and stones and the growing pains that would grip her peers.
Her mother had planned for this. She’d grown up poor in the West of Ireland where there were no orthodontists. Like the rest of the kids in her village she’d walked miles barefoot to school in summer. During the wet months, she was taken out of lessons to help her family plough fields. In the evenings she’d stare up at framed photos of her American cousins, fixated on their plumpness and neat teeth.
At sixteen, she got the boat over and moved in with relatives with hearty laughs. She took a job cleaning a church in Chicago, sweeping dust from its steps and nave. She was lonely but didn’t mind. She’d make up great romances, their melodies pinballing the sides of her skull.
Her Aunt Nancy and cousins never stopped talking when she got in when all she wanted was peace and a sit down or to write a letter to mammy about the things she’d seen. It was true — everything was bigger over here. They were a more evolved people compared to the Irish who’d crawled from a peat bog, squinting at each day’s new sun.
Aunt Nancy was not a strict sort and encouraged Brenda to go out to dances, to enjoy herself after a hard week’s slog. Brenda and her cousins would get ready together, cinching and spritzing themselves for excitement in the dark. She could not stop staring at their tanned fullness, their scarless feet. These were girls who had never gone hungry, who’d never stooped in fields, whimpering from the weight of toil and equipment cutting into their young hands. There was no sadness lurking heavy in their flirting. She was jealous of their exuberant smiles. Her own teeth were fighting bread queues too aware of their humiliation.
More than brains and beauty and a reliable father figure, she wanted perfect teeth for her daughter. Hard confidence you couldn’t argue with or underplay. It’s what people saw first, what said the most about you without speech. A dream that wouldn’t fade long after the sag of age that curdled faces and the parts underneath. People noticed careful maintenance — American girls wouldn’t get far with a lippy grin. Never mind that the girl was shy or struggled with fractions and ran across roads to escape oncoming dogs. She’d be known for her smile.
Brenda moved up the job ladder into a country club in the suburbs, backed by gentle sweeps of land and manicured lawns out front. She worked as a kitchen porter, wiping surfaces and loading plates into a dishwasher, her face a blur in vast steel. They were heavy days, but every hour stood closer to straight slabs for the girl. When waitresses called in sick, Brenda would volunteer to help deliver meals and drinks. She’d pour generous measures while chatting to golfers about what it was like back home, the differences between Ireland and America, the relatives and funerals she missed, what Irish kids had to go without. Despite mixing up their orders, they enjoyed her stories, her lilting accent, her soft pear body leaning toward the more expensive bottles. They listened with slow nods, imagining her Jaysuses as they stabbed her flesh in rapid spurts.
Sometimes, they’d offer to drive her back to her home in the city. “You can’t wait out in the cold for the bus, Brend” they’d say, their eyes milky with drink. “Oh, don’t worry about this tough old girl”, she’d reply while polishing the last glasses, the light dusting of fur on her top lip lit by a chandelier at its brightest.
He walked her to the car with cowboy legs — all loose, gossipy. She waited at the passenger side, counting, not sure for what and how long it would take. For how quickly to get into the warmth? For when was too late to say no, she preferred to get the bus back? He unlocked the car on his second attempt. She sat down on the leather seat which squeaked. “What’s that?” she asked, looking straight ahead. “Sorry, that’s Finley’s toy.” In the rear-view mirror sat a dog showing off its fat bacon tongue. The sky dropped as they pulled out of the drive. The man seemed to have his eyes closed a lot. There were no other cars. She toyed with the radio dial, hoping to find a song she liked, remembered, an intimate voice in the dark. “Sorry, it doesn’t work doll”, he drawled. Trees both sides of the road were scant, tight-fisted. “I couldn’t live out here”, she said. The road disappeared under them and kept making itself anew.
The man rubbed her thigh like a tide keen to break free from the moon. His nails were too short. She wasn’t sure she’d finished her period. They sky was turning dusty pink but held onto its cotton. The dog’s tongue went nowhere in the mirror.
The man parked the car cleanly, overlooking the town. “Come on Finley”, he said as he led the dog out by its collar. Street lights winked at them below.
The dog spindled among grass gone blonde at its stubby lengths, immersed in scent. In the car, Brenda’s face fused with glass as she watched the oblivious animal. Cats have barbed cunts don’t they. She breathed a pale O. The dog disappeared.
The man groaned behind her, willing his thumbs round her waist to kiss. Each pulse into her made her face move further up the window. This must be how you get to heaven. Her smudged eyes clocked the dog again, a rabbit twitching in its mouth.
“Oh god, oh god, ohhhhh I’m sorry I can’t help it.” He groaned again then inspected the condom, offering its contents to the last of the light. “Sorry that was a bit fast. The old chap had one too many whiskies.” “It’s fine,” she said, pulling her knickers out of her stockings, looking for the dog outside. “Did you?” “Yep.” “I can never tell with you, Brend.”
The dog jumped up and scratched at her window with the rabbit still in its mouth. The rabbit’s bloody head was connected by a strip of fur to the rest of its body.
“Leave it! Finley! Finley! That fucking dog.” The man got out of the car, tossing the condom into dark.
“Here’s just fine.” He pulled the car over into a bus-stop. A pruned woman in a rain hood glared at the car. The man leaned his head against Brenda’s. “You’re so special.” His breath stank of dead animal. “The babysitter will be waiting”, she said, rubbing mascara from under her eyes.
“She’s asleep”, said the woman removing the chain from the door. “I’m really sorry. I had to cover at work again”. “You need to give me a bit more warning. Shoes off, if you don’t mind.”
The child’s mouth was ajar and spelling slow breath, the kind reserved for last words and hexes. The metal across her face was a cold spider. Brenda sat down on the bed, bathed by the night light. “Maaaauuuuuuuuugh! I thor you wurrr a monnnshta.” “Shhhhhhh, sleepyhead. Let’s take this thing off.”
Julie Reverb is a London, UK-based writer whose fiction has appeared in publications including The Quietus, 3:AM magazine and Gorse journal. Her début novel – NO MOON – explores language, grief and a family-run porn cinema. It will be published by Calamari Archive in Summer 2015. Find her at www.juliereverb.com and @juliereverb on Twitter.