An earlier version of this story appeared in Lullwater Review, Volume XIII: 2, Summer 2003, 49-50.
Great-Granny’s tooth glass is the purtiest thing in the house. It’s near as tall as my hand and big around as a Sunday biscuit, and it’s got these flowers and leaves cut in it. It sets on the winda ledge by Great-Granny’s bed and when the sun shines through it, it’s like lookin’ through rainwater, all clear and sparkly with little bits of rainbows. It’s terrible, the way it’s spoilt by them ol’ teeth.
In this family, the first chores a girl gits is churnin’ the butter, crumblin’ Great-Granny’s pipe tobacca, and fetchin’ the tooth glass whenever Great-Granny wants it. She don’t wear them teeth all the time, just to eat somethin’ hard or tough–like a apple or meat. She always uses ’em for meat. But quick as she can, she takes ’em out. She says, “Hand me my tooth glass, girl. These teeth’ve started bitin’ back,” and she plops ’em in the water. Or after she’s been chewin’ a long time, she says, “These teeth’re gonna be the death of me. One a these days, I jist won’t have the strength to fight ’em anymore.”
Great-Granny Butcher’s as old as God. Daddy said so. Granny told him, if he was gonna blaspheme, he’d best jist leave her house right then. He didn’t say it no more, but he didn’t take it back, neither. He jist grinned. Maybe ’tis a blaspheme, but I think it must be true. Aunt Luella Thomas is real old, but she’s always sayin’, “Mrs. Butcher, you must be ’bout as old as a body kin git. I hope I git to be ninety-eight and in as fine shape as you.”
I don’t know why she says such a thing. Great-Granny ain’t in fine shape a-tall. She’s blind, and bent over like a crookneck squash. She can’t walk ‘cept if she holds onto somebody’s arm with one hand and uses her cane with the other. She can’t even comb her own hair. It’s long enough to set on and every day Granny plaits it tight and then pins that skinny gray braid up in a knob on top of Great-Granny’s head. She hain’t done nothin’ much for a long time, ‘ceptin’ maybe peel taters or snap beans, if somebody sets the pan right’n her lap. Mostly she jist sets there, all day long, rockin’ some and smokin’ her corncob pipe and callin’ me when she needs some more tobacca crumbled into her pouch. Her mouth looks like the openin’ of that tobacca pouch when the strings’re pulled some, those deep creases all comin’ in toward the middle. And she has to use them teeth. Great-Granny ain’t in fine shape a-tall.
I been doin’ the girl chores since last Christmas. One time Bobby Lee saw me lookin’ at the tooth glass in the sun and he said, “You take care now, Betty Jean. You give them teeth the evil eye, they might jist jump right outta that glass and bite ya!” I weren’t givin’ ’em the evil eye, but I stopped lookin’ at ’em anyway–jist in case. When Bobby Lee saw me not lookin’, he thought it was about the funniest thing ever, and he started watchin’ me every time I fetched Great-Granny’s tooth glass, tryin’ to catch me out. But I’m real careful. ‘Sides, you don’t have to look straight on to see ’em. For truth, you can’t fetch the tooth glass and not see ’em–just layin’ there, white as baby teeth but big and square, stuck in them bubblegum-pink gums–not even if you keep your eyes straight ahead and hold the glass off t’the side–you kin still see ’em. When nobody else’s around, Bobby Lee chases me, sayin’, “I’ve got Great-Granny’s teeth and they’re gonna bite ya!” He closes his fingers agin his thumb like a goose bill and pinches me all over my arms and neck. He says, “Here’s a nice piece a meat to chew on,” and he twists a chunk of skin on my leg and he calls me a baby if I cry.
A few days back Great-Granny stopped eatin’, and after awhile she stopped smokin’, too. She said, “It feels like somethin’ is jist chewin’ up my innards,” and then she took to her bed. Doc Blanchard said there was nothin’ to be done but try to make her comfitable. Granny told me to set on this chair and keep quiet, and to come fetch her iffn Great-Granny wants anything. I don’t have no other chores to do, not even churnin’ the butter. Great-Granny’s eyes’re shut all the time now, prob’ly so she don’t have to see them teeth grinnin’ at her from the winda ledge.
Granny came in awhile ago and set on the edge of the bed, holdin’ Great-Granny’s hand and starin’ out the winda. She looked at them teeth, and she said, “I guess you won’t be bitin’ Mommy no more now,” and she pressed her lips tight shut and smoothed her apron, and when she left she said, “Mind you stay sharp, Betty Jean, and call me if Mommy needs anything.” Great-Granny’s moanin’ some, but she don’t ask for nothin’ no more, so I just set here by the bed, not lookin’ at them teeth that’re grinnin’ at me now.
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