My Mother's Teeth
My mother was the kind of young woman who used toothpicks as chopsticks to pass the time. I imagine her sitting on a dusty tailgate, the peach-coloured sun disappearing in the background. She and her friends ate one grain of rice after another with makeshift chopsticks while they waited for a Good Samaritan to help with their vehicle, broken down on the side of the road. Her teeth must have softly glinted in the pale night sky.
My mother was the kind of young woman who decided to hitchhike to Lac Pelletier—about an hour’s drive away. It was the dog days of summer; the thought of cool water lapping at her toes was enough to make her draw up a plan. Grandpa was out working in the fields, and Grandma was attacking the dust piles that grew into mountains on her windowsills. My mother snuck out the front door, and ran all the way to her girlfriend’s down the dirt road. She was wearing a worn pair of jeans and a bikini top. Grandma would have fainted had she known my mother would be dressed so immodestly in public.
As the sun beat down on the young women, they shredded their pant legs and braided them into long tassels. With each long stride the tassels twirled around their short legs. By the time the young women were picked up, they had sunburned their virgin-white thighs. But they made it to the lake. My mother must have tilted her face towards the fierce prairie sun and dared it to shine on. I like to think I get my courage from this image of her that I’ve created so vividly in my mind. In my version, my mother’s teeth glittered defiantly as she smiled up at the sun. She must have revelled in the combined glory of the cool lake water that soothed her skin and the warm sun that kissed her lips.
My mother was the kind of young woman who held up a blank test paper and waved it at the malevolent nun. My mother said it was preposterous to think she’d been cheating. Rose-Marie Thibault had always been quiet and courteous, so the nun must have frozen in her habit. Without another moment of hesitation, cheeks glowing as valiantly as the Sacred Heart, Sister pulled at her starched collar before she decided to grab for my mother’s elbow.
My mother let her body go slack. Sister hooked one beefy hand under each of my mother’s armpits and pulled Rose-Marie out of her seat. Symbolically, Sister dragged her accused to the principal’s office. Heads must have popped out from every classroom door as my mother yelled, “Help! Help!” My mother must have thought she would make the most of her act of civil disobedience. Students and teachers alike must have caught a glimpse of the stained glass reflections glowing subtly on my mother’s teeth. Rose-Marie Thibault was many things, but dishonest she was not.
My mother became the kind of woman who shuddered each time my father uttered, “I’ll rip that smile right off your face if you don’t shut your goddam mouth,” because she knew he meant it. By the time my siblings and I were born, my mother bared her dazzling teeth in stealthy doses. Once, when my father had gone to town, she stuffed our feet into empty milk cartons and watched us play in the snow. When my father went to North Dakota, we baked a papier-mâché kite in the oven; it was too heavy to fly so we piled into the pickup and tried to launch it from the tailgate. It never flew, but we squealed in the cab as she pulled doughnuts in the large gravel entrance. Her dazzling teeth worked double-time when my father was gone.
My mother was the kind of women who realized that her children were afraid of smiling. That was enough to seal the deal. The day we left the farm, my mother’s pearly teeth were trapped behind a split lip and a black eye. It took us all so long to heal. Each night, after we’d piled the furniture against the door, my mother took to praying with us.
My mother was the kind of woman who kept her faith despite it all. Each Saturday night, the priest peered down his crooked nose from his high upon his sacred pulpit as we crawled on our knees towards the empty pew. We might have been late, but we showed up and in the end, isn’t that what matters? Rather than feed her with his holy hand, Father slapped her across the cheek. She wiped the bloody spittle from her lips. She spat it from her loosened teeth, but she did not turn away. She raised her chin and simpered through polished teeth and sauntered towards a more accepting house of the Lord.
These days, I have trouble remembering that my mother is the kind of woman who once wore less than a smirk on her lovely lips. It took many years for my mother not to flinch and cautiously look over her shoulder when she flashed her teeth. These residual tremors after years of abuse were hard to shake.
My mother is the kind of woman who gets down on her knees and plays with her grandkids. She turns leftover parquet flooring into cities. My mother puts whoopee cushions on chairs when you aren’t looking. She plays basketball aggressively.
My mother is the kind of woman who isn’t afraid to bare her teeth.
About the Author: Rachel Laverdiere writes and teaches in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Rachel's fiction and creative nonfiction can be devoured in the most recent issues of filling Station, FreeFall, Dime Show Review and Soliloquies Anthology. She also has several pieces forthcoming in various literary journals across Canada and the United States. Follow Rachel on Twitter @r_laverdiere, or learn more about her life and writing here.