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Teeth

By: Raisa Tolchinsky

 

Pi has been biting. They aren’t sure why. He is a beautiful child, a head of whiteblonde hair, a taut round belly strangers want to kiss. He is two years old, and they have done everything right. Their house has huge windows and is made of cedar wood. He owns BPA free toys and tiny cotton undershirts hand-stitched in America. He even attends toddler meditation classes in Griffith Park.

Melody likes Los Angeles. It is where she met Rusty. It is where they started their juice shop; a city where people will spend eleven dollars on four ounces of green sludge if she tells them it will detox their limbic systems.

Pi has bitten his playmates before, but this time he bites their friend Dennis’s son, Quest, at the block party. Dennis had a heart attack and is now a vegan. He is far too old to have a four year old, but won’t admit it. Pi bites Quest hard, and Quest is wearing a white jumpsuit, which makes the blood look redder. Quest begins to cry, and Melody scoops Pi up into her arms. He does not look upset. The sunlight reflects off his hair, and he wraps his arms around her neck. He is heavy and smells like dandelion shampoo.

“Support the victim, ignore the biter!” A woman calls out. She is wearing a long linen sack.
Rusty is talking to Dennis when this happens, and they both pivot slowly. The difference between them is that Melody knows Rusty wants to run away, whereas Dennis will run towards them. She has been sleeping with Dennis since before Pi was born, in fact, sometimes wonders if Pi is actually his. He appears to have his temper. Rusty is a sweet man. She feels guilty, but not enough to stop. She met Rusty when she worked at Fantasy Island on Sunset Boulevard. Her days as Cinnamon Blaze seem like a lifetime ago. But she remembers the green polyester booties she was wearing when Rusty got a nosebleed. He was in the first row, studying her closely as he always did. She was doing her tease-and-reverse number. Rusty had four sets of mala beads hanging from his neck. The faces always blurred together, but she remembered the mala beads. There were blue lights inside the club, which always made it feel like she was inside of a fish tank when she worked the stage. Maybe that’s why it was so easy to do, because it felt like she was underwater. She never dressed up like the other girls, who wore strappy triple band thongs. She left her nails and face bare, and never said a word, unlike June, hung from the ceiling while yelling things like, “Uhhuh that’s what you came for baby,” which made the men go wild, because it was true.
Rusty was skinny and had a terrible stripe of black hair on his upper lip, and when he started to bleed, her first thought was that the blood looked better on him then the mustache. But then it started to distract her, and she was off-rhythm, and Cheeto in the corner was starting to notice and yelled, “Blaze, get back on your game,” but she didn’t get back on her game, she got off the stage and ran towards Rusty, who had tipped out of his chair and was passed out on the floor. His friend was yelling, “My man, what the fuck is with you?” All she could do was fan him with one of his boys’ baseball hats until he came to, and said, “Hell of a show” and then she said, “You piece of shit.”
No, she did not think she would tell Pi this story. Or how Rusty proposed to her at a McCafe a few weeks later. She would withhold these things. He would grow up with a treehouse and a backyard. He would have an endless supply of juice and a bedroom ceiling covered in rose-gold metallic stars. She would not tell him about the men named after snack-food, Cheeto and Ruffle and Nacho, their jittering fingertips and lazy smiles. She always joked with Rusty that his nosebleed saved her from that stage.
But sometimes it feels like she is waiting for Cinnamon Blaze to catch up to her, even here, at this the block party filled with young entrepreneurs and their children, the kombucha in champagne glasses, the dry sunlight on her face and the toddler in her arms. Quest is still bleeding, and Rusty and Dennis have arrived with witch hazel, bandages, and cold-pressed apple juice.
“I’m so sorry, I don’t know what’s gotten into him,” she says to Dennis.
“Oh, Quest will be fine, won’t ya, buddy?” he says, without looking at her. Dennis is wearing a t-shirt torn open with purposeful rips. It must have cost thousands of dollars, and now it is flecked with small spots of Quest’s blood. Dennis is an artist whose pieces mostly include bringing items from his refrigerator into galleries and throwing them on the floor. People go wild for it. The first time Melody saw one of his shows, there was a semi-circle of people hovering over six broken eggs scattered across the pale yellow hardwood. What kind of person breaks things for a living, she said to Rusty, what kind of complete and utter crap is this? She knew half of the women there had been paid to show up, because art openings in LA needed to be filled with young women who clapped loudly. They were technically called “escorts” and weren’t allowed to admit they were paid if asked. She used to be a great escort, she always knew how to make the men laugh. Somehow between now and then she has become a person who is invited to the art opening instead of just being paid to be there.
Dennis slowly wraps a bandage around Quest’s arm, who has stopped wailing. Quest’s mother is from Los Alamitos and has a blog called Less Stress, More Flow! She carries around a lipstick tube filled with pure white heroin. She has not come to the party.
Melody peers into Pi’s round, bright face. There is no sign of violence; his eyes are clear and unwavering. She brushes back his hair, does not know how to reprimand him for something he does not understand. The party is still in full swing, Spanish guitar blaring from a small set of white speakers, and a few of the older children paddle around the salt-water pool. A couple argues in heated whispers about the significance of Aztec images.
Rusty is sitting alone next to the table of fruit. Flies cover the dripping slices of watermelon.
“I think we should go,” she says to him, bouncing Pi on her hip. Rusty wears a constant, smile. How odd it is to know someone so well you watch the movie of their mind without asking a thing. He clearly wants to stay for the non-toxic fireworks.
As they unlatch the gate, Melody hears one half of the fighting couple say, “Anything is beautiful when you’re falling madly in love with it.”

*

She takes Pi to see Indigo. They have never been to her, but a client at the juice shop recommends Indigo for children performing unadulterated acts of violence. Apparently, the client took her child after he broke his friend’s finger during candlepin bowling.
Melody is not expecting the office to be near Venice Beach. The walkway smells of corn dogs and urine. Pi fusses in his stroller. They pass a woman sitting on the steps of a tattoo parlor. She wears multiple sunglasses and a hot pink visor. A large warped tattoo of a sun peeks out above her thigh high boots. Melody recognizes the tattoo. This happens anytime she’s west of Santa Monica. It is a girl she used to work with at Fantasy Island. There were a lot of them. Was her name Montana? Montana is talking to herself. Melody doesn’t realize how hard she is staring at her until Montana rips the sunglasses off, and yells, “m’fuckin bitch.”
Melody quickly looks away. Maybe it is not Montana.
Pi shakes his snack bowl of Cheerios up and down, says, “mama.”
They find Indigo’s building easily. Inside the waiting room, it smells like nail polish and incense. There is a large bowl of sugar free mints on the table. When Pi reaches for one, Melody pushes his hand away.
“No, sweetheart, no aspartame for baby.”
There are a few loose cables hanging from the ceiling. Due to the décor, Melody already does not trust her, so when Indigo pushes back the beaded curtain and announces herself, Melody gives only a tight nod. Indigo is pale and freckled, has a cloud of dirty yellow hair. She is wearing a dress with a corset up the front that looks like something a milkmaid would wear if she was trying to seduce a plumber. A bluish green vein protrudes from her forehead. This is not someone Melody wants advice from. She wants to be inside a clean white office with a simple crystal ball, maybe a tidy bamboo altar.
They enter the “consulting room.” A cloud of incense hangs heavy. Melody masks a cough.
“My son bit someone the other day,” Melody says.
Indigo looks unperturbed.
“The other child is ok?”
“Yes, he’s ok.”
“If he wasn’t ok, I would hope you would say so.”
“I would.”
Indigo leans forward across the plastic table. She smells like hair that has not been washed in a long time, and a strong spice, maybe cardamom. The fake gold bracelets on her wrist clink against each other. She stares at Pi, then closes her eyes. The skin of her eyelids is like tissue paper.
Without opening her eyes, Indigo says, “His aura isn’t specifically opalescent.”
“Well,” says Melody.
“He is sensitive because of his ability to feel universal consciousness. You won’t be able to hide anything from him.”
Melody looks at Pi. He is gnawing on the arm of the chair. There is a trail of drool on his shirt. He doesn’t seem particularly extraordinary or capable of feeling universal consciousness. But maybe she just hasn’t noticed. He looks back at her with a solemn, focused gaze. It makes her uncomfortable. She turns away.
“Why would he bite his friend?”
“He reflects back what is given.” Indigo opens her eyes, “And your role is to help him reflect harmony, peace and oneness.”
“Well, how do I do that?”
“Your meridian lines must be balanced. You must purge your toxins.”
“You ever been to Lune on Abbott Kinney? I make a living purging toxins.”
Indigo shakes her head slowly. There is a big wooden box on the table filled with rocks in different shapes. They look like chunks of cement.
“All frequencies are moving towards light. You are stuck in an old energy grid. You are trapped in a limited perspective.”
“Well, thanks,” Melody says, getting up to go.
She buckles Pi into his stroller, and wheels him out into the humid, grey morning. On the way back to the car, she pauses suddenly to tip back the covering of the stroller and look at her son. No, of course he isn’t filled with universal consciousness. She wouldn’t be able to pick him out from a line-up of toddlers. His smile isn’t hers, and not Rusty’s, or Dennis’s. Even after all these years, men’s faces still blurred together. Soon her son would be one of them. The idea disgusts her. Maybe he would turn fifteen and walk into Fantasy Island with a fake ID. She was once convinced creating another person would be a deeply private act, but it wasn’t. He would live in the world like the rest of them.

*

4:00 PM on Wednesdays is when she goes to Dennis’s. He lives in Malibu on a grassy hill that used to be a trash dump. Now it is covered in wind turbines. Dwell Magazine did a feature on Dennis and Hazel and their home.
On Wednesdays, Hazel records her podcast. Rusty takes inventory in the shop. Quest and Pi are at different daycares, being spoken to in Mandarin and French, respectively.
The afternoon is theirs. She brings a slim blunt wrapped in gold foil and a bottle of white wine. It is a transaction. They don’t love each other, but there is a purpose to it all. Dennis is sick of making eye contact with Hazel. Rusty has gained weight and has become clumsy. Plus, Melody likes lying in a bed other than her own. It is wide and faces the gaping blue ocean that is Dennis’s front yard.
“That’s pretty fucked up, what happened the other day with the boys,” Dennis says, turning towards her. Melody knows for a fact he wears foundation. His chest is blotchy.
She does not know what else to do but agree.
“It’s pretty fucked up, “ she says, “but I wasn’t watching very carefully.”
“Neither was I.”
Dennis is the son of a famous couple. Growing up, his house was filled with free things, headphones and vitamins and fruitcake from the Italian bakery downtown. Once, he told her he was shocked to learn people parked their own cars at restaurants. His sheets are silk. The emotions he feels are blunted from money, while hers are blunted from the years lacking it. She is good at crossing over into other worlds, and he is good at staying where he belongs.
“What if they grow up and hate each other?” she says. Dennis touches her face but it is not out of passion or love, more of a gentle pat.
“Well, we won’t do this forever,” he says.
She looks up and sees the sky incessantly blue through the skylight. The clouds move briskly.
Then she looks at Dennis, all the ways his body is soft. He is capable of feeling disappointment and gladness and tenderness, but nothing beyond. She remembers the six broken eggs on the floor.
She leans over and bites down on his arm, hard. Dennis barely even flinches as blood rushes into her mouth. It is as if he is expecting it all along.

 

Raisa Tolchinsky was born in Portland, OR and grew up in Chicago. Her work can be found at Muzzle Magazine, The Kenyon Review, and at www.raisaimogen.net. The founding editor-in-chief of SIREN, Raisa currently lives in New York.