It was 1956, and she had radioactive teeth.
It was fifth grade, and she had radioactive teeth.
Not for everyone:
“Lantern-head, bomb-head, red experiment, Russian spy, glowworm, commie cooties, toxic, get away, freak! Freak!”
I thought she was the most.
The other kids only guessed her teeth would glow. I knew.
She had to keep her mouth shut. Those were the rules—for your safety, said teach. No talking in classes, no talking to us—a whole library world, but without the books. Her mom dropped off a chocolate shake every day for her lunch. She’d slurp it up through a straw, leaning forward, pink lips pursed tight around the edge.
But I knew.
I got her to show me one day. We slipped into the bathroom before recess, flicked the lightswitch off. “Do it,” I said, but she got scared, shook her head. “Come on,” I said, “I won’t tell.” I backed away a little, plucked up the hem of my skirt and kicked my legs high like these dancers I’d seen on Ed Sullivan. I hummed off-key. It took a while, but she smiled at me.
And there they were, green green half-moons glowing in a black sky mouth, the gaps between them barely visible, insignificant. I could feel their heat on my face, my cheeks went red, and their light cast rippling shadows on the cold metal stall doors, the cold cracked tile.
“So cool,” I said.
At first we wrote notes to each other, passed back and forth between periods. She wrote all over the page, crazy, like she might burst if she didn’t get it all out. She pressed so hard that she usually broke the lead tip of her pencil. I’d find it folded up in the paper with her words.
I wish I still had the note where I asked her if she was the only one. She said no, lots of people were like that where she was from. Nowheresville, Tennessee. She was just like everyone else. Mom did something with laundry, dad worked in a factory. I told her I wanted to go there with her, take a walk outside at night, see hundreds of Alice’s cheshire cats yapping through darkened windows.
Sometimes, later on, I’d get her to talk to me. Just a little. She put her hot mouth close to my ear, her curls bouncing against the side of my face. Her teeth decayed her words—they sludged off her tongue, slow and warped and simple.
HLLLHH FFRNND, HLLLHH BBTH.
That was the first thing she said to me.
Duck and cover did her in. It was the middle of a math test, quiet, and our teacher yelled
and we slid down, leapt down, we banged our knees against metal legs, we crouched, and those curls of hers, they got stuck on some chewing gum and she yanked away and it hurt and she opened her mouth and FLASH! and if she screamed no one heard only saw FLASH! and we screamed and shrieked and shivered and I swear those teeth got hotter and brighter and we all thought it was the end of everything or that’s what we would’ve thought if we could think.
Before she left, we went into the bathroom again. We could talk there. “I’ll miss you,” I said. She grinned at me, green magic glowing soft. I kissed her. She pulled away.
That was the last thing she said to me.
I think my taste buds are larger than they should be, gums slightly too puffy. And so many cavities.
Originally from Chicago, Becky Robison is currently a fiction MFA student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Yes, it is a weird place to live—in the best possible way. She blogs about life in the desert here.
Jeremy Anderson is a freelance illustrator, teaching artist, explorer, and human who currently resides on the blue planet, roughly two-thirds from the center of the Milky Way Galaxy. He has always loved being outdoors, befriending animals, and going on adventures.