The Pit Bull's Tooth
Ryan W. Bradley
What I remember most is the pit bull's tooth he wore on fishing line
around his neck. I'd heard of shark's tooth necklaces, seen it in
movies. A California surfer thing. And I'd had friends, natives, who
told me about the bear's teeth and eagle talons their grandparents
kept, but Buddy was something else entirely. A kind of man that as a
nine year old girl I had never met. He was my mother's boyfriend during
the summer of '07, her first since Dad had taken a job in the lower 48
and left us behind.
Buddy claimed to be a stuntman in the movies, said he worked on three
Schwarzenegger pictures. But not many movies were made in Alaska (it
was cheaper, Buddy said, to shoot in Montana and pretend it was
Alaska), and he never went anywhere for work. Mom didn't question him,
The first time he showed me the tooth he told me he'd taken it right
out of the dog's mouth. "The cameras were rolling and everything," he
That was how our mornings went, after my mother had left for her job
answering phones at a cannery. He would put me on his lap, ask me if I
wanted to hear about movies. But I always asked about the tooth, and
Buddy always told a different story.
The first time Buddy touched me, you know, between the legs, he said
the tooth really belonged to my mom. "She's the pit bull," he said. He
held the tooth between his fingers, the ones that in a few minutes
would work their way up my skirt. "This is how I taught her not to
bite," he said, miming the act of pulling it from her mouth. There was
beer on his breath, thicker than my mom's perfume got around the middle
of the month. "But you're not a biter, are you?"
His hand was warm against my leg. He didn't say anything as it worked
its way up my thigh, just exhaled his beer breath on my neck. I sat
still as I could. As he pushed a finger inside of me he whispered,
"it's okay" and "it won't hurt long."
That became the routine for a while, until I was old enough to know
better. "It won't hurt long" became "It gets better," but it never did.
The shouting at night between Buddy and my mom got louder, went deeper
into the nights. His breath got heavier and eventually even his skin
smelled permanently of beer.
I never asked for another story about the tooth. As far as I was
concerned I'd heard the truth. It was easy to see he'd taken it from my
mother's mouth, that he'd broken her well. How else could he have
managed to keep us so long, so close?
Ryan W. Bradley is the author of Aquarium, a chapbook of poems. His novel, Code for Failure, is forthcoming from Black Coffee Press.
To link to this story directly: http://wigleaf.com/201104tooth.htm
Detail of photo on main page courtesy
of Len Radin.
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