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, though.

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 said.

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.

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Detail of photo on main page courtesy of Len Radin.

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