My Mother’s Fake Teeth

When My Mother gets excited she goes, goes, goes and spits out her words until they fall into some kind of sentence that probably will not reflect what she meant to say.

“I…decided—Oop, excuse me!—that lobstah I ate last week, oof, wow! Anyway, so. I was walking yesterday and I saw Scott—Ashley, did you know that Scott, from high school, remember?, got married?—but this was a different one, Scott Towley, and he said—Oops, burp again!—well, it was something about what you were supposed to do with your health insurance? Aughhh, now I can’t remembah! What was that song we heard earlier? ‘He said! She said!’, I like that one!”

And you can imagine what it’s like to have this happening in the midst of a crab feast in sultry Maryland, humidity layered over the open water by which we sit and flies orbiting the spice-crusted red shells stubbornly holding on to our dinner meat. Twenty four once blue, now red of the steamed seaborn creatures cover the crisp brown paper set over our picnic table. You pay highly for these guys, but that’s nothing compared to the full day’s work it takes to actually render them edible once they are dumped unceremoniously from a metal bucket onto your table. Shell shards fly everywhere as seven of us smack crab backs with wooden mallets and jab their soft spots with painted-blue metal knives, using our fingers when the tools, as they often do, fail us and that’s when any illusion of civility really suffers. Toss aside their black lungs, try not to make contact with their still open eyes, and suck on their claws ’til they’re empty of edible stuff. All for a tablespoon or two of meat from each one, which you pinch in pieces between your thumb and index finger before rubbing it into the crab’s spiced shell and dropping into your waiting gob.

It’s the fourth day My Mother and I have spent together and I’m wearing thin, but I can always forgive my mother for spitting because she’s had an ill-fit bridge of false teeth in the front of her mouth for as long as I can remember. The teeth do not come down as far as her others do, but they are just as yellow as her natural teeth. When I’m tired after a tense work day, I daydream about slipping into my home, unclipping my bra, and letting that thing fall to the floor. My Mother experiences similar pleasure upon removing her bridge each night, and when I was young she’d wait til it was late enough and then dance a high step about the house to the tune of her well-loved classic rock wearing no teeth, no bra, and no pants, just underwear and a thin tanktop. I always hated interrupting her obvious glee at this point of the night, but sometimes your friends did come over after 8:00 in the evening, meaning you’d have to shuffle her into her bedroom, where nothing changed except that the music transferred from loudspeaker to headphones.

My Mother speaks more words than I even think, but she only says what she skims off the top of her thoughts, letting the darker stuff settle to the bottom where it bubbles, already dead, to the top only for fleeting moments. “Oh, well your cousin got kicked out of rehab and the baby’s back in the hospital–Look at the water out there! It’s GREAT! Man, I’ve got to get sailing this summer.” She lost her father, her mother, and two sisters that I know of by the time she was 32, and had already been divorced once (soon to be twice). I don’t think she grasps how incredible each of her smiles is, and I know she isn’t aware of how much I worry about her. When she has her sixth beer of the night, I develop a cartoon image of her organs failing in revolt, and I want to tell her to stop. But I won’t do that, because ladening her with worries heretofore not heeded wouldn’t be any better for her.

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