On the way home, I had to stop at a grocery store to pick up a roasted chicken for dinner. People tried to be polite and not stare, but my bandaged nose seemed to be the center of the universe. Children stared at me shamelessly, some pointing and loudly questioning their parents. Parents whispered back that it was impolite to point or stare. I couldn’t agree more.
As soon as I came home, I took the bandages off. The scars didn’t seem too bad, and as I sat down to dinner with my family, they encouraged me by saying so. I believed them. If there is one thing my family is mercilessly honest about, especially my sons, it is my looks.
We laughed and talked as we ate but as I bit into a chicken wing, I had a very strange sensation. I looked down and saw that the cap had fallen off my front tooth and landed on my dinner plate. I looked around me and saw the horror (and then hilarity) on the faces of my boys. Now I had a scraped nose and I was toothless.
Mike took out his phone and asked me to smile into the camera.
What I really wanted to do was cry, but my pride made me sit up straight and finish dinner, then retreat to my bedroom. I left a pleading message for my dentist to call me first thing in the morning. Sam and his girlfriend Emily brought me some coconut ice cream from the Dairy Queen. That helped a little bit.
My sweet dentist called first thing in the morning and I set off confident that I’d be walking out of his office with my teeth intact. I didn’t. I had to go see a root canal specialist at noon. While I waited, I decided to go to a cafe and have some coffee and a croissant.
The place was full of young mothers with children. A little brown eyed girl of about four or five sat at a table facing me with her mother and baby brother. She looked at me with interest.
I assumed that my scraped nose attracted her attention, and tried to hide my missing tooth by not opening my mouth too wide. I ate with great delicacy and tried to hide behind my magazine.
The little girl watched me like a hawk as she picked at her muffin and sipped her hot chocolate. For more than half an hour we sat like that, and I don’t think she took her eyes off me once. Her mother was busy entertaining the baby.
As they got up to leave, she still kept glancing in my direction. I felt I owed the patient and tenacious detective something, and so I opened my mouth and gave her a wide smile. Her eyes rounded like she had won a prize. And then the little girl opened her own mouth, showing me a gap much wider than mine: she must have been missing more than four teeth right up front.
She stuck her little tongue through the gap, proud as could be. She was the clear winner.