An Eye for An Eye, A Tooth for A Tooth, A Bagel for A Bite @catboy

He looks in the mirror and straightens his tie. He re-combs his hair, making sure every strand is in place, and brushes at the left lapel of his jacket. He takes a step back to admire himself. He poses with a hand in his pocket, chin up and shoulders squared. He stays like that for a moment before loosening his posture and stepping forward again to readjust his pocket square. While it is not usual for a dentist to wear a suit to his appointment, he has to look perfect for the most important night of his life. He lowers her gently into the grave, carefully placing her head, and runs his fingers through her hair one last time. His hand moves down, caressing her cheek, and he hovers, watching her. His silhouette wavers over her. His instruments beside him glisten in the moonlight, slick with blood. Finally he gets up, towering above her, shovel clasped in hand, and stabs at the dirt pile next to the grave. He folds the dirt over her body. The earth pours over her, filling in the gaps, enveloping her like a blanket. He takes a moment to admire his handiwork before gathering his things. He packs his tools away into his bag. He checks and rechecks that his valuables are secure, and when he is finally satisfied, he leaves.

The front door swings open. He catches it with his left hand as he enters and presses it back behind him, clicking it shut. He keeps his bag on his person until he knows he is safe. He locks the front door and the windows of the first floor, goes around to check the locks again, and then again for a third time. He lunges up the stairs, skipping every other step. When he gets to the top, he scrambles into the room on the left and slams the door. He locks it quickly, and relocks it again before he moves on. He carefully removes a small box from his bag. He places the box on the glass tabletop, and slings the bag on the floor beside the lounge chair. He goes back to the door again, and relocks it three more times before continuing. He perches on the seat before the table, the box now clamped in his hands, knuckles white. He takes a deep breath, and releases his death grip to crack the lid.

Shivers rush down his spine as he inspects the contents in the low light. He holds the container up to his face, inhaling the rusty scent, his eyes nearly rolling back into his head. He places the box back down, and snatches his bag for the rest of his things. Pulling out his tools, he places each on the table in a neat row. He decides on a small pair of tongs, and reaches again for the box beside his arrangement. A whine escapes from his throat as he pokes inside the box with his instrument. He feels like he is floating above himself, vision tripled, as he stares through a tube. His hands are so far from him, reaching into the box, touching, feeling the wet, the slime. It slips through his fingers easily, the flesh and pulp still cling to the roots, he elevates from himself further, his head reaching far above the clouds.

She wakes up with the earth filling her nostrils. Dirt caked in blood packs in her mouth. Pain shoots through her gums. She can barely break her arms through the soil, clawing up in an attempt to breath. She rakes through the earth, struggling to rise up, scratching at her mouth, coughing up chunks of dirt. Every breath is difficult. Her mouth tastes of metal. She folds over herself, dry-heaving the soil into her lap, blood and dirt falling in bits from her face. She sobs in between choking on the dirt. She scrapes at her eyes and nose. She shakes as much of it off as she can, and forces herself on her feet. Feeling an itch, she wipes at her chin. She draws back her hand for inspection, the ivory glove stained deep red. Her head is pounding. Stars dance in front of her eyes as she takes her first wobbly steps. She looks around frantically in fear that he is nearby, watching her. She follows the worn path to the front gate, limping past a row of graves. None are as fresh as hers, the ground is icy and stiff there. She shivers, watching a puff of white smoke escape her lips, and quickens her pace.

From the gate, she continues onto the road she has taken so many times before. Blood runs to the back of her throat. Periodically she swallows, because it collects in the hollow of her gums. With each swallow she winces and tears sting her eyes. She goes to the closest house up the road, recognizing the single, thick oak tree that rises in their front yard. A wooden bench rests below it, barely visible in the night, and pink begonias glow from underneath, swarming the base of the tree. A single light flickers in the window, and hope sputters in her heart. They could help her—they have always helped the people in their group.

The family that lives there entertains the congregation regularly, complete with full meals and a live band. She has attended every event they were invited to, and has felt off about the family’s connection to the church. All of their casual discussions come back to the church services the following week, and they lavish the minister with donations and gifts. When others bring up their concern, or voice their dislike for that family, sooner or later they end up condemned by the church. The parties they host have been pleasant, but she knows to watch her tongue. When she’s there she sticks close to her husband and mingles with the other families. Sometimes they dance. She picks at the food. The other couples there are friendly, but never go beyond small talk. Regardless of the intimidation, the family at that house have always been good-natured. They have the best interest of the community.

He looks at the wall across from him. Photographs of his work are neatly hung in a grid. While he had done many teeth extractions before, it had only been a few at the most for a patient. This time was different. He took all of them. From the one he loves the most. He throws himself back in the chair, hugging himself and kicking his feet restlessly. He did a good job. His congregation will be so proud of him. He covers his smile with his hands and tears well up in his eyes.

The moon is her only light source. When she is close enough to reach their stoop, she scrambles up to the door, pounding her petite palms onto the face of the house. She doesn’t stop until someone answers, and when they do, they crack the door and peek out. A candle illuminates their face. Their eyes widen and their jaw drops. They look past her to make sure she is alone, and usher her inside. A couple other servants wait behind them, still in uniform, and they rush the small party to get supplies for their visitor, and awaken their superior. They sit her down, gently dabbing a warm, wet cloth around her mouth and chin. They wipe at her neck and her chest. They give her a simple frock to change into, and show her to the washroom for privacy. She removes her gloves and folds them into her stained gown. She avoids her reflection in the mirror. She is too afraid to look, even if her face is clean now. Her gums are sore. They swell in her mouth. When she leaves the washroom, she is led to the sitting room. The master of the house is waiting there for her, and does not hesitate to go to her when she enters. She starts crying again, her mouth contorts into an ugly grimace as she tries to find the words she wants to say. She does not want them to see her open mouth. They clasp their hands in hers, and only watch her lips when they speak.“My poor friend! What happened to you?” They do not wait for her answer. “Do not worry, I am sending for the police. I have a vehicle for you and am having my most trusted servant go with you to make sure you are safe traveling back.”

A blanket wraps around her shoulders. She squeezes her neighbor’s hands. Tears stream down her face as she thanks them silently. Their eyes do not meet hers, as they are still fixated on her mouth. The servant takes her from them, and brings her out to the horse-drawn coach, holding her steady to help her step inside. She slumps against the wall of the coach, her exhaustion finally overwhelms her and her eyes droop. She huddles into the blanket, gently pressing her lips against the soft fabric, and soon after she lets out a gentle snore.

When the dutiful neighbor sees her drive off, they turn to their remaining servant. “I have sent her home, you must go to the police and send them to her. Tell them how she arrived, and that she will soon be home safe with her husband.”

Her delicate fingers rest in his palm. He only breaks their gaze to take the ring and place it on her finger. He looks back at her again, and says, “I do.” The audience stands and cheers. She is smiling so hard her jaw hurts. She throws her arms around his shoulders. He holds her waist and lifts her up in the air, hugging her close to him.

With each tug, she can feel the root of her tooth tearing from her gums. She screams in agony as it rips out. Blood pours from the gap and splashes onto her tongue. Her lips quiver in an attempt to form the words she wants, but her mouth is forced open by the metal device securing it. She begs him through her sobs instead, gasping for air between each cry. She can feel his instrument clamp onto another tooth. Her heart is jumping out of her chest. Her eyes flick across his face, as if to plead with him. Her gums are throbbing.

He goes for another tug, but before he does permanent damage, he hesitates. He carefully removes his hands and instrument from her mouth, and gazes at her. Her face is flush and her eyes are clear. He had never seen her more lively than now, and couldn’t help but admire his work in progress. He cups her cheeks between his palms. Her head is pounding. All she can hear is the blood pumping in her ears. “I have never seen you more beautiful than in this moment.” A blush streaks across his face, and he reaches again for the instrument.

Her eyes bulge. She is screaming again, and without hesitation this time he rips her tooth out. More blood gushes from her gums. Metal clamps down on another tooth, it seems this one almost refuses to be removed. He has to grip her face so that he can put more force into it. The tooth finally gives, and the blood follows with a squelch. The pain is agonizing. He smiles above her. He shoves a finger into the spot he just pulled from, wiggling and pressing up on the root of her gums. Pain shoots up her skull and her stomach flops. She jerks her head back in an effort to get away from him. He smears the blood from his finger on her face.

There is a hurried knock, and he barely manages to sweep the treasure into its container and the tools in the bag. His servant catches him tucking it underneath the furniture as they burst through the door, rushing in to tell him what happened. They talk at an alarming rate, and he gestures at them impatiently to slow down. They take a deep breath, mouthing each word carefully, “Your wife was found in trouble. The police are coming. She is downstairs now.”

He springs to his feet, shoving past the servant and races to her. He is surprised she lasted the night, and even decided to come home. She stands in the open doorway, the moon illuminating her silhouette. As he gets closer he can see her swollen, puffy face. She was surprisingly cleaned up. No more blood. She had taken off her wedding dress, and had found a much more tasteless one. A blanket covers her shoulders. She is unable to take her eyes from him, and her arms wrap tightly against herself. Perhaps it was because she was dressed so modestly, he thought. Her skin seems more fair than before, as if she glows when she looks at him.

He approaches her and wraps her in his arms, gently holding her face to his chest and his other arm around her shoulders. She is locked in his arms. Her gums ache when she presses up against him. She lets out a sob, and heaves again when she feels him squeeze her tighter. She cries into his arms. Tears, snot, and blood mixed with saliva run from her face. He crushes her in his hold, hushing her and petting her head affectionately.“Shhh, It’s ok. You’re here with me now. I love you so much.”

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