It was probably the worst thing my mother could have said.
My mother had terrible teeth, the way people did then. Black in her smile. I remember the day her teeth were all taken out. She must have been relatively young. She came home and went to bed and we children were warned not to disturb her. I was afraid. When she did emerge her face was closed and she didn’t speak. The dynamics of the house changed then, as if no-one knew their hearts anymore. My mother was diminished.
Teeth my mother said, were important. The condition of a person’s teeth indicated their values, their parents’ values. My mother, who had all her teeth extracted in her early forties, said our values could be perceived by the condition of our children’s teeth. That the children were cared for and taken regularly to the dentist by a responsible adult.
So when she said this monstrous thing about the boyfriend, whom I had groomed in the station waiting room for weeks, making myself criminally late for school, anxious and desirous, practising nonchalance, revising my Latin verbs as I hung about for his arrival, I was thrown. Childhood conditioning came crowding back, its contradictions and penalties. My need for my mother to be on my side.
Are they his own teeth, she said.
He did have lovely teeth. When he smiled. His skin nut brown and clear, not a spot to be seen, his black hair tightly curled. And of course ...
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