The Horror, the Horror
The Word: BITE
Dmitri sat on Vermont watching the traffic, a bistro in Los Feliz, noisy, nursing his cold Chardonnay. A warm summer night, tables under the awning. Dmitri was lonely. He had lived in Los Angeles for three years now and still had not become used to it. Everywhere these flawless girls. Their gleaming hair, their perfect American teeth. Like picket fences, glowing.
Whatever happened to regular teeth, he wondered? Who had a sexy overbite now? Gloria Grahame’s winsome grin—nowhere. Gene Tierney’s sultry imperfection. He missed Russia. American girls all looked like Julia Roberts—with those terrifying American smiles. Teeth all in front, lined up like boxes on a supermarket shelf. Horrible. Even his waitress had it, that smile like an ID badge flashed at a door. A mockery of the real thing– they couldn’t always be so happy, could they? It was more like a dogs baring its teeth before it bit you.
When he first arrived in California, he kept thinking that these smiling people were getting ready to sell him something. They seemed carnivorous. It put him on edge. He could be anybody, Jack the Ripper, Ivan the Terrible, but still, they smiled. Perhaps it was the fault of beauty pageants, or the pom pom girls who smiled and kicked at sporting events. Wasn’t the liberated woman supposed to have done away with all that? He thought of his students at the USC. Selling happiness and invulnerability.
His wife had a sexy overbite. But she’d divorced him in favor of Gazprom apparatchik with a Mercedes Benz. And he’d moved to America, to teach literature across this wide country from Smith College, Massachussetts, to Arizona State. Now, the USC.
Cars rumbled by. The waitress bumped his table carrying an armload of food, spilling his water. A group of miniskirted girls descended upon a nearby table, like seagulls upon an abandoned sandwich. Hahaha, their overloud laughter, their big straight teeth.
But then he saw her. The girl. Long neck and doe eyes, striped top, long straight hair cut in bangs across her forehead. And there it was! Winking at him. One tooth slightly ahead of the others, like they were pushing their way through a door. She covered her mouth with one hand.
How had this girl escaped the unifying rule of American perfection? Her nose was long. She had to be European, Spanish maybe, or French. An exchange student? Oh please, look my way Mirasol, Gabrielle. They’re nothing to me. It’s you I want, you… The other girls, conventionally pretty, glanced slyly at him, used to being the target of admiration, but his was only for the girl with the overbite. She caught his gaze, startled. Her big eyes, glanced away. Covering her mouth. She thought she was less pretty, but that vulnerability was what made her human, and he craved her humanity.
In films the big shot sent over a bottle of wine. He had never done this, but he found one he could afford, $35. He didn’t even know if it would work. He called the waitress, Lindsay–they announced their names here, like lords and ladies at a ball. “Give the to the girl with the brown hair,” he instructed. The one with the overbite… but he didn’t dare say it.
Their wine duly delivered, he smiled, hopeful. The girls giggled—how he missed Russian girls and their air of mystery–and there it was again, her tantalizing smile. More, his heart cried, more… She stopped the waitress and wrote something on a piece of paper, desire filled him, he yearned toward her like a plant to light. Then, embarrassed, he rested his gaze on the twinkling lights in the trees across the street. Lindsay brought the note to him. Thanx, but u r 2 old 4 me.
He made no gesture that would give his sadness away, drank the rest of his wine. His hand barely trembled. He was 38. Women found him attractive. His students even–though he’d taken any number of two-hour instructor’s courses on-line, which explained very carefully that he must not date his students, must not even speak to them. Now this. This girl. 2 4. Thanx. She could not even write in her own language. They were laughing at him. In his old-world jacket, his old-world face.
Yes, he was too old for her. He was too old for all of this. Desire, yearning, America, everything. He should go home, get a job in a factory, or clean the streets. He called for his bill. He was privileged to see that smile one more time before he left. Laughing– at him. $35 for that laugh. Why did it pain him so? Did he feel that because she was flawed in that slight way that she would appreciate his attention more? That she should be grateful? He was a fool. 38 and still an idiot.
He walked away like leaf blown by the cars’ hot rushing. “Hey!” A girl’s voice called out to him. He turned. Had she perhaps reconsidered? But no, it was only Lindsay. “Hey mister, you forgot your bag.” He had forgotten his old-man’s briefcase, with the student papers he still had to grade. She’d run to catch up with him.
“Thank you. You’re very kind.” He took his bag from her, ashamed she had seen him so disregarded, so humiliated.
And she smiled. Her big white teeth. “No worries,” she said. No worries. Thanx. 2 4. Yet she was kind. And really, the teeth, they were not so horrible as that.
Part of a semi-weekly series of short short stories based on a writing exercise, The Word. “Inspired by a simple word, chosen at random, write a two-page double-spaced story, using the Word at least once.”
Next week’s word is: PROD