Thursday, April 19, 2012

30 Days, 30 Stories: The Tooth Gatherers


The Tooth Gatherers
By Yamile Saied Mendez

Marina finally lost a tooth. She’s not the youngest in her kindergarten class, but she’s the last one to show off a gap in her impish smile. 

Her friend Ashley is an expert on losing teeth. She lost the first one in preschool, two years ago. “Polish your tooth and put it under your pillow for the Tooth Fairy,” she advises in a grave voice. 

“That’s the only thing you have to do.”  

“The Tooth Fairy,” Marina says in awe. 

The whole kindergarten class agrees that the Tooth Fairy comes at night and that just like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, she has special powers. No one has ever seen her or caught her. The cleaner and healthier the tooth is, the more money she brings!

Marina clasps her tooth in her hand and runs all the way home with her wonderful news. She presses her tongue in the gap where her tooth used to be. Her heart flutters with the promise of magic and a golden coin.

Abuelo is waiting for her at the door, like every day. 

“I lost a tooth!” she screams, jumping into his arms that are still strong enough to make her fly in the air.

Abuelo beams at her. He’s an expert on losing teeth too, but losing them doesn’t make him happy at all.

“Now you can put it under your pillow. It’s so healthy and clean, I’m sure El Raton Perez will bring you a present,” he says and goes back inside the house to prepare her after-school snack.

El Raton Perez? Marina has never heard of this mouse before. 

Could a whole classroom of friends be wrong? Who’s telling the truth? Who is the official Tooth Gatherer: The Tooth Fairy or El Raton Perez?

She decides to ask Mama. Mama knows everything. 

But this time, Mama doesn’t answer the question right away. She thinks about it for a long time before she says, “Ill ask Papa.” 

Mama and Papa talk for a long time. They call Abuelo. The three of them whisper in Spanish behind the office door. Marina’s heart beats so loudly she can’t hear a word they say.

The grownups look worried. Their worry is contagious.  

In opposite corners of the kitchen, like luchadores in a ring, the Tooth Fairy and El Raton Perez glare at each other. They shake their fists and mutter under their breath. 

“This is my territory. This house has been in the Tooth Fairy Atlas since it was built decades ago!” the Tooth Fairy says, stomping a foot. 

“And La Sociedad Internacional of El Raton Perez has served this family for generations! I remember Abuelo, Mama and Papa when they lost their own teeth! I’ve waited for years for this moment. I won’t forsake my stewardship!” El Raton Perez squeaks. Even his whiskers blush with indignation.   

They leave the house their separate ways, but with the same destination: straight to file a complaint at the Society for the Protection of Magical Childhood Companions. 

Santa Claus presides the audience, assisted by The Three Kings. The Easter Bunny takes note of the proceedings. 

“Your Honor,” says El Raton Perez with a flourish of his feathered hat, “I humbly beg for your assistance in preserving this young girl’s cultural patrimony.”

Santa Claus nods his head and directs his attention to the Tooth Fairy.

She curtsies and smiles. She doesn’t need any charming powders to make them all fall in love with her. “I understand Mr. Perez, the Mouse, has served this family for generations. Marina was born in this country though, and in this country, I have jurisdiction. Thank you.”

Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Three Kings deliberate and argue in hushed tones, sounding exactly like Mama, Papa and Abuelo in the office a few hours ago. 

El Raton Perez clutches his hat in his hands to prevent himself from biting his nails. The Tooth Fairy fans herself with a rose petal. The courtroom, filled beyond capacity, bubbles with speculation. What’s more important? The place where the child is born or the culture of the family? 

Finally, the Sandman calls everyone to attention. The judge has reached a verdict.

Santa Claus clears his voice before he says, “Which takes precedence? You two are not the first ones to come to this court with this concern. Why! Even my friends The Three Kings and I had a similar dispute centuries ago!”

“How did you fix it?” asks the Mouse.

“Who won?” asks the Tooth Fairy.

Santa Claus and the Three Kings smile, full of wisdom and experience.

“Who won? Why, the child of course! How did we fix it? Working together!”

The crowd mutters in approval.

“Let the child decide. Our mission is to make Marina happy and preserve the magic of childhood, which is more fragile than a crystal.”

The Tooth Fairy and El Raton Perez leave the courtroom in silence, but this time they stay together. The Tooth Fairy shakes flying powder on the mouse. El Raton Perez opens his green polka-dotted umbrella over the Tooth Fairy to protect her hair-do from the night dew.

They arrive to Marina’s house just in time for bedtime. 

Abuelo sits on Marina’s bed, holding her hand.

“Abuelo, what should I do? Papa says El Raton Perez has been a friend of our family’s for always. What if he didn’t follow you and my parents to this country? What if he can’t get in? Does he need a passport?” Marina asks. 

Abuelo listens in silence while Marina continues, “Mama says that since I was born in this country we have to adopt its customs. My friends have never heard of this mouse you and Papa talk about. What should I do?”

Marina opens her hand and shows Abuelo her white tooth. 

The Tooth Fairy and El Raton Perez look at the gleaming tooth in ecstasy. 

It would complete El Raton Perez’s family collection. 

It would be the perfect jewel to start a new collection for the Tooth Fairy too. 

“I’ll abide by her decision,” El Raton Perez says, although it takes much fortitude for him to pronounce the words.

“Whatever makes her happy,” says the Tooth Fairy, wiping a tear from her eyes.

Marina waits for Abuelo’s advise. 

El Raton Perez and the Tooth Fairy hold hands in the shadows.

Finally, Abuelo says, “Our family comes from all the corners of the world. You’re both an American and a Latina girl. You were born in this beautiful place we now call home, but you also carry a beautiful heritage. You’re like a river that runs over many lands. You carry the best from all the places our family has loved.”

He kisses Marina on the forehead before he leaves the room.

Marina opens a pewter box with a fairy engraved on the lid. She polishes her baby tooth for the last time and carefully places it on a cotton pillow. Before she closes the lid, she also puts a silk flower for the Tooth Fairy and a piece of cheese for the mouse.

“You can both come to my house,” Marina whispers with closed eyes. “I am both a girl of this land and the land my family came from. Mama says sharing is important. You can both share me.”

The Tooth Fairy and El Raton Perez hug each other and promise to always work together and advise the other in every need. They will share Marina’s teeth.

The most important duty of being a Tooth Gatherer is the happiness of the child. 

The next day at school, there isn’t a happier child than Marina. She holds a golden coin from the country she was born and a silver coin from the country her family came from. In her heart, she has the best present of all: the knowledge that she belongs to two cultures, and she is only richer for it.  




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4 comments:

Julie Daines said...

Yamile, this is absolutely beautiful! Maybe it's because I know you and your family, but it seriously brought tears to my eyes! And I can't remember the last time that happened from reading a story. Lovely!

Taffy said...

Yamille! I LOVE your writing. Your stories always introduce me to beautiful and bright vistas.

Scott said...

This was fun and beautiful. Great story!

Tiffany Dominguez said...

Wow, Yamile. This is amazing. I can imagine how many children struggle with this--divided cultures, loyalties, maybe even divided within a family or within themselves. You are brilliant, my friend!