Salamander 2024 Fiction Contest

SUBMIT: May 1 through June 2, 2024 | READING FEE: $15


Good New Teeth

Mark Doyle
| Fiction


The old man woke up screaming. The nurse, asleep in the next room and dreaming of the seaside, heard the scream as a black harpy screeching toward a flock of gulls circling the sea. The harpy grabbed a gull and shook it in its broken beak, sending feathers and blood raining down. Then she awoke.
“What is it? Herr Bamberg! What is it?” She rushed into his bedchamber, fumbled in the faint glow of the fireplace embers, and lit a lamp. The old man was sitting up in bed, holding his hand over his mouth. The hand wasn’t muffling the screaming: it seemed to be amplifying it.
“Are you bleeding? Is there blood?” She held the lamp closer. His cap was askew. White hairs were pasted across his forehead. She put the lamp on the table and climbed into bed beside him, then she wrapped her arms around him and rocked him gently. “There,” she said. “There, there, my dear. It’s just a bad dream. You’re all right now. I also had a bad dream. It’s all right now.” She wiped the hair from his forehead.
His breath returned and he became quieter, but his hand remained over his mouth. Threads of drool dangled from it, catching in the ruffs of his nightgown. She kissed him on the temple and patted his shoulder. “Can you tell me what it is? It is a pain, yes? Your mouth?” The old man nodded. He removed his hand, wiped it against his chest, and then with both hands pulled back the corners of his mouth. Tears started from his eyes.
“A oo eee?”
“What was that, my dear?”
He put his hands down, took a deep breath, and asked very loudly, “Can you see?” He pulled his mouth open wider and tilted his head back. The nurse lifted the lamp and peered inside. There was the undulating pink ridge of his gum line, a ridge that had held no teeth in all the years she had worked for him. The mouth looked like it always did: empty, raw, vaguely feminine.
“What?” she said. “I see nothing.”
He put his hands down and said, “Ook cwoser. Bring de wamp cwoser.”
“Close your eyes,” she said. “It’ll blind you.” She lifted the lamp so that it was level with his chin and looked again. Now she saw them: little white peaks in the sockets of the frontmost ridges. She adjusted the lamp and looked again. There were four of them on the top, and four more on the bottom. The ones on the bottom looked like little white eggs in fleshy baskets.
The nurse pulled back. “I don’t understand,” she said. A draft caught her bare ankles and she shivered. “Are they pustules? Is it disease?”
The old man closed his mouth and winced when the gums met. He put a trembling hand on her forearm. “No,” he said. “Dey’re teef.”


Mark Doyle is a professor of history at Middle Tennessee State University. He is the author of three books on Irish, British, and British Empire history, most recently a social history of the English rock band the Kinks. His fiction has appeared in Maudlin House and Pangyrus.

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