“Did you hear that?” Abby asked her neighbor, Vivienne. The two of them had been chatting over the fence that separated their front yards. Vivienne had cornered her to talk about school fundraising while Abby uprooted the dandelions that had appeared in the green expanse of her lawn. Abby, anxious for a distraction, had seized on the noise.
“Hear what?” Vivienne asked. She ran her tongue over the porcelain crowns where her incisors had once been — a nervous habit she’d picked up ever since the dentist had planted them in her gums. They didn’t seem to sit quite right in her mouth.
“The kids,” Abby said. She set aside the long, tapered root that she’d yanked out of the grass and stood. “I thought I heard them fighting.”
Abby and Vivienne looked around, like predators trying to locate their prey. Their heads swiveled to Abby’s backyard, where Vivienne’s girls were playing with Abby’s son.
“No, you guys grew from the lion’s teeth,” Nick, seven years old, insisted, his voice clear and ringing, about one quarter of the way to a tantrum. “I was from a dragon’s tooth.”
“That’s stupid,” Jenny, eight, told him. “Dragons aren’t real.”
“Yeah,” Lena added. She was six, firmly entrenched in her role as Jenny’s backup. “Totally stupid.”
“Girls!” Vivienne called, and they both startled. “I told you not to use that word!”
“But Mom!” Jenny whined.
“Enough,” she said. She didn’t have to shout it. Jenny and Lena pouted, then muttered their apologies to Nick for calling him stupid.
“Lions and dragons?” Abby said, amused.
Vivienne sighed. “Their dad. They sprang the question on him.”
“The baby question?”
“The baby question.” Vivienne rolled her eyes. “He panicked.”
Abby returned the gesture. “And he told them…?”
“Something about a fairy queen finding animal teeth in a forest and carrying them to mommies and daddies, who grow them in a garden into babies.” She gagged theatrically. “I think Brian might be more into this fairy and princess crap than they are. And of course they’ve probably gone and blabbed it to Nicky—”
“Oh, I’ve already had the talk with him,” Abby said, and she couldn’t quite curtail her proud tone. Nick was young — and he looked even younger than his seven years — but so precocious. “I figured if he was old enough to ask, he was old enough to know.”
“I wish Brian had thought of that,” Vivienne grumbled.
Jenny had grown from a coyote’s canine that Vivienne had pushed into the roof of her mouth. A difficult birth for a first child, but Vivienne had wanted a girl who could stick up for herself and a younger sibling. She and Brian had decided early on that they wanted two kids. Lena had been born of a fox’s molar. Vivienne had scored open a little pouch in the loose skin below Brian’s collarbone and slipped it in. Let me do this for us, he’d said. So sweet, such a good father.
Abby really did have a dragon’s tooth hidden away. A family heirloom. Like many mothers before her, she’d kept it secret, unwilling to risk such a pregnancy. Nicky had been born from the bottom three incisors of her childhood cat, a gentle old ginger tom named Buck. She had wanted a child who felt familiar, and had sewn the teeth into the skin of her neck, right near her pulse. John, her ex-husband, had been furious; said that it made him feel shut out. He hadn’t even wanted kids, really, and he hadn’t stuck around long after that. Abby had made the right decision, using Buck’s teeth.
“Nick’s got a loose tooth,” Abby mused. “Won’t be much longer until he starts losing them.”
Vivienne nodded. Jenny had already lost two teeth after falling off the trampoline. As the woman who bore her, Vivienne had had to make the journey into the Hungry Wood after dark all alone, stumbling over roots and fallen branches. The white trees, with their bone-smooth bark, hadn’t been satisfied with Jen’s little bicuspids.
“It’s not so bad,” Vivienne lied. She ran her tongue over the crowns again. “Though it’s always a surprise, how fast they grow up.”