You Shouldn’t Crack Nuts with your Teeth - Tales from the Age - Lars' Story Part I
Teeth were practical...mostly. He had two rows of them that showed when he smiled which wasn’t that often. As things were, they were mostly hidden away, neither revealing themselves in the morning shaving mirror nor in the snapshots that his bothersome family took each time he was dragged along, protesting, to yet another family fun-fest.
It wasn’t so much the gluttonous overindulgence at the buffet table or the over enthusiastic imbibing of Jack Daniels that annoyed him at these meetings of the clan but more the unfettered flashing of teeth. He had returned from the last one with a thundering headache, undoubtedly brought about by the blinding strobe effect of polished white enamel flashing before him, as vaguely familiar faces, that he ought to have recognised, but didn’t, descended upon him with wide, fake ,tooth-filled grins . Sadly, the fact that a good number of them weren’t even white enamel but decidedly tobacco stained only worsened the ordeal.
This time it was an engagement. Some grand niece he hadn’t ever heard of before. Not that he’d paid much attention to any of them. It was going to be a trial of patience. He glanced at the now faded photograph in the silver frame on the mantle. Now, she knew how to hold a party! She would do it with real aplomb. None of these plastic glasses or packet party food. None of this blaring bang...bang music assassinating the conversation. Easy listening at a comfortable volume was her style and she would go out of her way to make sure that every guest felt special. Each person was listed to and catered for and it was because of this that everyone loved her.
He ran his fingers over the cold dead glass, inside the picture frame, caressing it momentarily, the last words she had uttered to him, cancer ridden, floating back like precious butterflies,
“Don’t fret Lars. It’s going to be alright. As one door closes another will open. You’ll see.”
Well, he’d waited... and waited... and the weeks turned into months, then years, then decades and the only door that had opened was the door of a cold and lonely home. Damn these blasted family gatherings! It wasn’t really, even his family. It was hers. The only reason he ever went was for her sake.
As he left for the venue, he pocketed a pair of Ray Bans, a relic from his archaeology days in Egypt, decades before. Considering the likely universal and uninvited showcasing of teeth, that was to come, and it’s propensity to cause snow blindness, they were likely to prove indispensable. As he grabbed his car keys he sighed. She used to have a matching pair.
Heading out into the cold, wintry night he found that his teeth were chattering. To him teeth were practical. They were purely for masticating food. That was their purpose. It was self evident. Truth be told, he’d forgotten he had them. He didn’t bother them and they didn’t bother him. Others seemed to have other ideas, though. When he arrived at the venue, he found a heaving mass of pearly whites masquerading as calling cards shoved before his face. Most of their owners were in-laws and most were drunk.
Looking apprehensively around the room, he could see that there were young girls, he barely recognized, balancing precariously on pencil thin stilettos, as they danced around the room flashing white enamel in all directions.
“Come on Uncle Lars, give us a smile, it’s an engagement not a funeral,” one of them joshed.
He frowned and turned away. On the other side of the room was a plump cousin-in-law. My god she had put on weight! She, too, was balancing on over high footwear, her form stuffed into a bodycon disaster that pushed her bosom so high up that it flowed like paint from pot, out and over her low-cut bodice. Yikes! She was making a beeline for him with determination, her cheesy, tooth revealing grin seemingly unavoidable. There was no time for second thoughts. Making good his escape, he darted around her, out through the door and in into the gents. It was a close one!
It was a full five minutes before he ventured out again. It seemed that things hadn’t gotten any better. There they all were. Sisters, nieces, grand nieces, she-cousins and girls next door. There they all were, a giggling gaggle of girls intent on having FUN! It was quite horrendous.
And everywhere there were TEETH! Unashamedly, like fashion accessories displaying themselves, pushing themselves to the forefront and accentuating the insincerity of the occasion. All kinds and all types... of teeth!
There were crooked teeth. .. dangly ear ring framed teeth... chewing and masticating molars... missing teeth...blindingly fluorescent, whitened teeth... buck teeth... red lipstick framed, look down my cleavage incisors... capped teeth, crowned teeth, front gap teeth... wannable popstar flash while you sing nashers.... this dental nightmare went on and on. He donned the Ray Bans. It seemed it had indeed been a wise decision to bring them.
But even worse was to come. Suddenly he became aware that Croc Fangs, the sister-in-law, had made her arrival. Attempting to keep below the radar, he dipped down behind the mulling crowds and skirted the wall edges till he got to the buffet table. Glancing over to the other side of the room, where he’d seen her last, he breathed a sigh of relief. Her back was turned to him and she was deep in conversation with a group of, seemingly adoring, distant cousins, probably twice or thrice removed by the look of them.
There didn’t appear to be a nutcracker on the table. He walked twice round it to no avail. Typical! Walnuts! The only decent, artificial flavour free offering of the night and they hadn’t even had the foresight to follow through with the provision of a cracker. He picked a nut up and noticed that it was just beginning to split apart along its central line. Gingerly, he forced the split with his teeth and extracted the two mini brain-shaped pieces of walnut flesh which he laid on the table. Then, he reached for another nut. He’d do the lot. It would keep him out of troubles way.
The exclamation was at foghorn level and made him jump out of his skin. In his mind there could be no question who had uttered that sound and sure enough his intuition was right. Behind him, Croc Fangs was standing, arms crossed, lip curled back like a she-wolf, in that stance that always turned him to jelly. As he turned to face her he was aware that the void of his mouth was filled with an uncracked walnut.
“What the hell are you doing, Lars?!”
The nut fell from his mouth which, nevertheless maintained the, “O” shape.
He shook his head from side to side as if to verbalise his answer.
“Don’t mess about with me Lars.” She had the look of a croc slithering into the water from the river bank, “ and don’t crack nuts with your teeth. You are not a squirrel!”
To his relief, having barked out this piece of uninvited wisdom, she turned and flounced away.
“Thank god,” he whispered to himself as she began to engage in conversation with someone across the room.
It wasn’t that he hated her, she was Ellie’s sister after all but Croc Fangs had decidedly pointed canines that were often barred at him. Let’s just say, he often told others, that the phrase, “her bark is worse than her bite,” could not be reasonably used to describe her and that in her presence he had many times been nervous of ending up croc tucker.
Well, at least for the time being, happily, she was out of the picture, but her loud outburst had drawn attention to his presence in the room.
A group of assorted family specimens he had, happily, not bumped in to for a while were coming in his direction. They were indicating that they wanted family photos. Before he could protest they were upon him, throwing their arms around him while unashamedly revealing their tooth enamel to flashing cameras in a mock-up apology for a family reunion.
Worryingly, as the night unfolded, for some inexplicable reason his quiet reticence and resentful looks didn’t seem to spoil their party fun. After an hour or so he’d had enough. To him their, “Remember when...,” family stories were decidedly unfunny, yet they were practically cackling like hyenas as each sorry tale was retold over and over.. .He put it down to the booze. There seemed no other rational explanation.
One of them had a particularly glass shattering, shrill laugh which was on repeat like an LP record. The effect was excruciatingly painful to the ear drums. He had to get rid of her. He had to get rid of them all. He wondered what the most antisocial thing he could do was. Then, smiling almost to the point of displaying a tooth or two he picked up a walnut and violently crunched into it. The volume of the loud crack which ensued stopped the conversation in the room for a second or so and all eyes momentarily looked his way. Once the shell had broken in his mouth, he crunched noisily into fragments and merrily spat them out onto the table. Ignoring the shocked looks, he picked up another nut and repeated the process. Game, set, match! The lady with the shrill laugh and her clan were moving away from the table in disgust. Mission accomplished, he had to say.
After a while he noticed that a hush hush had descended upon the room and that a wide gap between himself and everyone else had developed. Croc Fangs was talking to a young girl in a salmon pink dress, The girl had her back turned to him.
“Hasn’t been the same since Ellie passed away,” he heard Croc Fangs whisper from a distance, “Yes, I do feel sorry for him but it’s been decades...to be honest his continued unsociability has now become an embarrassment.”
He flinched. “That’s right, talk about me as if I’m not in the room,” he thought.
By then, it was clear that everyone was looking at him, the outcast, the one that didn’t fit in. Never mind, this would be his last family shindig. He had already decided that this would be the case and he had been thinking of late that it was well past time to go. It had become clear that he was just a millstone around the neck of others. It was just the way things were. He was not feeling sorry for himself and nor was it a sad thing. There was just no more powder left to light the canon and he knew he was just a dead weight to the world. Having resigned himself to this fact, he felt much better. The gratifying feeling, however, was not to last.
For, as he took a deep hard, bite into the last walnut something that was not in his plan occured. It seemed that not only the walnut, but his whole tooth, as well, had cracked itself in half. The volume of his scream, in response to this excruciatingly painful calamity was deafening.
Then, everything went blurry. He sensed that people were moving towards him but he couldn’t see them because his eyes were closed in agony. The pain was extreme.
“I want to go home,” was all he could mouth, “I want to go home.”
The hand that patted him gently on the shoulder was small and belonged to someone with a gentle touch. He hadn’t felt a touch like that for years.
“I’ll take you home,” She spoke with a voice precious as gem coloured butterflies.
And as he opened his eyes, the pain seemed to drain away, like sand through an hourglass and was replaced with a sense of disbelief.
“Who...who...?” he spluttered, “Who?”
“I’m Lara,” said the girl in the salmon pink dress.
“But...bu...you look just like....like...”
Croc Fangs finished his sentence for him.
“She’s Ellie’s grand niece. You’ve never seen her before because she grew up in Canada. She’s come to London to study archaeology.”
“My boyfriend, Tim, is coming to pick me up in a minute,” said Lara.“ We’ll give you a lift home.”
“Thank you.” He squeezed her hand,
“ Actually,” she seemed a little embarrassed, “We both really wanted to meet you. Tim is doing archaeology, too, and we’ve both read the book, about your work in Egypt that you and Ellie wrote all those years ago. We really wanted to talk to you about it.”
“Oh.” He smiled. No one had expressed an interest in years.
She patted his hand. “I’ll just go and see if Tim’s in the car park yet,” She said, “I’ll be back in a tic. You’ll be ready, yeah?”
“Yes, he will.” Croc Fangs answered for him.
After Ellie had left the room and the party had resumed, he realised, all of a sudden, that something felt different. Mulling it over, he realised that though Ellie and he had never been lucky enough to have children, Lara would be exactly what he would have wanted in a daughter. Petite, graceful, kind, unassuming and with perfectly dainty teeth.
He could see that his own teeth were showing, as he smiled into the gilt wall mirror. Everything would be fine. He was still in pain but it was alright. He would make an emergency appointment with the dentist next day. He paused to reflect. And, yes, maybe, old as he was, it was about time he picked up on his old archaeology studies. Suddenly the jolly atmosphere seemed contagious and lots of people seemed to be genuinely concerned about his wellbeing.
Folks stopped to give him a hug as they danced round the room and a cousin-in-law stopped handing round sausage rolls to share a joke. Even Croc Fangs seemed more likeable and amiable, asking if there was anything she could do to help. He pinched himself questioning whether he was still in the same universe.
For the world seemed brighter and more colourful and strangely enough, all of a sudden, he found himself bowled over by the gorgeous multitude of shades of lipstick that were framing the various dental assets around the room. Utterly in awe of the creativity of his clan, for the first time, he found himself appreciative of all the effort these lovely ladies had made to brighten up the world.
“Lara and Tim are on their way in,” the fat cousin-in-law, who was looking out of the window, shouted, “They should be here any minute.”
“ Put your coat on Lars,” Croc Fangs was holding the garment out to him with a smile.
He smiled right back as he pulled it on and for the first time in years the world seemed full of kaleidoscope colours. An era had come to an end...a bridge had been crossed... and as he turned to leave the day behind, he could see, quite clearly, that the door ahead was opening.