Split Tooth

The Walrus - - CONTENTS - by Tanya Ta­gaq

It’s early morn­ing. The Frosted Flakes have grown soggy. I’m stuck star­ing at one of the half-sub­merged flakes, half- crispy, half-mushy. Tap tap tap the spoon against the ce­ramic bowl; it seems to help shake off the sleep that re­fuses to lift from the top of my head. It feels fuzzy and numb. Bore­dom hang­over. It’s pitch black out­side. Dead win­ter. We have not seen the sun in weeks. Stars stare at me through the win­dow. Wind screams ur­gently, shak­ing the house. Wind sings but car­ries an axe in­stead of a note. A dog howls. Five more fol­low suit. I put on my kamiik and kick the door open be­cause it has frozen shut. School has not been can­celled: it’s not cold enough out­side. It has to be at least minus fifty with the wind chill to merit a day off. The roads are frozen solid; they will stay that way un­til May or June. The per­mafrost is liv­ing un­der ev­ery­thing, slow­ing time and pre­serv­ing what would nor­mally rot. Kamiit help feet deftly nav­i­gate the slip of the ice, the crunch of the snow, and the depths of the drifts. The seal­skin is warm, but I have lost the blood my feet carry. The Cold has scared the blood out of my toes. Our feet have built-in mem­ory of which ten­dons to curl to pre­vent fall­ing on all dif­fer­ent kinds of ice. The Snow would some­times slice the sur­face of the ice in half with a drift and try to trick us into fall­ing. The Snow could crunch un­der­foot or chase you loosely. The Snow could hold your whole body weight or de­cide to de­ceive you and plunge you into the down un­der­neath. Snow is fickle. Snow picks it­self up and goes wher­ever Wind tells it to. One el­e­ment con­trols the other in a cycli­cal obliv­ion. Weather is just the earth’s breaths. Wind is the cold bearer and the death bringer. Street­lights hold ha­los of swirling snow; rain­bows ap­pear if you look at the street­lights and squint. My foot­steps the only sound of any hu­man be­ing, I con­tinue the hol­low morn­ing walk to school. Grade eight. Ugh. I have an­other gi­ant cold sore on my chin. It’s ten miles wide and ooz­ing. I do my best to dis­guise it with my scarf and steel my ego for the taunt­ing that I am about to re­ceive. “Sore­sees” is the name that gets ap­pointed to the per­son suf­fer­ing from a cold sore for the en­tirety of its du­ra­tion. This name can also be ap­plied to chicken pox, eczema,

bed-bug bites, zits, or any other skin ail­ment. The series of nick­names al­lot­ted to the stu­dents in our school was never kind but was of­ten so amus­ing that we were happy to carry the bur­den when it was our turn. I silently thank the uni­verse that I will never be branded “Nib­ble-a-cock” like my friend Casper Novili­gak be­cause she gave a blowjob to that hot­dog on a dare last Thurs­day. It took me fif­teen min­utes to pull these jeans on this morn­ing. They are so tight that it hurts to breathe. Some­times, I have to use a coat hanger to get the zip­per up. The tighter the jeans the bet­ter, and neon is in; neon leg warm­ers, neon tights, neon shirts, neon ba­nana clips. We pile our hair as high as it will go, even though the wind de­stroys our hair­dos to the point that ev­ery time we come in from out­side, the girls’ bath­room is a haze of Fi­nal Net. We sport Chip & Pep­per heat-sen­si­tive, colour-chang­ing mus­cle shirts (leav­ing us hid­ing our flu­o­res­cen­tor­ange armpits af­ter gym) and pair them with acid-washed jeans and light-blue eye­shadow. AC/DC. Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap. The frosted-pink lip gloss clashed with my cold sore, so I didn’t wear it to­day. My lips are cracked and chapped, and my hair is fly­ing with static elec­tric­ity and keeps get­ting into my cold sore. Win­ter is dry. Like, zero hu­mid­ity. The cold holds mois­ture hostage. The boys scuff their socks on the car­pet and shock the girls with pointed fin­gers and ma­li­cious glee. I hate it. I want to be the size of an ant, or just dis­ap­pear. This year every­one got boobs ex­cept me. Ev­ery morn­ing brings the mea­sur­ing tape to the mir­ror in the hopes of the mir­a­cle of be­ing sud­denly blessed with tits, for­ever end­ing the reign of my nick­name: Golf Balls. In lieu of breasts, I ar­range sheets of toi­let pa­per to make a home nest in my brassiere. The in­dig­ni­ties we suf­fer as chil­dren will only grow larger as we get older, so we are told. That seems im­pos­si­ble. I get good grades in school with­out putting in much ef­fort. I fail tests on pur­pose to avoid draw­ing too much ire from the pop­u­lar girls, who seemed to think that ac­com­plish­ing any­thing scholas­ti­cally made you vain. School is scary and awk­ward; I guess it’s sup­posed to be. Sit­ting still for that long is im­pos­si­ble. My ass is numb. Who made this sys­tem? It feels like a slow tor­ture watch­ing the sec­ond hand tick by, watch­ing the flakes of dan­druff fly around the teacher’s head when he stands in the light. How can some­one be al­most bald and still have dan­druff? Get­ting old is so gross. Watch­ing peo­ple slowly rot is un­nerv­ing. I lis­ten to the chil­dren breath­ing and sigh­ing. We steal glances at one an­other. Lis­ten­ing to pen­cils scratch­ing, we yearn for move­ment. Lis­ten­ing to the wind howl in scream­ing free­dom, we all feel muted. Math class. The cute boy peeks up and smiles at me over his math book while hold­ing hands un­der the ta­ble with the pretty girl. I’m aware that he is ma­nip­u­lat­ing me, but I still die a lit­tle in­side. His black hair is in a brush cut, and he smells a lit­tle mouldy, like his mom took too long to get the clothes into the dryer. He makes up for it with a sear­ing con­fi­dence and sharp wit. Bright­ness. It shocks me ev­ery time he looks at me. He has al­ready seen too much in life, and his nat­u­ral propen­sity for cru­elty cou­pled with the hor­mones cours­ing through his body has him play­ing girls against each other like bristling sled dogs. He still gets to taste them all. I’ve al­ways hated this so­cial dis­play of jeal­ousy, girls scratch­ing each other’s eyes out for boys. If he leaves me alone, I can main­tain my dig­nity, but I feel the pull of him in a place that is for­eign to me. It is my first real crush. Our teacher is dis­cussing physics. I think about the equal and op­po­site reaction to the look the boy just gave

me and blush fu­ri­ously. His girl­friend no­tices. Shit! I’m in for it af­ter school. Doors open and close, the books in the li­brary call me with their musty elder smell. The clocks ro­tate. I get my head slammed into my locker at re­cess, and the school day is over. Thank fuck.

Iwould call my par­ents and say I was sleep­ing over at your house. You would call your par­ents and say you were sleep­ing over at my house. I don’t know how we fit so many chil­dren in the old nurs­ing-sta­tion porch. There was nowhere else to go for shel­ter, be­cause we had all told our par­ents that we were at one an­other’s houses. There was no other shel­ter from the scream­ing winds. We shiv­ered, ner­vously laugh­ing in our tight denim and big hair so metic­u­lously sprayed into bloom­ing foun­tains. The snow had blown into our hair, and now it was melt­ing. Our mag­nif­i­cent tow­ers were be­com­ing flac­cid mock­eries of them­selves. Our mas­cara ran down our faces — beauty prob­lems at minus forty. The porch was about ten feet by ten. There were seven kids in it. We lit up all the butts we had picked off the ground. I had that big cold sore on my chin. I thought I could dis­tract from it by putting on a lot of shim­mery blue eye­shadow. I don’t think it worked very well. Our breath slowly stopped show­ing as our body heat warmed up the small room. What should we do in this lit­tle porch? Some­one touched my ass. I slapped his grubby lit­tle hand away. Let’s play a dare game! We sim­ply went around in a cir­cle, tak­ing turns, col­lec­tively agree­ing on a dare for who­ever’s turn it was. If you failed to do your dare, you were ban­ished from the shel­ter. This sys­tem im­me­di­ately went awry when a girl started to cry be­cause she had to kiss the ugly boy. Fuck this. We left the shel­ter and went our sep­a­rate ways. Your un­cle was out par­ty­ing. We crashed at his place. Af­ter raid­ing the fridge, we put a movie on. I think it was

The Dark Crys­tal.

We were coaxed out of our slum­ber by a thick smack­ing sound. Your un­cle was a gen­tle man, slight and be­nign. He had been dat­ing a very ag­gres­sive wo­man. I never un­der­stood how he put up with the abuse. We heard a wo­man weep­ing softly through the walls. We could hear him qui­etly ask­ing her, “There, are you happy now?” And an­other thick, wet thud would come. Tears, snot, blood. Wet noises. She just took it. There was no strug­gle. I knew what a fight sounds like. This was qui­eter, more in­ti­mate. I un­der­stood. She hated her­self so much that she would be­rate him and beat him over and over un­til she got what she wanted, the proof that she de­served to

Our feet have built-in mem­ory of which ten­dons to curl to pre­vent fall­ing on all dif­fer­ent kinds of ice.

be beaten. Their love for each other was in­dis­tin­guish­able from the hate they felt for them­selves. Some­times chil­dren see more clearly than adults. They loved the cy­cle of self-ha­tred and for­give­ness. They per­pet­u­ated a per­fect, vi­o­lent ma­chine. “You must like it.” Smack. “You make me do this.” Smack. We plug our ears. Fall back asleep, not dar­ing to move lest we alert them to our pres­ence. “Let’s go,” you whis­per, nudg­ing me. It’s quiet in the house now. We tip­toe out of the bed­room. The sun is up. I ad­just my eyes, look­ing for my jean jacket. I can smell the blood. There are pools of it on the floor. The cat had tracked it all over the liv­ing room. There are red paw prints every­where. I peek in the room. The cou­ple is sleep­ing to­gether, em­brac­ing. For­given. Bruised. Blood­ied. We walk home. We part ways at the stop sign. We never speak of this night again. was seven­teen. Sent back home from res­i­den­tial school af­ter a sui­cide at­tempt. Not a bad place all in all, Cam­bridge Bay. Cur­fews and du­ties seemed con­fin­ing but com­fort­ing af­ter the chaos of high school. The wind blew high, and we were freez­ing. My friend and I were hot for a party and dressed for it, though the tem­per­a­ture dipped down past minus forty. Seven­teen is an age of free­dom. “There’s a party at my aunt’s house,” she said. We weighed the pros and cons. Her aunt was not one to be fucked with. When she was drink­ing, she was volatile. She was the self-ap­pointed party po­lice. But the buzz would make it worth our while if we could fi­na­gle a few beers to start the hunt off. We walk in, the all-too-fa­mil­iar smell of the clan, the blar­ing coun­try mu­sic. The cig­a­rette smoke sat­u­rates my cloth­ing on im­pact. Ash­trays scat­tered around the room. Con­flict lurk­ing un­der smiles, wait­ing to pounce af­ter a few more drinks. Silent Sam is lurk­ing. My glasses fog up. I am al­most blind with­out them. I feel a pres­ence be­fore I feel his touch. A hand slides up my leg. I can hardly feel it, be­cause the cold has al­most frozen me through the tight denim, a shaky and thin hand, and a fa­mil­iar hand. I know who it is be­fore I can see him. His touch is like a bony fin­ger that pen­e­trates me and fuses with the bones in my spine. For years, this man would touch me dur­ing his class. Un­der ta­bles, sneak­ing his hand in my pants. Touch­ing my lit­tle-girl parts. Af­ter a while, I got used to it, even felt en­vi­ous when he touched other kids. I smile down at him. Ask him if he would like to join me for a smoke out­side. I’m not six years old any­more. I get him out­side. He’s pretty drunk, and I smile as I hit him as hard as I can. He starts to lose his bal­ance, and I nudge him the rest of the way as he tum­bles down the stairs. They are metal stairs, ser­rated to pre­vent slip­page. I watch in glee as he lands at the bot­tom. He is drunk enough that he’s flac­cid and doesn’t break any­thing. “Some­one fell down the stairs!” I ex­claim to the party. My friend puts her

boots on to in­ves­ti­gate. Peo­ple pile out the door to see what hap­pened. He is un­con­scious but breath­ing as he is dragged up the stairs and back into the party. My friend’s aunt starts yelling about how he must have been pushed. We take turns yelling back and forth, and the huge wo­man nearly lifts me off the ground by my lapels be­fore we es­cape, tears, laugh­ter, and adrenalin cours­ing through the night. We are free. Ex­cerpted from Split Tooth by Tanya Ta­gaq. Copy­right © 2018 Tanya Ta­gaq Gil­lis. Pub­lished by Vik­ing Canada, a divi­sion of Pen­guin Ran­dom House Canada Limited. Re­pro­duced by ar­range­ment with the pub­lisher. All rights re­served.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.