Just Pull It

She said, “I’m just gonna pull it,” with a resolve I’ve never heard from her before when dealing with loose teeth. We were sitting in the lobby on the lower level of the Oriental Theater during the intermission of “Matilda,” and bathroom goers were lined up all around us as we sat on a two-person upholstered bench against the wall, she with a wad of paper towel jammed into her mouth.

She had fiddled with this tooth for days. Finally, minutes before the end of the first act, it broke almost completely free of the sinews attaching it to her gums, and she held it there for all of the last number. When the curtain descended, she declared that we needed to go to the bathroom right away so that she could get paper towels to keep the tooth from falling out. I obliged. From our seat on the front row, we ducked and weaved our way downstairs to find ourselves on that bench.

She’s breathing hard, about to cry. “Do you want me to pull it?” I ask. She clenches her eyes shut and shakes her head no. She’s never let me or her mom pull one. They always just fall out, like a gift, so that her inability to bring the crisis to resolution is rewarded by gravity. The Tooth Fairy, of course, reinforces this, with her swelling reward tucked ‘neath a bloody pillow.

I don’t know what did it this time. I doubt it was my cajoling (“You can’t spend the rest of the show like this”; “you’re going to ruin your night”; “that paper towel is going to get soaked through.”) She took the reddening paper lump out of her mouth and looked at it intently for several moments. Then she declared her intention, and before I had time to celebrate the idea the deed was done and she was holding the tooth in her pinced fingers.

Her breathing relaxed as a smile spread across her face and she let out a cackle, the blood-soaked victory cry of a seven year old who grew up during intermission.

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