A short while ago Sue’d dreamed she was wearing a crown. The dream wasn’t about the crown; it was about her and her little charge—a halfling: part sister, part daughter—riding on an empty party boat, going through the locks—and as the water level racheted upward, and the boat pitched forward like the Titanic after it split, something blew next to the kid. Some big gasket burst.
She gasped, and awoke.
“Your bicuspid?” her husband asked. His head was mounted atop two high pillows as if it were being served on a warming dish. The early sun enflamed his cheekbones like tender lamb parts.
She was annoyed she’d gasped, so she turned her back to him. She could never get away with a goddamned thing.
Her one tooth—the pointy vampire incisor on the right—had been bothering her lately. The very tip of it was casting missiles at her optic nerve. She kept her tongue pressed on the tooth, as if to cap its air source.
“That happens sometimes, with dentoids,” her sister, the dunderhead, said. Sue inclined her head toward the sister and raised her brows and, with her tongue cuddling her bad tooth, smiled tolerantly, like a priest would, long after the last mass, and people were still lined up back to the altar and they all wanted to shake his hand—why?—and didn’t they all know how goddamned thirsty he was?
She thought of filing it. If only it were blunt! Among all his mysterious tools in all his multileveled boxes, she’d seen a long flat rusty file, a rough and weighty bar that could rub the fur off a cat. She knew it was there; she could see it in her mind; she could taste its ironness on her tongue; and she wanted it.
She looked for it. It wasn’t there.
“Yeah, it’s there,” said her husband, on his cell phone, at work.
“You sold it.”
“I did not. I want it.”
So did she. She would go mad with wanting it. She wanted to take it into in her mouth and suck on it while she moved it back and forth, tenderly, thankfully, whittling down the poisonous tip of the tooth that had grown so great in her face—the nerve of it…and for what?
Yeah, for what?
She couldn’t find the file. None of the tool boxes had it, or the garage floor, or any of the drawers or boxes or shelves or corners of the house or the car or the patio or the garden.
At 9:15, after the kid was finally down and the husband was still gone, she threw herself into bed, after having taken three tumblers of chardonnay and two Aleves and one Xanax and twenty-three Mambas, mostly strawberry ones, and, after some hours passed, she began the dream about the party ship and the halfling and the crown. All throughout it, and it was long, she wore the crown on her head and she believed she looked good in it. The crown was lightweight gold, she thought, gold painstakingly hammered into thin, delicate points and decorated with a good assortment of jewels pressed hither and thither into the band of the crown at random but pretty intervals.
Wearing it, she understood why a monarch would want to go around in such a thing.
Moreover, she felt she should be wearing a fur-lined robe to complete the look, a lush red one, velveteen, and waterproof.
And she wanted a scepter!
But she was asea on a groaning boat with her halfling charge, and she needed to keep her wits about her. They’d just toured below deck, where there was a furniture museum, and they’d gone from room to room looking at old chairs and tables and chiffarobes.
We could chop some nice firewood out of these, thought Sue.
Where is the ax?
We never had an ax. Did you ever see an ax? What kind of family do you think we are?
But there was an ax. Sue’d seen it with the other tools. Rusty, like all of them. Its handle was loose. Or its head. You’d swing it and duck.
What’s that for? asked the halfling.
You’ve seen it?
Sure. It’s there with Dad’s tools.
Did you see the file?
And the halfling produced the file from the small pocket of her glittery jeans. Sue wondered at how thin the girl was. She won’t always be this thin. She won’t always be able to easily conceal tools on her person.
You have the ax?
What’s an ax?
It’s for chopping.
Who needs to chop? Use your teeth.
Then, in her dream and in her life, Sue’s incisor started to hurt.
She disliked the halfling for making it start. She disliked the halfling for other things, too. She was a runt. She wore these silly little shoes. Her shirt had jeweled poodles on it. Her spelling was amateurish. She insisted that Sue make all of her food. She’d call out the food she wanted and Sue would hop to get it, like a serf. She—Sue—was growing old from this. Her fingers were disfigured with stove burns. And now here she was, taking the kid on a cruise.
Where’s the water slide, Mommy?
The halfling was so happy her little shoes skimmed the deck’s surface as if it were iced.
Just then the water broke.
This is where Sue went out.
Then the part about the bicuspid—which was wrong. Wrong organ. Her bicuspid was fine. There were some things she wanted, though. Tools. Some things around there needed fixing.