Ivories

Donna felt swallowed by Christmas. It was meant to be about a lowly manger, a guiding star, three wise men, and a saviour child; add to that a huge turkey, your family, and good cheer. But all of this was eclipsed by present buying, which was all that anybody cared about these days; what I bought you; what you bought me; was it a good gift; did you get it cheap from somewhere; was it a fair exchange?

She decided that the best way to get unusual gifts at good prices was to visit winter markets. They followed the same ethos as farmers markets – you must grow, make, or bake it yourself – but with more focus on making than growing. She often bought consumable goods such as jams, cakes, and cheeses; soft things that she could also try herself; her dentures didn’t like toffee or nuts. She also got some items that lasted, so people would remember her gifts.

Lucerne’s winter market took place two weeks before Christmas, featuring a mix of artists, sculptors, farmers and housewives, and students and single mothers supplementing their incomes. “Hello there!” said a woman selling jewellery. “Would you like to try on anything?”

Donna cast her eye over the stall. It wasn’t quite to her taste – irregular beads strung together; some matched in pairs of ascending or descending sizes – but the style seemed somehow familiar; also the woman seemed familiar.

Donna said, “I feel I know you from somewhere. Do you live in Lucerne?”

Rather than smiling, the woman looked worried and turned away, saying, “I’m not from Lucerne; I’m just a visiting trader.”

“But it seems like I’ve met you before. Were you here last year?”

The woman saw that Donna wasn’t leaving so decided to distract her. “Why don’t you try on this necklace?” she said.

Donna examined the white chunks strung on a slim golden wire. “What beautiful stones. What are they, chips of marble?”

“Erm, not quite.” It seemed that the woman wanted to talk, and not to talk, at the same time; she had something to be proud of and also to hide. Donna persisted with questions till she had no option but to tell the truth, which is always easier than lying. “I make jewellery from teeth,” she said.

“Teeth!” said Donna. “Those are all teeth? What kind of teeth?”

“Well, all kinds of teeth. I get them mainly from vets and zoos, and people send me teeth when their pets die, to fashion into sentimental items. Did you want to try this on?”

Donna was not so sure. “What’s it made of?”

“It’s sheep’s and goat’s teeth. I stain and polish them individually, that’s why you thought they were marble. But stone quarrying is a dirty business; mine is entirely clean; there’s zero carbon footprint.”

Donna had to admit that the necklace looked good on her. The teeth together looked like the crest of a wave, or a small mountain range, curving over her bosom.

“What’s that one?” she said, pointing to a bracelet.

“That’s made with dog’s teeth, and the next one is cat’s teeth. I’ve even made one with mouse teeth for a girl with cancer.”

Donna tried on some shark’s tooth earrings, then some made of dolphin’s teeth. The woman said, “Teeth aren’t all solid you know. They’re made of multiple tissues of varying density and hardness. And herbivore’s and carnivore’s teeth are very different – being used to chew and grind, versus hunting prey and tearing meat. Different species can have one, two or many sets of teeth, and you can tell the age of horses from their tooth eruption patterns. Elephants’ tusks are specialized incisors for digging up food and fighting. Narwhals have one giant unicorn-like tooth, containing millions of sensory pathways…”

Donna wondered why she was talking so rapidly, telling her all of these strange things about teeth. Was she feeling nervous about something? Maybe her jewellery was junky. Donna returned the items and walked away.

The woman was relieved that Donna hadn’t noticed the case of platinum rings set with human teeth. She had briefly dated Lucerne’s dentist last year, and persuaded him to do her some favours, like extracting teeth from patients to order. She’d once pulled on a surgical mask and acted as his assistant, telling him which ones she wanted. Was this the woman he’d persuaded to have all of her top teeth removed?

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One Response to “Ivories”

  1. Shanti1 Says:

    Dentists are creeps anyway

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