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Holly Woodword

The dad downstairs is smoking on the stoop as I come out. He winces at my smile. His daughter scrapes chalk on the steps. Behind the first-floor window, their Staffordshire bull terrier whimpers, a string of drool swinging onto his pillow.

            My neighbor calls, “Cool it, Chancho.”

            The dog whines more quietly through a window stickered with clear gel Easter eggs, which remind me of the transparent frog on a leaf I saw last night on TV. Female frogs leave eggs for the male to guard. Wasps attack his back, mottled like the sacs to deflect the insects from their real target. While he kicks the wasps attacking his skin--the leaf full of his young quivers--the larvae sense danger and break their shells to drop underwater. Wasps suck out the slow ones. Nights, I drink and watch Nature to warn myself of dangers children trail behind them.

            The girl draws eyes with green chalk, three eyes on each step. She bites her lower lip in concentration. Her front gums show the ridges of teeth cutting in and a top incisor hangs loose.

            I say, “Things are happening under the surface.”

She rubs her fingers together, then says, “I didn’t know the tooth fairy was a guy, and I have to sleep dressed.”

            I touch my snaggletooth. “Did you know that this tooth is called an eye tooth?”

            “Can you see with it?”

            “If we saw with our teeth every meal would be a horror show.” I look down at the steps. “I spy with my little tooth a drawing. What is it?”

            “A princess.”

            I tilt my head. “How can you tell?”

            "Because nobody likes her.” She draws red lines through the eyeballs. “They pretend they do, but that makes them hate themselves, too.”

            “Children rule the world,” her dad says.

            She tells him, “I want a crown.”

            “Crowns hurt,” I warn as I step down to the sidewalk.

            Dad says, “And they cost two thousand dollars.”

            “You got a crown, Daddy.” As I walk down the steps, she follows me. “Where are you going?”

            “To school.”

            “I envy you being free,” he says.

            “How can she be free if she’s in school?” She squints up at me. “Why are you still in school?”

            “I want to learn things.”

            “What things?” She puts her hands on her hips.

            “I don’t know.” I lift my shoulders. “What I don’t know.”

            “Then how do you know you don’t know them?”

            “Questions! Like how do teeth know when to come? What if teeth didn’t know to stop growing and they just got longer and longer, and you had to grind your teeth down at night, in your sleep? That’s what happens with rat teeth. If you strapped their jaw closed, their teeth would grow through their skull.” I chomp a bit. “Sharks have rows of teeth so they just keep coming. The bull shark has fifty rows. They go through 35,000 teeth each.”

            “I can’t wait to get real teeth.”

            “You have real teeth,” Dad says. “You sink them into me all the time. Chancho barks but you bite.” He looks at his phone ringing and grimaces. “Your principal is calling? What did you do now?” He tosses his cigarette to cup his ear to the phone, nodding as if the principal could see, and says, “OK.” He clicks off the call and turns to his daughter. “She says you ran out at the fire alarm, and the teacher had to leave the children lined up in the room to run after you.”

            “It’s a fire, everybody just stands there. I don’t want to die.”

            I look at the chalked eyes she’d filled with jagged lines. “They look like cracked eggs. Are you going hunt for eggs this weekend?”

            “Daddy lost his phone in the bushes.”

            I nod. I had found and left it discretely by their door—not for the first time. He can’t find his keys after the bar and crawls in through his window. Once, he took his clothes off in the yard—not sure why.

            Let’s switch the subject. “What did you do for Saint Patrick’s Day?”

            “I threw up.”

            “Four times,” Dad says. “And she isn’t even drinking, yet.”

            “Well, Easter will be fun,” I try.

            The girl draws pink eyelashes. “This year, don’t touch my eggs, Daddy.”

            I hear the whoosh of the street sweeper at the corner light and see my neighbor’s car is the lone one parked in the tow zone. “They’re going to ticket you.”

            “I have a flat tire.” He runs, arms flailing, to the driver in the mini cart that pulls alongside his parked Dodge Caravan.

            I think, I could just swoop the child up right now.

            She looks up at me, her tongue pushing a front tooth hanging by a thread. “Do you know how to lose a tooth?”

            I know all the wrong things. I reach into her mouth which smells of bubble gum and I tug at the tooth. It comes free.

            I warned, “Don’t swallow it, the fairy doesn’t want to poke about your toilet.”

            She shuts her mouth and when she opens it, the tooth is gone. We look on the ground.

            A drop of blood on her lower lip. “What will I tell the fairy?”

            I make a zipping motion across pressed lips as Dad runs back across the street, and says, “What have you done now?”

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