South of Anchorage, accessible only from a mud-rutted road off Seward Highway, lies the town of Lodgepole. After midnight, among the blueberry bushes of White Birch Park, a man climbs on top of a woman and begins making love to her. As her ****** rises he puts his hands around her throat, shutting off her air. She struggles, not to stop him, but to stop herself from trying instinctively to pull his hands off her throat. As the top joints of his thumb meet at the front of her throat she comes, her cry of ****** ricocheting around inside her forever.
Daryl Putnam, handsome, bookish, wakes up from a nightmare and decides to do something he hasn't done in years. Take a walk outside at night. Down in the park, at the lime green shores of Little Muncho Lake, he comes across the body of the strangled woman.
The four-story Lodgepole Apartments building stood silent on its hill. Window rows dark, moonlit outer walls awash with tree shadows.
Through a third floor window a moonbeam moved over carpet, wrapping ocher around a bedpost, rising up the grain, at the top popping off onto the bed, illuminating a curve of flesh, the ridge of bone between cheekbone and eyebrow.
Daryl Putnam lifted his head off his pillow, coughing. He lopsidedly propped himself up in the darkness on his elbows, squinting at the darkness above the foot of his bed, face handsome and bookish.
He coughed again. This time something hard and heavy rattled into his mouth.
The digital clock on the nightstand read 2:34.
He swung his bare legs over the side of the mattress, sitting on the edge, long, narrow feet touching down on the carpet by the nightstand's legs. He experimented bringing his teeth together. A painful crunch amplified itself through his facial bones.
He put his upturned hand under his mouth and spat in the darkness. Something wet and heavy hit his palm.
Lamp on, he stared dumbly at the gold and porcelain crown lying upside down across his lifeline. Although he had the crown put in nearly ten years ago, while living in Vermont, it still looked brand new.
He poked his tongue around his upper front teeth where the crown had been. All that was left was a swollen rim of gum with, at its center, the point of root to which the crown had been cemented. As his tongue tip probed the point it bent to the left, broke off, and fell behind his lower row of front teeth.
"F**k!" He jumped to his feet, licking the curved backs of his lower incisors to scoop the tip out. His fingers felt around his lower lip, found the point. Against his index finger's top pad it looked like a tiny white arrowhead.
That was it. The anchor was gone, which meant the crown couldn't be recemented, which meant to fill the gap they'd have to drill a metal post up into his jawbone, which meant he'd have to live with a gap in his teeth because he couldn't afford it.
He stood in his underpants in the lamplight beside his bed. Took in as much air as he could through his nose, then opened his sad lips to let the air out in a long, unhappy sigh. I'm all alone. I'm all alone, I'm less than ten years past my teenage years, and now I'm losing my teeth.
His head hung. His lips pressed together. Standing alone in the lamplight, he started crying.
After the worse of his sobs passed he swung his head slowly side to side, snuffling, trying to get out of his depression. F**king tooth. Using his tongue tip, he pushed angrily against the root of tooth still hard in the socket.
As his tongue moved away the root itself fell out, sharp pieces landing on his tongue.
Head jerking back, he spit into his palm again, covering the shiny porcelain and gold crown with ivory shards and blood-flecked bubbles.
This time he didn't swear.
Hunching his shoulders, hearing his heart, he reached into his mouth, eyes blinking, and put thumb and index finger around the tooth next to the hole. As the two fingerpads touched the wet sides of the tooth he felt, between the pads, a shift. To be sure, he gingerly wriggled the tooth. It split with an audible crack.
He took his hand out of his mouth. "F**k!" When he said the word the split tooth, still embedded in his gum, rattled.
He put his hand back in his mouth, grasping the slippery halves. Breathing around a squeamish hollowness in the center of his chest, he started pulling down.
Don't let me lose my grip. Please don't.
He pulled harder, shutting his eyes against the pain radiating up into his nostrils. Finally, with a muffled tearing sound, out it came, two red and white jigsaw pieces.
He rubbed his palm over his forehead, trying to think. I must have had an infection up there for some time but never knew--no discomfort, no bad taste.
His tongue tip explored the double socket. Something hard and jagged poked back.
His hand shook as it went back in his mouth.
The protrusion he could feel appeared to be the triangular tip of something wider under the gum.
Grasping the tip, he pulled down. The yank jerked his head forward, but only a little more of the tip pulled out. Determined, he pulled again, and again, head bobbing forward, the crawly panic in his chest rising, blood polka-dotting his tongue and lower teeth.