Bridgework

An Urban Fantasy Short Story by Judith Field

Bridgework

by Judith Field

 

Judith Field was born in Liverpool, UK and lives in London. She writes because it’s in her DNA. She’s the daughter of writers and learned how to agonize over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee.  Her father had started writing before she was born, and her mother started when she was about 14. Judith was encouraged to write as a kid and her father used to set her little writing challenges, then they’d discuss what she’d written. He was a stern critic when she was older.

Her short stories, mainly speculative, have appeared in a variety of publications in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Her grandson inspired her first published story when he broke her laptop keyboard. Unlike in the story, a magical creature didn’t come out of the laptop and fix her life.

Judith speaks five languages and can say “Please publish this story” in all of them. She is also a pharmacist, freelance journalist, editor, medical writer, and indexer. She was awarded an MA in Creative Writing from the Open University in 2018.

She’s writing a Victorian science fantasy novel at the moment, not long to go now. If only life didn’t get in the way!

 

 

 

What’s the first thing you see when you meet people? My mate Karen says that the first thing she notices, about men anyway, is their left hand because she has a crafty look at it to see if they are wearing a ring. And she says the first thing she notices about women is their backside, she sneaks a peek at that so she can suss out the competition. My mum clocks their eyes, or clothes.

But I don’t. I notice teeth. Good ones, I don’t remember after the first meeting. But bad ones? A deal breaker for me, especially when it comes to men. Well, would you want to kiss someone knowing there were a load of crowded discoloured stumps in there? Not to mention the breath.

So it was only natural that when I left school I’d end up working in dentistry. I didn’t fancy saddling myself with five years’ worth of student debt, so I got a job as a trainee nurse, with dentist Natalie, otherwise trading as “Non-judgmental Gentle Dental Care Ltd.”. Although, I’m not quite sure the first word’s really me – I can tell you, I couldn’t fancy any of our customers Most of them looked like they were strangers to a toothbrush, with teeth all different sizes crammed in one behind the other like crowds pushing to get into the sales.

I don’t listen when people make silly comments about needles, drills and all that. Dentistry is fascinating. It’s just like detective work, you can tell a lot about someone’s lifestyle from their teeth. Of course, it’s obvious when they eat a lot of sweets, but you know if someone’s fond of booze, if they smoke, even if they drink a lot of tea. There’s no hiding – your dentist will find you out.

Natalie was chuffed to get the contract with Star Lodge residential care home. So was I, I think old people are cute. They seem so cheerful, somehow. Just like granddads and nanas.

Most of the residents came to us for treatment, but for those who weren’t mobile we went there with a portable drill and a box of tools. One rainy afternoon just before Easter we visited to do some try-ins for a couple of bridges. We’d done all the impressions and stuff in the surgery but there was no need to drag the patients and the nurses out just for a first fitting.

We went into the nurses’ office, hung up our coats and brollies and put on our white overalls. They were the usual high-necked dentist job, but I’d got mum to take mine in, so at least anyone who bothered to look could tell I had a waist. A nurse came in.

You can’t use the usual room today, we’ve got the decorators in. But nobody needs anything urgent, so just do Stanley’s and Mrs Wright’s bridges for now. I’ve put them in the small lounge. Hope that’s OK.” A shrilling alarm sounded and she dashed back out again before we could answer.

We washed our hands and pulled on thin rubber gloves. Picking up our bags, we walked down the corridor till we found the lounge. Nat stopped in the doorway and wagged a finger at me. “Now, Amy, I’m just going to have a word with the manager. Until I get back, I’m tasking you with being proactive when you interact with the clients. Bridge the synergy gap between client and provider. Engage with them.”

I rolled my eyes. “But I always chat to them. You don’t need to tell me.”

Empower them,” she went on, as though she hadn’t heard me. “Make sure they don’t feel marginalised.”

Nat is full of that sort of talk. I think she must have been on a course some time because I can’t believe she’d always done it. I smiled to myself, imagining her telling her nursery teacher she was working smarter not harder. I wouldn’t have been the slightest bit surprised just now if she’d told me to run one of the bridges up a flagpole and see who saluted. But she didn’t, she gave me the two new bridges to look after and went off to engage with the manager (now I’m doing it too, must be catching).

I went into the lounge. The walls were painted pale yellow, hung with a mismatch of hand-sewn tapestry pictures of biblical scenes and spindly-legged knights on horseback. A forty-inch flat screen TV on a table in the far left hand corner blared out Celebrity Antiques Road Trip to nobody. In the opposite corner a man wearing overalls held a tape measure against the wall. He turned and leered at me and I saw he had a gold crown covering his left upper central (that’s one of the two front teeth that people sing about wanting for Christmas). As if that wasn’t bad enough, it was inset with a great lump of crystal bling that was nearly as big as the crown. I gave him a smirk and put my bag down next to one of the armchairs lining the walls, all different heights and widths like teeth with a misaligned bite.

Two people waited to see us, sitting in the middle of the room. One was an old lady with dark pink hair, sitting in a recliner chair. She wore a flowery sack-like dress, white tights and pink fluffy mules. Her mouth was all pursed up like a cat’s bum smeared in pink shiny lipstick. That was Mrs Wright, she was the exception to the cute rule and God help you if you called her Vera. The other was Stanley, wearing a short-sleeved shirt and a grey woollen tank top. He sat in a wheelchair with a crocheted multicoloured blanket covering the gap where his legs should have been. He was slim, with twinkly eyes. Old people always seem to have enormous ears, I read somewhere that they don’t stop growing. But Stanley’s were a bit pointed as well. It gave him a sort of otherworldy look.

I knew him and Mrs Wright well, in fact I’d only seen them about two weeks before, but not a flicker of recognition showed on either of their faces. So I started with the proactive stuff.

I waved at them. “Hello, I’m Amy. From the dentists’?”

They stared at me. I tried to think of things that a “provider” should say, to demarginalise the clients, or whatever it was Nat had said. Hairdressers talk about holidays, but I couldn’t really do that as the nearest most of them got to one of those was when they came to the surgery. So I resorted to that British standby conversation topic.

Nice drop of rain we’re having just now,” I said, nodding towards the window. On the other side was the car park, and I could see that Nat hadn’t closed the window on her side of the car properly. If the rain didn’t stop soon, she’d have a wet bum by the time we got back to the surgery.

But not so cold.” Stanley wheeled himself towards me. “Nice to meet you, lovey. Call me Stan.”

Poor soul, he didn’t remember me. He stretched out his hand and I shook it. One of the bridges was his and I passed it to him. I took his record card out of my bag and scanned the chart on the front. He had all his own teeth apart from the missing two premolars we’d built the bridge to replace.

He put the bridge in and it clicked into place. “Lovely like,” he said, with a smile.

Are you sure? Try biting down on it for a bit. Go on, get angry with it.”

I’ve got nothing to be angry about. It’s great.”

Nat came in and I handed her Mrs Wright’s bridge. She’d drawn the short straw there, serve her right for taking so long gassing to the boss.

You going on holiday this year?” Stanley said.

I’m meant to be asking you that,” I said. “But yes – I’m off to Malia next week.”

Crete.”

Yes. Know it?” I felt like kicking myself then, because Stanley wasn’t the sort who could just pop on a plane. And I somehow couldn’t see him on the floor all night in the disco.

Sure thing.” He nodded. “My job took me round the world. Went there lots of times. Very white teeth, the Cretans.”

Yes, well, I’m looking forward to ten days of sun, sea and…er, sightseeing. My friend’s getting the tickets first thing tomorrow morning, I cleaned out my savings account at lunchtime. I’m going round to hers after work to give her the money.” Karen had wanted payment in cash. I stashed the bag under my chair.

Nat asked Mrs Wright to try her bridge. She shook her head. “Aren’t you going to screw the teeth into me gums?”

No, you’re not suitable for implants,” Nat said. “I’ve made you a bridge, remember?”

Mrs Wright snatched the bridge and shoved it into her mouth.

They’re lovely!” Nat said. “Here, take a look.” She got a mirror out of her overall pocket.

Lovely? They’re a man’s teeth. All big and square. And they’re yellow.”

Nat’s voice got a bit high pitched and fast and she spoke in plain English. “But they look just like the rest of yours and you chose them to match the ones you’ve got left. You chose them before I took those bad ones out. Remember?”

Remember? I’m still having nightmares. Drilled on the nerve, you did. Dragged me round the room.”

Stanley rolled his eyes upwards. “Drilled on the nerve. Dragged her round. Bet hers came out as easy as that.” He snapped his fingers. “She’s just like everyone, they all want little white teeth with round corners, never mind what their own upper laterals look like.”

It was true. Sometimes I don’t know why we bother with the colour and shape charts.

You know a lot about dentistry, Stan,” I said. “Were you in the business?” Maybe he’d been with the forces, or an international dental supplies rep.

Not me. I used to be a tooth fairy.”

Poor old Stan. It wasn’t that long ago that we were chatting about politics, or rather he did the talking and I listened. “Oh? Er…tell me about it.”

Well, didn’t you wonder why I’ve got most of me own teeth? Wouldn’t do to have a fairy with falsies. It was simple enough work. Kids used to leave a tooth under their pillow, I’d leave them a shilling, that’s five pence to you.”

You meanie, I used to get more than that for mine.”

Yes well, it’d gone up to half a crown by the time I retired, that’s twelve and a half pence. Get a pound or more now, talk about spoilt.”

I can’t see you in a fairy ballet dress.”

No, it wouldn’t have suited me. I didn’t have the legs for it.”

I apologized.

No matter. But less of your sexism, you can have male fairies. I used to wear a sort of all-in-one catsuit thing, mustard colour it was, with little holes in the back for my wings…” His voice tailed off, his eyelids closed and his head drooped forward. He began to snore, but it didn’t dislodge the bridge.

I heard a thud on the carpet in the corridor and a scream. Nat rushed outside. “Amy!” she shouted “Quick!”

I ran out. Nat supported the head and shoulders of an old lady, lying next to a walking frame on its side. There were no nurses to be seen. “Pull the alarm, Amy.”

As I tugged at the red cord dangling from the ceiling in front of the doorway I heard Stanley shout “Oi!” from the lounge. The man in overalls charged out, knocking me to the floor. He ran down the corridor away from us and through the door at the far end that led into the car park.

Stanley wheeled himself out into the corridor. My bag, where I’d stashed the holiday money, was on his lap. It was open, and the purse was missing. “What a shame. Sorry I was asleep or I’d have caught the sod. Or at least, I’d have run him over, stop him having it away on his toes like that.”

I sat and sobbed. One of the decorators came in, followed by the nurse. Nat explained what had happened. “And you’re going nowhere,” she said to the decorator. ‘We’re going to call the police and you’re going to tell them where they can find him.”

How do I know?” the decorator said. “He wasn’t one of ours. You should know us, nurse, we’ve been here often enough. Didn’t come in with us, did he? Thought you’d asked someone else to see if they could do it cheaper.”

The nurse gasped. “No, Bert. He rang the bell and told Reception he was working with you.”

And then went into another room and waited for his chance.” My voice thickened. Nat put her arm round me. “Can I go home?” I said. “The police aren’t going to do anything, anyway. Just fill in a few forms and offer me counselling. That won’t get me to Malia.”

Now look,” Nat said. “You have to step up to the plate. We have to be proactive about challenges like this, that man won’t just hand himself in. We’ll all be able to give them a description.”

You might be able to, but I can’t – all I can remember is one of his teeth, the lairy sod. Yellow metal with a lump of bling.” I looked round at the mismatched chairs and the dismal pictures. I’d been left with as much chance of a holiday as Stanley and Mrs Wright.

About two weeks later, I sat by my bedroom window. That morning the sun had woken me with its brightness, but now it was afternoon and the sky was solid grey. I thought of Karen and all the others, sunning themselves in Malia. Drops of rain splashed against the glass. running down like tears. Even the sheets on my bed were grey, slate with charcoal edges, the colour of an amalgam filling. Really classy, of course at least on a bed, but just then I found them even more miserable than the weather. I got a yellow set out of the cupboard. Maybe they’d help me feel a bit happier.

When I moved my pillow, something underneath it skittered across the bed and landed on the floor. I knelt down. It was a tooth, capped with yellow metal and inset with a lump of bling. The root was still attached. I stared at it: a left upper central. I swear it hadn’t been there the night before.

I sneaked the tooth into work and drilled the cap off while Nat was out at lunch. The metal dented a bit as I gripped it in the forceps, but the stone didn’t scratch when my hand slipped and I touched it with the drill. I held it on my outstretched palm. The metal looked warm somehow, and the stone sparkled. So I took it to the jeweller.

*

Nat and I had to go back to Star Lodge a week later. Stanley was in the lounge, watching “Peter Andre’s 60 Minute Makeover.

What are you doing here?” he said. “I thought you was going on your hols.”

The money got stolen, remember?”

He leaned forward. “And?”

Well, funny you should ask but I got it back.” I decided to spare him the details. I had a feeling it wasn’t entirely legit.

So why are you here?”

It all happened too late to buy the ticket. Never mind, maybe next year.”

He rolled his eyes. “There’s no helping some people. If you changed your bed linen more often you’d have been in time. Grey sheets!” He tutted. “You kids. Reckon they don’t show the dirt, or something?”

It had to be a lucky guess, but I felt a fluttering in my stomach. “You cheeky so and so. My laundry’s my own business.”

Stanley put his hands up. “OK, don’t get off yer bike.” He wheeled himself forward and turned the volume up on the television. Returning to me, he whispered in my ear. “But look, love. The fairy code is to wait for the teeth to fall out. But I’m like your dentist bint, I say sometimes you have to be proactive.”

So I gave him a pound. Well, It was the least I could do, wasn’t it?

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


2 × two =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.