by Rachel Theofanis
Adults have thirty-two teeth, give or take. When she smiled I could see eight of them. She lived in the apartment above mine. I liked to go to sleep early, so I could turn off the lights and listen to her steps sifting back and forth across the hardwood floors. I liked it when she was alone. It was much easier to see her that way. Stretched out on the couch in mismatched clothes. Her long white fingers raking through her dark unkempt hair. Reading a book, too. I know she had to have been a reader because I never heard a TV. I should have gone up there. I should have talked to her.
When she died I had nothing to listen to anymore. The sound of her footsteps was the music that filled my head and when she left that was all I could hear. I rarely slept, and when I did I dreamt about the teeth I couldn’t see and the girl I never met.
I didn’t know right away, of course. After a few days of smothering silence my intestines gained a life of their own and I could feel them writhing within me. No, I didn’t know for sure until Officer Argo called on me. I had been lying on the floor for three days, feeling the cool planks of wood against my cheek. I was on another planet but Argo’s heavy hand against the door brought me back to Earth.
His stocky frame filled the doorway and with the combination of that and his ashen skin I had the feeling I was dealing more with a wall and less with a man. He seemed friendly enough, but his wan smile never reached his tired eyes and I wasn’t sure what to make of him.
“Hi, my name is Detective Argo,” he said as he coolly flashed a badge. “Can I ask you a few questions?”
“Uh… Sure.” I hadn’t been doing anything terribly important.
Argo started to flip through a small, tattered notebook. “Mitchell Gedman, am I right? Lived here three years?”
My face involuntarily broke into a grin, and I replied. “So far so good.”
Argo returned the same slow smile and muttered, “Good, good…” as he slowly flipped through the worn pages of his notebook. “So what you been up to for the last couple of nights, Mitch? You don’t mind if I call you Mitch, do you?’
“I don’t mind, but I doubt you’d be very interested. I like my nights to myself.”
“Yeah, a few of your neighbors mentioned that they didn’t see you around much.” He ran one of his thick hands through his thinning, graying hair. The bitter stench of cigarette smoke clinging to his coat caused my face to contort in muted disgust as I stood waiting for some kind of explanation. I had not been doing anything very pressing but the interruption was unwelcome.
Argo’s smile fell as he slowly, deliberately looked up, the red notebook bending in his sweaty grip. “Were you familiar with a Olivia Hollis? Apartment right above yours?”
In ways he couldn’t imagine. “We were never introduced, but I’ve seen her around.”
For a brief moment a flash of fierce suspicion shone brightly through his dull features, then subsided. “Well… Well Mitch, I’m sorry to say Miss Hollis died the other night. Neighbor called when she noticed the door forced open and the place a mess.” He glanced down. “It wasn’t a pretty sight, let me tell ya.”
I couldn’t breathe. Olivia. Olivia, who only smiled with twenty-five percent of her teeth; who I could feel in every single pore of my body even though I didn’t know her, even though she was dead. My blood, electrically charged with this information, began to move as fast as it could in all directions at once. “Fuck.”
“Fuck’s right, Mitch. Now we need to know, did you notice anything strange the last couple of days? She lived right above you, I take it there’s a pretty good chance you might’ve heard something.”
I explained to Argo that I didn’t know anything, that I barely knew her. He didn’t put up much of a fuss but I could tell that he wasn’t that kind of a guy. I slowly shut the door and felt isolation put her smooth arms around me once more, but her embrace was colder after the lingering presence of Argo began to slowly dissipate. I went to the bathroom to take a look at myself in the mirror. I had recently lost my job over an unfortunate misunderstanding, and I felt no inclination to find something else to occupy my time. I picked up a hairbrush and pulled out one long, dark hair. I looked at it for a second before flicking it into the trash.
I lay face down on my couch, breathing in the musty fabric. I pressed myself in, deeper and deeper, and let the darkness surround me in miserable finality. I lay there for hours, days, maybe weeks; I’m not sure. I felt as if I was a bottom feeder in the deepest part of the sea, feeling the steady pressure pushing me further into myself. I thought about her long legs. I wondered if she chewed her nails. I didn’t know if she was messy or tidy. I wondered if she had a job, a boyfriend. I breathed into the cushion and let my hot breath warm my face.
I woke up to a phone ringing. I started feeling around under the cushions to see if it was there. Nobody ever called. I didn’t think I had to keep tabs on a cordless phone. I couldn’t find it but it just kept ringing. I had no answering machine, and the high-pitched trill never stopped. I stumbled into the bedroom and found the phone tucked neatly beneath the pillows of the bed I never found time to use.
“Hey Mitch.” Argo. “I spoke with you the other day regarding Olivia Hollis, the woman upstairs?”
I started to nod as I picked up a small charm that had been lying right next to the phone. “I remember,” I said, suddenly realizing I was on a phone and Argo might not be able to see me, wherever he was. The charm was tiny. It was a tiny silver dolphin, and it glittered as I turned it in the sliver of light available. I wasn’t sure where it had come from, but I guess if you have a bed as cold as this one all sorts of garbage might find its way in.
“Mitch, I was just wondering. Are you sure you didn’t know Olivia? I need to know. Was there anything going on between the two of you?” His voice was steady, soothing. “Your younger neighbors seem to suggest that the two of you had some sort of excessively private relationship. Or are they mistaken?”
I let the charm tumble through my fingers and didn’t look to see where it might have landed. I had no clue what this man was talking about. “There must be some sort of mistake. I didn’t know her. I never met her.”
“Now, I’m not one to judge Mitch, but if you had anything goin’ on with this woman you need to let me know.” His voice became louder, commanding the situation.
“I didn’t know her, trust me,” I said, right before I hung up and threw the phone across the room, watching it smash into little pieces. I wasn’t angry, far from it. There was just something in his voice that I didn’t like. I didn’t need a phone anyway.
I had fallen asleep again, and was woken by the sound of Argo’s voice. This time he was outside the door. It was nighttime, but I wasn’t sure how many days might have passed since I threw the phone against the wall. I slowly got up, my brain rattling along with Argo’s incessant pounding against the door. It would be better just to pretend I wasn’t there. Walking to the kitchen, I reached deep into the freezer to see if I could find something to eat. My head began to ache worse as I listened to Argo’s heavy fist crash into the groaning wood of the door. I continued to ignore him as my hands brushed against something cold, hard and unfamiliar. It definitely was not food, so I took a firm grip and yanked at it, pulling it out of the freezer.
I stared at what I held in my hands. The pounding grew louder and louder until I lost myself in it almost entirely. It was just me now. Just me and this grotesque thing I held with unfamiliar hands. I had to wonder, what on earth would I be doing with a pair of pliers caked in a thick layer of blood?
I sit up in this cold room, my eyes squinting against the harsh light coming in from the window. I think about her white teeth, her dark hair, and the pale softness of her white skin. Argo’s the only one who ever visits me here. But I guess nobody ever visited me before, anyway. He only asks me one question:
“We need to know Mitch, what did you do with her teeth?”