After a distinguished career of doling out quarters in exchange for incisors, the Tooth Fairy died Monday — on my bedspread, amid a sprinkling of premolars, hand-written notes, and a bottle of common craft store glitter.
Born of a child’s yen for magic and a parent’s gift for deception, the centuries-old Ms. Fairy was useful in soothing children’s understandable anxiety over losing small but significant body parts to the stubborn stick of a Starburst or the brutish yank of a string tied to a doorknob. You’d think the idea of a wily nymph infiltrating their bedrooms to retrieve dental detritus while they sleep would freak out most kids. But, in fact, her legend brought comfort to untold ragamuffins, inexplicably but effectively distracting them from even the gaping, fleshy hole now lurking in their once-craggy gums.
But earlier this week — in a moment as sudden and startling as the one that separates a “loose tooth” from a “lost tooth” — the fairy perished.
And I’m the one who killed her. Although, to be fair, my 9-year-old had already maimed her; I was just putting her out of her misery.
After more than a dozen personal rounds of the universal tooth-loss cycle (wiggle-yank-pillow-cash, wiggle-yank-pillow-cash), my son’s preadolescent skepticism finally got the better of his juvenile faith. And while we all know human disease begins with medical symptoms — a nagging cough, a sharp pain — I’ve learned the demise of mythic figures begins with questions.
Ghastly, gut-wrenching, and altogether quite rational questions.
“Mom, how come when you lose a tooth on vacation, the Tooth Fairy doesn’t leave purple fairy dust on your pillow?”
“Why do you still get money when you accidentally spit your tooth down the sink drain and can’t leave it for her?”
“The note she left last time was burnt around the edges like a cool old pirate map, and this one is straight and plain and boring. Do you think she’s mad at me?”
When the Toothless Interrogator went to bed last week after sacrificing a beloved bicuspid to a stale Tootsie Roll, he left a note for the fairy reading, “Cash please. As much as you can.” When he awoke the next morning and accused the poor slandered pixie of not only being cheap but of stealing a gold coin from his piggy bank and trying to pass it off as a new one (for the record, I assure you, she did not), I knew a mercy killing was the only way to preserve her dignity.
I quietly took the fourth-grade cynic into my room, sat him down gently on my bed, and pulled a secret box from the back of a dresser drawer. I opened it and laid all its evidence in front of him — evidence of my love, evidence of my lies. Thirteen polished white pebbles clicked and clacked as they spilled out before him. Old notes scrawled in silver cursive rustled as I unfurled them. And the plastic jar of, ahem, fairy dust hit the blanket with a graceless thud.
We stared at it all, together, in silence. His eyes welled up a bit, and he pouted for several minutes, refusing to speak to me while sorting his resentment from his embarrassment from his disappointment.
It’s never easy burying a friend, but his grief was ultimately soothed by the promise of the future — a time when he would get to help us perpetrate the same ruthless deception on his poor, naïve little brother, who still has a mouthful of baby teeth.
In his own way, then, he has pledged to see Ms. Fairy’s death avenged. An eye for an eye, as they say…