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Wednesday, 4 November 2015

'Dentures' by Mik Maes


They shout at the sky while rain pellets the grey streets. Tracksuit jackets over brown corduroy pants and duct-taped tennis shoes. They sit on corners, vacantly staring at something nobody else sees, a battered cup in front of them to catch the pitiful tributes that people offer them. They roam the parks, pushing carts filled with incomprehensible treasures, muttering seemingly random words, looting trashcans for breakfast, supper or lunch.

They are a sign of a thriving city. A blemish, but also an affirmation. For do they not scavenge for wealth carelessly thrown away by those who are able to live in abundance? These are the people who did not make it, those who got in over their heads, those who could not keep up with the rat race that is obligatory for a significant metropolis. Some call them parasites, others say they’re victims. Officials want to eradicate them, but what is a city without vagrants? Are they not, in some sense, a medal? A living testament of the decadence a city needs to be seen as worthwhile? When there are no vagabonds, there is nothing to gain, for they feed on the spoils of those more successful.

But what do they speak of, huddled together around an oil drum filled with burning trash? What tales do they weave while sharing a bottle of cheap liquor wrapped in brown paper? It is easy to forget that the stories we watch on our brightly lit screens from the safe comfort of our homes are all born from stories told ages ago around campfires, stories told to keep the darkness away. To make sense of it all, or even told to be able to laugh in the face of hardship. The same stories these unfortunates tell each other while the alcohol warms their souls, anything to keep the cold and wet at bay. Do they speak of those who made it back to the cold bosom of society? Or those who disappeared between the cracks of society altogether? Perhaps their tales are darker still, coarse and thick tongued whispers about somebody, something, thriving in exile. Giving boons to those who follow his, its, path. A speckle of hope in the gloom, burning even brighter on the fuel of second grade booze or diluted heroin. Something to dream about while rain soaks ragged sleeping bags. A king of rags and rotten teeth, a pope of trash and decay. Sitting on a throne of chicken bones and mangled spectacles, spewing forth prophecies and casting runes made from rusted scrap metal.


Ralph was drunk, horny and angry, not necessarily in that order when he stumbled over the vagrant sleeping on the sidewalk. He’d been spending his Friday night in a not too shabby bar downtown. Slamming down beers and bourbon chasers while looking for somebody to take home that night. He smelled like money, and he knew it. Wearing a gilded armor of suit, tie, Italian brogues, manicure and flashing white dentures. So what if it took him half a dozen tablets of prescription tranquilizers to get him through the work day? He was rich, successful and ready to get down. Getting down, in this case, meaning taking a drunken floozy home who only liked him for his money, not being able to come in her face like he’d like to due to the anti-depressants he needed not to blow his own brains out each time he looked in the mirror and explaining afterwards that no, it wasn’t her, it was just the booze. And yes, of course he’d call her. The world was his oyster. Problem was, it was one of those oysters that makes you really, really sick.
Yes, Ralph was drunk, horny and angry. Drunk because he needed to be drunk to keep him from taking a long, hard look at himself. Horny because, well, he was horny. And angry because he’d just spend a hundred dollars on buying drinks for women who had no interest in going home with him to his condo that he had had decorate so stylishly by a ridiculously expensive decorator. ‘The ladies will love this!’ the faggot had told him, giving him a suggestive wink while Ralph signed the check, his hand holding the pen so tightly that his knuckles turned white.

Even though the bar had proven barren hunting grounds, Ralph was determined to get his dick wet, and since he had already blown so many hard earned dollars on getting laid, he decided he might as well spend some more and go for a more certain approach: Salon Lotus. Sure, the girls were expensive and he hated the condescending look Madame Lotus never failed to give him when he entered her lounge through the beaded curtain, but it was a discreet place and no explanations for performance issues were required as long as money changed hands. Walking through the drizzling rain, he was trying to decide between Lilly, who was lithe and playful or Chrysanthemum, that darker beauty with a mouth that would make a sailor blush, when he tripped over that fucking bum. Stumbled and fell to his hands and knees. Mud and filth on his hands and soaking his pants. And while in this rather indignant position all of a sudden years of repressed self-loathing and rage washed over him.

The previously sleeping homeless man had been woken by the jolt of somebody tripping over his outstretched legs and mumbled something that could either be an apology or a curse. ‘You fucking parasite’, Ralph hissed as he ungraciously got back on his feet. ‘You filthy, stinking, nasty piece of SHIT!’ He tried to wipe the mud off of his pants, but only managed to smudge it further. ‘Do you see this suit you pissant?! This cost me more money than you’ll probably see in a lifetime. I worked for this, you fuck, I worked hard for this while you’re laying there on the street like some fucking animal. Like a fucking pig wallowing in the mud!’ The homeless man, much to his credit, had gotten up and tried to help clean up Ralph with a rag produced from somewhere between the many layers of random clothing he was wearing. Ralph, in turn, staggered back in horror. ‘Don’t touch me. Don’t you dare fucking touch me with those filthy claws.’ Rage consumed him, and he allowed it. He allowed it and it felt wonderful. The bum started to speak, and before Ralph knew it he’d punched that wretched subject of his indignity straight in the nose. The bum sat down with a grunt, blood streaming over his cracked lips and staining his ragged beard. ‘Don’t’, Ralph gasped. ‘Don’t say anything. Just get a fucking job.’

The homeless man, whose name was Richard and who happened to once have had a job as a plumber before his greedy boss laid him off to hire a cheaper, younger worker after which he struggled to no avail to find a new job while his wife left him and the comfort of alcohol replaced her warm embrace and he drowned in that embrace until he found himself on the streets, all his possessions having been sold off by repo men, used the same rag he tried to clean up the immaculate yuppie with to stop the blood still gushing from his nose. Suddenly, his muddied eyes became full of life. ‘I tried to be nice, mister. I tried to be nice, but you shouldn’t of done that.’ His bloodstained beard opened up in a wicked grin filled with broken teeth. ‘No sir, you shouldn’t of done that.’ Disgust contorted Ralph’s face as he wiped the back of his hand against his pants. ‘Fuck you.’, he hissed and turned away, looking for a cab to take him home. Ralph was done for tonight, Madame Lotus would have to wait to smirk at him until another time. As he walked off, the bum, the homeless man, Richard, spat out a gob of blood on the glinstering concrete, grinned, and smeared it into an intricate symbol that only a few fellow downtrodden would recognise. It glowed momentarily in the moonlight before the rain washed it away.


Ralph entered his apartment, the huge windows letting in beams of moonlight, illuminating with a cold glow his expensive furniture and the immense original Gregor Hildebrandt that adorned the wall. A painting that might have driven certain connoisseurs nearly to tears by its perfection but got no appreciation from Ralph at all except for the fact that it was expensive and matched the drapes and carpet. Without even giving it a glance he stomped towards his bedroom, threw his clothes into the dry cleaners basket, cleaned his dentures, popped two sleeping pills and laid down on the king-size bed. What a fucking night. Slowly the Eszopiclone doused the slumbering anger until finally Ralph fell asleep.

Saturday, he fucked Lilly, which at least gave him some satisfaction. Like always when he paid Madame Lotus, her obvious distaste for him irritated him. He was a paying customer, the bitch should be grateful for his patronage. Sunday he went to the gym and later worked on a presentation for the following week, something that if all went well might earn the company a very wealthy new client. As he struggled with his keynote he had to swallow back two Xanax with a glass of Glenlivet to keep the anxiety manageable. He ordered in some Thai food and ate it without joy while staring at his immense television. A couple more glasses of Scotch, the usual meticulous ritual of cleaning his dentures and he was ready for bed.

That night he dreamt of college. That one night in the frat house when Susan’s brother had kicked Ralphs teeth in and threatened to do much worse if he ever so much at glanced at her again. While he lay curled up on the floor holding his dislocated jaw, Susan had spat in his face and kicked him in the ribs for good measure. As if the whore hadn’t wanted it. And if she hadn’t. she should have. He was Ralph Baker, son of Charles Baker. His family had more money than a poor girl like her-one of those pathetic scholarship cases that should not even be allowed in a college as fine as this one-could even imagine. But she told her low life thug of a brother which ended up earning Ralph a new set of teeth and a month of horrible humiliation before the dentures were ready.
In this dream, however, it was the bum from outside of the bar that spat in his face. The brother a creature with a rat-like snout and burning red eyes, the teeth on the floor now maggots that squirmed away while his frat brothers who stood around him laughing turned into swarms of flies buzzing and buzzing and the buzzing of his alarm clock finally woke him drenched in sweat and clutching at his jaw.


The keynote was done, but Ralph was running late. It had taken him longer than he thought, his concentration ruined by recurring dreams of the night he lost his teeth. Dreams that had been getting more intense and harder to shake the following day. As he was shaving, the face looking back at him was grey and haggard. The bags under his eyes heavy purple potato sacks dragging his lower eyelids down. A usually plump face now made gaunt by a sunken jaw; he had yet to put in his dentures.
A sudden realisation hit him so hard he cut himself with his razor. His dentures. He had never shaved himself before without first putting on his dentures. As the nick on his jawbone slowly turned the white shaving cream to pink, Ralph nearly ran towards his bedroom, panic clutching at his chest. There they were, on the bedside table, sitting in their cleaning solution. He snatched them, almost dropping the red plastic container, opening it with hands that seemed like clay. Then, his fingers did lose their grasp as a cloud of flies flowed out of the container, engulfing his face, blinding him, climbing into his nostrils, entering his mouth, turning his rising scream into a choking cough that gave no release. His throat was filled with fluttering, crawling bodies, his nose plugged. In the midst of the panic Ralph could feel himself fall, slowly, so slowly, until suddenly the world turned black.

When he woke up it was evening. The first thing he saw were his dentures lying shattered on the ground. Unfocused, trying to swim into full clarity but not quite managing. Still, definitely his dentures, ruined beyond repair. Ralph whined, his head was pounding, and as he reached around to check for blood, this simple movement flared up the pain in his head so much that nausea washed over him, he felt a huge bump on the back of his head. There was some blood on his fingers when they came back from their slow journey, and when he finally managed to get himself up from the floor of his bathroom, something that seemed to take hours, he saw a bloody stain on the edge of his bathtub. When he saw himself in the mirror, shaving cream now a soapy crust on his sunken face, the memory of the flies came back in a flash and he stumbled to the toilet and retched, half expecting a swarm of black shapes to come out but only spitting up some strands of white slime.

Ralph gathered his ruined dentures, collecting the pearly white shards, not seeing any trace of the flies that had made him drop them. He held his false teeth in his hands, sat down on the bathroom floor and began to cry. In the darkness, the notification light of his cell phone slowly flashed on and off. He had missed his presentation. Tears of pain and fear gradually turned into hot tears of frustration and anger, drawing grooves in the caked shaving soap.


Ralph was drunk, horny and angry. Whenever he tried to look at his phone the strong hand of panic grabbed him by the throat. So he’d stumbled to the living room instead, grabbed a bottle of Scotch and doused his burning nerves with it. Fuelled his rage with it. The panic attacks were one thing, but this was outrageous. Ralph Baker was not insane. Ralph Baker did not suffer from delusions. And then it all became clear. Somebody had it out for him. Somebody must’ve drugged him. Probably that brown nosing Steve Richards from work. He knew that fuck had  been after his promotion. Well, he’d have a good, long chat with that piece of shit. But first, Ralph wanted to fuck. But he wasn’t going to go out. Not without his teeth. No way. Ralph would order in tonight. He’d turn off all the lights, fuck his head clear and would get everything else sorted out in the morning.

He almost didn’t call at first, so crippling was the shame of his toothless mouth, until he thought of that night in the alley with Susan. Walking her home after dinner and a movie, a date she had agreed to without much enthusiasm. Susan obviously did not enjoy his company during both, but she’d let him pay for everything anyway. Ralph felt she owed him, and Ralph was used to getting what he wanted. So he pushed her against the wall of the deserted alley, his tongue trying to work itself into her mouth while his hands groped for her breasts. He felt himself growing hard against her struggles and pleas to stop, Susan trying to push him away from her but Ralph wasn’t captain of the lacrosse team for nothing. He was strong and fast. ‘You know you want it, you stuck up bitch, don’t deny it.’ he whispered, taking a step back to unzip his fly. That’s when she kneed him in the balls. Hard. He groaned and dropped to the ground, clasping his junk with both hands, the pain a white hot flare talking up all of his attention, working its way up to his stomach until he felt he had to retch, the rest of the world a grey haze. When the pain faded to a dull pulse and he managed to get up, he saw Susan get in a cab, flipping him off through the window as it drove off. A week later, her brother kicked his teeth in.

But he was not thinking about that now. No, it was the way she had struggled, how her unwillingness had made him hard as a rock and even more determined to have her. The dreams he’d had of Susan breathed new life into that memory, a re-animation of desires he’d tried to keep hidden and buried. Sitting on his enormous Le Corbusier couch in the dark, phone in one hand, whisky glass in the other and his erection poking out from between the folds of his bathrobe, he finally pushed the ‘call’ button and made his requests very clear.


The apartment phone woke him up. He’d fallen asleep while waiting, having quick and messy dreams about people laughing at his shattered mouth: The whores from Lotus, that filthy bum, again Susan and her brother. There had been sounds of squelching, of buzzing, of scuttling and there had been a half-visible being present, emanating the pungent smell of a garbage bag on a hot august day. Groggily he stumbled to the front door and picked up the phone. The lobby doorman informed him that he had a lady calling, Ralph told him to send her up. Soon came a knock on the door, which he opened quickly before turning away again, not wanting his night’s entertainment to see him.
‘First of all, your name will be Susan for tonight. Second-’ Ralph stopped and sniffed. ‘Oh no, this will not do. First you will be taking a bath. Jesus, I for the money I pay I expected the women to at least arrive washed and not stinking like-’ Like garbage. Like trash. Like meat left rotten on the side of the street squirming with- ‘Like they haven’t showered in weeks.’ He walked towards the bar as he heard her close the door behind her, fixing to pour himself a drink to get those unpleasant associations out of his mind. The stench grew stronger. Heavier. It engulfed him as the escort moved up closer to him, still not having said a word. He could now hear squelching sounds. Dripping sounds.
Gagging, Ralph made for the huge French windows, banging his shin on a coffee table in the dark. That stench. That goddamned stench. He fumbled with the locks, finally succeeded and threw open the windows to let in gusts of mercifully fresh autumn air. He breathed deeply and turned around, just as the thing he had invited into his home walked into the strip of pale moonlight streaming in. Face and body a crawling mess of insects. As it opened its mouth to show a set of unnaturally white and shining dentures, Ralph screamed, tried to take a step back from it. But there was no step back. There were only open windows, through which he fell, fifteen stories down.

He was Ralph Baker, son of Charles Baker, and would be found dead splayed on the roof of a car, toothless and naked but for his open bathrobe. After finding the bottles of prescription drugs, it was very easy to rule his death a suicide.


Yes. A speckle of hope in the gloom, burning even brighter on the fuel of second grade booze or diluted heroin. Something to dream about while rain soaks ragged sleeping bags. A king of rags and rotten teeth, a pope of trash and decay. Sitting on a throne of chicken bones and mangled spectacles, now slowly making himself a new necklace out of a set of broken dentures.

Previously published in Under the Bed magazine.

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