Tucking the credit card receipt in the breast pocket of my sport coat, because Dr. Phillips asks for payment on delivery of services, and Medicare doesn’t cover tooth extractions, I was almost out the door, hand on knob, when the dental hygienist Pam, who makes me think of Pamina in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, because Dr. Phillips plays classic opera over the office music system and is himself a gifted amateur tenor, handed me an envelope two inches square with a hard nub of something inside.
“Whah dis?” I mumbled through a wad of gauze.
“Your tooth,” Pam said.
“We give the patient any organic tissue that may have been removed. Clean and dry, no bodily fluids.”
“Whah mmm gong do wihit?”
Pam laughed at my inarticulate attempt to speak. Her teeth were even, straight, and sparkling white, an excellent display of Dr. Phillips’ handiwork. “You could put it under your pillow tonight.”
“Foh da Toot Faihy?”
“Why not? You’re never too old to dream.”
“Please refrain from eating anything extra-chewy or crunchy for the next twenty-four hours. Have a pleasant evening!”
Hunger got the better of judgment, and the oral anesthetic had not completely worn off before I sat down to a modest supper of soup and soft bread. I dribbled down my front and dirtied both the napkin and the tablecloth. Jackson the cat, fastidious himself, overlooked this gluttonous display. Hoping to console myself with a glass of merlot, in raising it to my lips I lost a drop or two. Jackson inspected the red dots on the floor and moved on.
An early bedtime struck me as a prudent way to wrap up a dull evening. Performing a nightly ritual, I closed drapes, turned down the bed, undressed, and very gingerly brushed my teeth. As I was about to retire, I remembered my parting exchange with Pam. From the pocket of my sport coat hanging in the closet, I retrieved the little envelope, verified that it contained the tooth, a molar whose absence I trust will go unnoticed, and slipped it under the pillow.
I woke after midnight to fumbling in the bedclothes. Jackson has been known to creep into bed while I am sound asleep. I swatted blindly, only to hear a familiar female voice.
My eyelids shot open and I sat up. In the dim glow that filtered in from the streetlight, I saw a figure rigged out in white lace and chiffon, with a diadem in her hair.
“Who are you?” I mumbled, still half asleep.
“Make a wild guess. I dropped something.”
At close range, I observed a lovely face creased by a frown, as she scanned the floor and the bedside table. At the same time, I noted with satisfaction how keen my night vision was. No question about it, the Tooth Fairy was a dead ringer for Pam the dental hygienist, the Pamina of operatic fantasy.
“Was it a quarter?” I asked. My tongue and jaw were now fully functional.
“That was the customary payment for a lost tooth sixty years ago. You remember, don’t you?”
Her laugh revealed a perfect oral complement.
“In those days, a quarter was actually made of silver,” I went on. “It was real money. Not to mention the effects of inflation. Has the rate gone up to a silver dollar?”
“You wish. Ah, there it is!” She snatched something from under my nose, something so small I couldn’t make it out in the twilight. Involuntarily, my tongue sought the empty space where the tooth had been. The attractive female figure faded.
“Even a dental plan endorsed by the AARP wouldn’t reimburse this,” I mused aloud. With a twinkle of her diadem, my visitor vanished.
I woke some time later sore in the mouth. I thrust a hand under the pillow. Instead of the little envelope, I found a bright new silver coin from a foreign country. I left it on top of the dresser, performed the nightly ritual in reverse, brewed coffee, made toast, and poached an egg. All the while, I hummed Tamino’s aria Dies Bildnis istbezaubernd schön, which comes before he meets Pamina in the flesh.
A beam of sunlight must have found that coin struck by the mint of fairyland, as after breakfast I could not.
Robert Boucheron grew up in Syracuse and Schenectady, New York. From 1978 to 2016, he worked as an architect in New York City and Charlottesville, Virginia. His short stories and essays appear in Bellingham Review, Fiction International, London Journal of Fiction, New Haven Review, Saturday Evening Post, and other magazines.