PAUL BIRCHTHE CHRISTMAS TEETH
Gaye and I don't always do everything together. When Gaye knocked her teeth out falling off her new four-wheeled bicycle, I didn't. I kept my feet firmly on the ground and my teeth firmly in my mouth.
Yes, I know what you're thinking. You can't have a bicycle with four wheels. Uncle George agreed and called it a quadricycle, but Gaye said, no, it was still a bicycle because only two wheels touched the ground at any one time. So Uncle George came back with one of his favourite quotations: "The polhode rolls without slipping along the herpolhode." There's no answer to that. But somehow I don't think the ground was quite as much of an invariable plane as Uncle George had hoped. The highway of life had bumps. One of which was Gaye. Slippage was not excluded.
Anyway. This isn't a story about the quadribike — another of Uncle George's ideas that didn't quite pan out. Another time, perhaps. It's a story about teeth. Gaye's teeth. Gaye's Christmas teeth. Not the teeth in her head, but the teeth … in her … head. The teeth of her imagination. The ones she thought about. Invented. Whatever. I'm not telling this very well, am I?
I'll start again.
When Gaye and I went to London to get her teeth fixed, she had a thought. Gaye often has thoughts — they're her scientific speciality — and they're usually catastrophic. This one, only moderately so.
Why should the tooth fairy be all take, take, take, and never give? All right, sixpence per tooth maybe, but what's sixpence? Have you seen the price of dental care nowadays?
"All I want for Christmas," said Gaye, "is my two front teeth."
This was encouraging. I was a bit short of the readies that year, after the incident of Smith Minor and the elephant. But I already had the teeth. I'd picked them up from the yard. If I could give them back to Gaye for her Christmas present, maybe I'd be able to afford to get Uncle George something a bit better than a tatty tie with a curlicued G.R. on it. He'd have appreciated the implication of royalty, but he wouldn't have worn the tie.
Then I realised she was only quoting from the song. You know, the one that goes, "I've got a little cat, And I'm very fond of that, But all I want for Christmas is my two front teeth." Or am I mixing it up with another one? They weren't really her front teeth anyhow.
"Why don't we sell new teeth for Christmas?" she said. "There must be lots of people who could do with them. Half the grown-ups in the village don't even have a dentist."
"We don't have a dentist, either," I pointed out. "That's why Uncle George is sending us to London. Sending you to London," I corrected myself. "I didn't fall off the quadribike."
"That's because you were too scared to get on. Besides, he made you an appointment too. You'll probably need a dozen fillings. All drilled," she gloated. "Brreeee! Brreeee! Brreeee!"
I winced. "Nonsense," I said, trying to persuade myself. "My teeth are perfect."
Gaye ignored me. "We could advertise in the parish magazine, for starters."
"They used to do that, you know. Those old magazines in the attic are full of them. Lots of scary 'We Buy Teeth' adverts."
"There you are then."
"I used to wonder what they did with them. They never seemed to sell them again. Perhaps they shipped them out to the cannibals in Darkest Africa. Or that other place."
"Papua New Guinea?"
"That's the one. Where they got that disease from eating people."
"It only made them laugh and go mad," said Gaye. "I don't think it made their teeth fall out."
"Maybe they kept a spare set," I mused. "You know, one filed to points for long pig, the other just ordinary for eating vegetables."
"I don't see why cannibals need pointy teeth anyhow," said Gaye. "We eat meat just the same, but we don't have pointy teeth."
"We do have canines," I said. "Well, some of us do. The ones who don't insist on riding quadribikes."
Gaye put her tongue out.
"Some of us even have the canines belonging to the people who insist on riding quadribikes," I said, rubbing it in.
"Only one of them. The other was a premolar. It doesn't matter, they're deciduous. I wouldn't have needed the dentist at all if a bit hadn't broken off and stayed stuck in the gum. Grown-ups' teeth are different. They're conifers."
"Conifers?" That didn't sound right.
"Well, evergreens anyhow," said Gaye. "You know, they don't grow back."
"That's not what evergreen means," I objected. "Look at our ivy. It grows back like stink."
"Whatever," said Gaye. "The point is … if they don't grow back naturally, we can sell them replacements."
"They're called false teeth," I reminded her.
"Yes, but ours will be better. We can call them … true teeth!"
Maybe you've got the idea by now that Gaye was being silly and stupid. Well, she wasn't. Gaye is never stupid. She just has this way of explaining things that makes even her sensible ideas sound mad. The really weird thing is that she can always make us go ahead and do them all the same.
According to Gaye, the problem with teeth is that they break.
"What about wearing out and getting cavities?" I asked.
"That too," said Gaye. "All right. The problem with teeth is that they're not light bulbs."
Sometimes her thought processes aren't utterly obscure. "You mean you can't just plug in a replacement."
"Right. Only with True Teeth, you can." She paused. "Oh, and if they break they automatically mend themselves."
"That's impossible." I was on safe ground there.
"No, it's not. Look at Uncle George's magnetic rope."
Silly me. No ground's safe with Gaye around. "Teeth aren't rope," I argued, fighting back.
"And shoes aren't cows," she said, "but they're made of the same stuff."
"That's ridiculous! They don't — "
"I mean leather! … Look, Uncle George's new magnene compound traps magnetic field quanta by threading them through these super benzene rings, right?"
"So he says. Either the rings don't ring or the quanta quant right out. The stuff's hardly more magnetic than … than … something that's not very magnetic at all. Magnene. It's a daft name anyhow."
"Teething troubles, teething troubles. It's just a matter of tweaking the annealing conditions, Uncle George says. … Oh, did you hear what I said? I said — "
Gaye looked thoughtful. "He could do with a more powerful solenoid. Or boosting the current for longer."
"He can't. He's blacking out half the county as it is."
"Well, that's why it's not trapping much magnetism. There aren't enough quanta there to trap." Gaye shook her head. "Not our problem."
Production snags aside, magnetic rope's a pretty cool idea. Once all the microscopic rings and their magnetic fields are aligned the same way, you've got an unbreakable rope as strong as the magnetic field itself — which Uncle George says can be a lot stronger than any ordinary material, even diamond. Imagine trying to cut it in two. The knife parts the parallel rings easily enough, but the solenoidal magnetic field sticks out the cut end just the same — and dives straight back into the other side of the cut. The magnetic field tension simply pulls the two ends back together again. Why, a meteorite could vaporise a whole chunk of cable, and the ends would leap out to close the gap like magic.
That's what Uncle George wanted it for. Space cables. But now Gaye wanted it for teeth.
"If we can bond a piece with a flat top and exposed poles into the jaw, we can stick interchangeable true teeth on the end."
"Like the bits for that magnetic screwdriver I got for our last birthday," I said. It's a neat screwdriver, that. Not much use though. Easier just to pick up the right plain screwdriver.
Something else was worrying me. "These teeth? They'll be sticking both up and down? Like stalactites and stalagmites? … The other way round," I added, thinking fast.
"Of course. As many as you need."
"Then, what keeps the magnetic field from clamping your jaws together until you starve to death — or holding them apart like demented crocodiles?"
"Oh," said Gaye. "I hadn't thought of that. Never mind. We can take the field up the front of the tooth then back down the back. That will stop people sticking them in the wrong way round too."
It should have worked. Uncle George found a way of winding strands of magnene on a form, then fusing them under high pressure in a tooth-shaped mould. The first samples were a bit blackish, but Uncle George promised they'd be translucent white once he got the kinks out of the manufacturing process. Then he let Gaye's golden curls loose on a poor defenceless consultant in a nearby dental hospital and got him to perform the experimental implantations for us. So far, so good.
So what went wrong? Well, what with all those magnetic fields and junctions and loops and carbon-chain conductors … you've already guessed it, haven't you? Yes, those True Teeth made just dandy radios. Some were FM and some were AM. And some were incomprehensibly digital and prone to freeze on booting up. A few of them could even tune in Radios Two, Three and Four all at the same time. Our poor dentist had to pull them out again.
Only one of the patients refused to give up his new implants. He said they were the perfect replacement for his mobile phone, and he never had to pay for a call any more. So to this very day, somewhere out there in the strange places of the world, someone is still talking to God through Gaye's True Christmas Teeth.
© Paul Birch, 21st Dec. 2005.