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Published on Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Bad Tooth Day

By John Laneri


Sheriff Matt Carson stepped from his office just as a chilling gust of wind blew a flurry of snow along his neck. Pulling his collar higher he continued on, determined to walk his usual morning rounds throughout Neverton, a small Texas community along the cattle trail to Fort Worth.

Once in the street, he spotted Roscoe Sayers standing outside his newspaper office.

"You're up early," he said as he trudged that way, feeling the bite of winter cut through his clothing.

Roscoe looked up. "I've been awake most of the night sufferin' like the dickens. I was hopin' the cool air might give me some relief. "

Roscoe was the editor of the local newspaper as well as the town's only undertaker. In appearance, he was a skinny little man with inquisitive eyes and a quiet demeanor, characteristics that served him well for spotting news and conducting funerals.


To the Sheriff's eye, Roscoe appeared several inches under the weather, his eyes blood shot and his face drained of color.

"I thought you promised the Good Lord that you'd stay away from Mexican beans. Most folks consider 'em powerful enough to prime cannons."

Roscoe lifted his head weakly saying, "It's not the beans. I've got a toothache."

"A toothache you say?"

"In the worst way."

"In my experience, a good bottle of whiskey works well for tooth pain. Of course, that might be due to the mellowing effects of a good inebriation, but it works well all the same." Continuing, the Sheriff went on to say, "I remember one year when I was workin' cattle on the high plains in the Panhandle, some fellow with a tooth...."

"I don't need another of your long winded stories. My tooth hurts too much to listen."

"I wasn't talkin' to your tooth."

"It hears you just the same. And, it says, talk softer 'cause it feels the words."

In the distance, the Sheriff saw Vernon Carter hurrying their way. Vernon was the owner of the local hardware store as well as the Mayor of Neverton. He was an older man with a gray peppered beard and droopy eyes.

"You fellows are mighty brave souls for standing in this cold," he bellowed against the wind while stepping briskly toward the boardwalk.

"We were talkin' about Roscoe's toothache," the Sheriff replied. "He's got a good one."

Brushing the snow off his coat, Vernon turned to Roscoe. "A toothache... that's an awful feeling. I remember sometime back when I was tending bar in a saloon close to San Antoine, there was this fellow with a tooth..."

"Roscoe's not much interested in recollections," the Sheriff said quickly. "His tooth hurts too much to listen... says the thing has ears and doesn't want to hear any long winded stories."

Grunting, Vernon studied Roscoe's jaw, noting a protruding lump presenting above the jaw bone. "In my experience, a good bottle of whiskey works well for easing tooth pain. There's no a finer remedy known to man."

"That's what I've been trying to tell him," the Sheriff said, "but he's too hard headed to listen."

Roscoe again briefly lifted his head. "My little lady frowns on whiskey... says it's the fastest way to get possessed by the devil."

"But, it's a mighty fine way to get possessed," Vernon added. "Leads to all kinds of interesting possibilities."

"Like what?" Roscoe mumbled faintly.

"Like getting acquainted with one of those pretty young girls over at Aunt Jillie's place."

Vernon was of course referring to Jillie Marbley, an attractive woman known throughout much of North Texas as 'Aunt Jillie' - a name synonymous with the proprietress of the finest establishment west of Fort Worth.

Turning to Vernon, the Sheriff offered a thought. "I wonder if one of Jillie's girls might offer Roscoe some relief."

Vernon scratched at his beard. "They did me some good when my rheumatism was acting up."

"As I recall, you were laid up in bed for quite a spell."

"I was until I visited her house... met a cute little filly with flame red hair. Afterward, I came out feeling like a new man."

Roscoe spoke up, "My little lady would skin me alive if she knew I'd visited Jillie's establishment looking for relief."

Vernon chuckled as he reached into his back pocket. "I wouldn't want to see you skinned like a possum, but her girls do have a way of working magic. Maybe, it's the motherly touch women possess."

Uncorking his flask of whiskey, he pulled a shot and said, "Do you fellows care for some refreshment? It helps keep the cold out."

The Sheriff took a swig then handed the flask to Roscoe who, in desperation, turned a healthy portion.

"That's the worst tasting stuff I've ever put in my mouth." he gagged, as his face contorted from side to side. "Now, you got my tooth to hurtin' again."

For sometime, Vernon and the Sheriff ignored Roscoe as they passed the flask back and forth while they engaged in friendly conversation. Soon however, they stopped drinking and looked toward the sound of groaning, moments before Roscoe pitched forward and fell into the street, his nose plowing into the snow.


*         *        *


A few blocks away, Mary Sue, one of Jillie's young girls was busy studying a fingernail when she said to Jillie, "I'm getting bored."

"Honey, I'm getting' bored too," Jillie replied. "If this weather keeps on much longer, we might have to start dragging fellows in off the streets just to stay entertained."

Mary Sue smiled brightly. "Maybe, that cute newspaperman will come inside and warm his body by the fire."

"If you're referring to Roscoe, then you're wasting' your time. He's married man with an ornery woman, the kind that can make you wish you'd never laid eyes on him."

Continuing to study her nails, Mary Sue said, "Since that day he spoke to me in the hardware store, I haven't been able to get over how tingly I feel on the inside."

Jillie laughed. "Don't get too soft hearted unless you can find a man like the Sheriff."

Mary Sue looked up from the nails. "Have you've been friends for long?"

"Since before the railroad came into town. I've been trying to get him to settle down for years, but he keeps saying that marriage is for old folks - those needin' a rocking chair before they're pronounced dead. He seems to think a rocking chair resides one step above a coffin."

"He'll come around... just keep painting your face and providing plenty of candy. Eventually, he'll ask you to get married."

Soon, Mary Sue jumped to her feet and began dancing around the room.

"Where do you get all that energy?" Jillie asked, her eyes wide in amazement.

Smiling, Mary Sue turned a couple of lively circles then replied, "Whenever I think of Roscoe, I come alive and feel like dancing."

Jillie raised an eyebrow. "Did you know he's the local undertaker too?"

Mary Sue's stopped dead in her tracks. "An undertaker? Do you mean I'm in love with an undertaker?"

Chuckling, Jillie said, "He's real live undertaker... even wears a black suit to funerals."

"I wonder if his hands are cold. I don't want a man with cold hands."

"Don't worry about Roscoe's hands. He has a warm heart beating inside that skinny, little body."


*         *        *


Back at the newspaper office, the Sheriff and Vernon were standing to the side of a casket studying Roscoe's immobile form.

After picking him up from the snow, they had carried him to the back room of his newspaper office where they had laid him inside a casket on soft pillows then forced several ounces of whiskey down his throat. Their efforts had been met with good success, and soon Roscoe was sleeping comfortably.

The back room, as most folks acquainted with the newspaper office knew, was nothing more than a small square of space where Roscoe stored coffins and prepared bodies for services. With the lack of windows, the place carried a morbid atmosphere.

The Sheriff glanced at Vernon and said, "He'll rest easy. We've got enough whiskey in him to mellow the pain for a few hours."

Vernon turned another shot, his eyes moving cautiously about the room. "This place is mighty spooky. I'm not fond of being around coffins."

"Coffins won't hurt you unless you drop one on your foot," the Sheriff replied, as he glanced about, noting a slew of pine boxes stacked to the side.

"Maybe you're right," Vernon replied. "But, it ain't natural to see a person sleepin' in a coffin with his toes pointed to the sky and his hands folded across his chest - makes him look dead."

"As long as a person's not dead, it's okay where we put the hands and feet."

Vernon pulled another shot of whiskey. "You're probably right, but it's mighty cold in here. Maybe, we need to move him to a warmer place. I'd hate to see him catch pneumonia."

The Sheriff glanced at Roscoe, noting frosty breaths streaming from his nostrils.

Continuing, Vernon added, "But, we can't take him to the hardware store. My missus would know I've been drinkin'."

The Sheriff offered a thought. "We can always take him to Aunt Jillie's. She'll keep him comfortable until he's ready to head home. That way, his little lady will never know how he spent the day."

"What if he passes away at Jillie's house?"

The Sheriff glanced at Vernon, wondering about the whiskey. "Lots of fellows pass away at Jillie's. I've always figured their hearts give out from all the excitement. We're only talking about restin' him there for the afternoon."

Downing healthy shot, Vernon voiced another thought, "He'll be hard to move. He's too heavy to carry across town in this weather."

The Sheriff reached for his mustache to twirl the spindles while he considered the situation then his eyes lighted up.

"We can use the funeral hearse. Roscoe keeps it parked out back in a shed with his horse. We can ride him over to Aunt Jillie's. She'll be happy to have him. And I suspect, he'll be proud we thought of his well being."


*         *        *


Back at the boarding house, Jillie was standing near the fireplace watching Mary Sue dance about the room when the she glanced toward the street. "That looks like a funeral hearse in front of the house. I hope you don't have a dead one upstairs."

Mary Sue hurried to the window. "No ma'am... I haven't had a fellow die on me in months, but I do see two men carrying something big up your front walk. The snow is blowing so hard I can't see what it is for sure, but I think its the Sheriff and that old man from the hardware store who likes to play with my garters."

Jillie moved beside her and pushed the curtains aside. "Whatever they're carrying, it looks heavy. They're having trouble getting it up the porch steps."

Pausing to fluff her hair, Jillie straightened her skirt then hurried to the door, On recognizing Vernon and the Sheriff standing in the cold, she said, "You fellows know better than to stand in blowing snow? Come inside, I've got a nice, cozy fire."

Touching the tip of his hat, the Sheriff said, "We were wonderin' if you'd do us a favor."

"I'm filled with favors," Jillie replied. "Come out of the cold. I'll make a fresh pot of coffee."

Hesitating, the Sheriff and Vernon looked to one another then followed her into the foyer. "We can't leave the body outside for too long."

Jillie looked toward the porch, her eyes lifting at the sight of a coffin. "You have a body in that thing? I was hopin' you were bringing me a buck."

"It's too cold for hunting... What about the coffin?" the Sheriff asked quickly. "We don't want Roscoe to freeze."

"You have Roscoe in that coffin?" she asked surprised. "Oh my gosh... I'm so sorry. I always liked that man. He was indeed a true-true friend."

Vernon spoke up, "He ain't dead ma'am, but he's too drunk to travel so we were hopin' to rest him at your house. He needs some sobering time in a warm place."

Jillie pointed toward the fireplace. "I guess you could put the casket over near the fire where he'll be warm. But, if any customers show up and start complaining, I'll have to move him to a back room."

With Roscoe's coffin safely situated near the fire, Mary Sue stepped cautiously toward it, and asked, "Can I look inside? I've never seen a body inside a coffin."

"Of course you can," the Sheriff replied.

Mary Sue moved closer and stood to the side saying, "He looks so content with his hands folded across his chest. And, look at his lips. They're curled into a peaceful smile, almost like he's..."

"He's only resting," the Sheriff said quickly, as he moved beside her.

Stepping closer, Jillie said, "He does look peaceful. Are you sure he's still breathing?"

"He was when we left his office," the Sheriff replied. "But he does seem quiet - actually, too quiet. And his chest doesn't appear to be moving up and down."

"I think he'd dead," Mary Sue said, as she began sniffling.

Vernon took another shot of whiskey and offered a thought. "We need a mirror so we can see if it fogs up."

Jillie turned to Mary Sue. "Would you get a hand mirror to hold under his nose? Moisture on the glass will tell us if air if movin' through the passages."

She hurried away.

On returning, Mary Sue moved cautiously toward the coffin and then bent forward to extend the mirror toward Roscoe' nose.

"You'll need to hold it just under his nostrils," the Sheriff suggested. "Try bending more at the waist."

Setting the mirror aside, Mary Sue hitched her skirt higher to extended her reach, a move that allowed her skirt to creep higher along the back of her thighs.

At the time, Vernon Carter lowered his flask long enough to catch sight of Mary Sue's garters exposed to the world. Unable to resist the temptation, he reached out and playfully snapped one against her leg.

With a sudden shriek, she tumbled into the casket, falling directly on top of Roscoe just as the coffin lid closed shut with a solid thud.

Moments later, Vernon passed out and dropped to the floor, spilling his last few drops of whiskey.


*         *        *


Sometime later, the Sheriff and Jillie were still laughing as they sat together in front of the fireplace. To the side, Vernon remained sprawled on the floor, trying to sober himself enough to join in the merriment.

Across from them, Roscoe and Mary Sue were sitting on the coffin admiring his tooth.

Mary Sue said to Roscoe, "I'll never understand how my garter got hooked around your tooth. One minute, I was reaching into the coffin thinking you were dead, and before I knew it, we were squirming around in the dark groping each other. I've never had a man touch me in so many places all at one time. You have wonderful hands."

Rubbing his cheek, Roscoe replied, "Whatever happened, you pulled my tooth. I didn't feel a thing. Your garters do good work."

Smiling brightly, she lifted the side of her skirt saying, "You can touch 'em whenever you like."

Roscoe glanced at her exposed legs and then smiled bashfully, his neck turning a bright red.

Across from them, the Sheriff said to Jillie, "I've enjoyed sitting with you in front of the fireplace, but I need to get on with my duties. Care to walk me to the door?"

"It's too cold to leave," Jillie replied, as she snuggled closer. "Let's sit awhile longer and try to figure out how garters pull teeth."

Suddenly, the Sheriff sat upright, his eyes wide in surprise. "How'd I end up in a rocking chair? The last time I sat in one, I kept thinking that I was about to make friends with a coffin."

Chuckling sweetly, Jillie said, "You only felt that way because you weren't sitting with me. Now... if we were married, we could could spend every winter in front of a warm fire."

"Being with you in front of a warm fire is always a pleasure," he replied, as he reached for his hat. "But before we get to far into this conversation, I need to get Roscoe home before his little lady begins to wonder how he spent the day."



John is a native born Texan living near Houston. His writing focuses on short stories and flash. Publications to his credit have appeared in several scientific journals as well as a number of internet sites and short story periodicals.


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