A Single Dad’s Guide to Things That Go Bump in the Night
By Sarina Dorie
“Excuse me. Ahem. Excuse me,” a high, feminine voice said.
Something poked my feet. I blinked at a pink glow of light and sat up. A frazzled woman in a shepherdess costume stood beside the couch where I slept, her blonde hair pulled up into a messy ponytail. She smacked a stick into her palm. On the end of the stick was a larger than life tooth. A pouch hung from the belt around her waist.
Her delicate features and come-hither eyes made my breath catch in my throat. She reminded me of my ex-wife—only angrier. Not a good sign. I suspected this was another weird dream induced by stress and taking Sudafed. Then again, maybe it would be a sex dream. I never had any of those. With the way she was tapping that stick, it might be a dominatrix, Little Bo Peep sex dream.
“What is this?” The woman held out two quarters.
My voice came out hardly intelligible in my drowsy state. “Um, fifty cents.”
“Do you know where I found them?”
Considering there was no more change in my wallet, they couldn’t have come from there. “Between the couch cushions?” I yawned. If I was asleep, why did I feel so tired?
“I found them under your daughter’s pillow. Do you know whose job it is to pay your daughter when she loses a tooth?”
I scratched my head, reevaluating her wand and attire. “The tooth fairy?” She didn’t have wings, but the place where wings would be on her back shimmered like something was there. She was my size, big for a fairy, but my subconscious had to be sending me a message—probably about Vanessa, my ex, and our recent custody battle. There was no way I would allow my daughter to live with her. After I’d met Vanessa’s drug dealer boyfriend she’d left me for, I’d had anxiety dreams about my teeth falling out for months.
“Exactly,” the blonde woman said. “It is my job to pay children for their teeth. Not yours. People like you make my job impossible. And by the way, our going rate is a dollar now—or the equivalent—across all North American regions, so you’re not even paying the right amount.” She paced the room. Mitsy, our cat, dodged out of the way. “We usually don’t allow ourselves to be visible to mortals, but I needed to make an exception in your case. You obviously don’t understand the way this tooth fairy stuff works. Plus, you have my trophy.”
“What do you mean by ‘we’? And what do you mean by—”
She rolled her eyes. “Other tooth fairies. You don’t think I do it all by myself, do you?”
“But the tooth fairy isn’t real.”
She gasped, clutched at her chest, and fell over onto a heap of laundry. She convulsed on the floor, kicking at the cat and knocking over a stack of National Geographics.
I was pretty sure I had committed some taboo by saying that. I tried to remember how they cured Tinkerbelle after someone said they didn’t believe in fairies. My nine-year-old daughter would know.
“Um, I believe in fairies. I believe.” I clapped my hands.
She opened one eye. “Harder. Clap like you mean it.”
I did so, feeling silly. Even in my exhausted state, I wondered if I’d been punked.
Her shuddering ceased. She lay still on the floor. The way her face relaxed reminded me of the way Vanessa had once looked while she slept. Those were the days before smoky eye make-up and a penchant for cocaine.
“Excuse me? Miss Tooth Fairy?”
Was she dead? Had I killed Jessica’s tooth fairy? She’d be devastated. I had to do something.
I jumped up, my feet tangled in covers as I tripped from the couch. I felt for breath with the back of my hand. None. I hoped my skills as a paramedic would work on this otherworldly being. I pinched her nose and tilted back her chin. Just as I leaned down to place my mouth on hers, I hesitated. What if this really was a sex dream? Maybe I was supposed to kiss her.
The tooth fairy twisted away, inhaled deeply and sneezed on me.
I pulled back and wiped my face on my flannel sleeve. As my daughter would say, “Grody.”
The woman sprung up off the floor. “That will do.” She set the quarters on my TV stand. “I have placed the payment for your daughter’s tooth under her pillow. You still have something that belongs to me. . . .Ahem.”
“Oh, you mean the tooth?” I pointed to the envelope peeking out from between the videos in the cabinet below the TV. “It’s over there.” I crawled over and handed it to her.
She placed the tooth in the pouch at her belt. “Now, I’m guessing your ex-wife must have been the one in charge of things like this in the past. You assumed she took care of things like teeth, hiding Easter eggs and presents from Santa. You just wanted to be a good father giving Jessica something for her tooth. Am I correct?”
My brain was too overwhelmed at this point to answer. I had always assumed Santa, the Easter bunny and the tooth fairy weren’t real. I sat down on my makeshift bed. “How did you know I was divorced?”
I expected her to say, “Because I’m your subconscious mind.” Instead, she glanced at the bag of Doritos and empty bottle of cola on the coffee table as if that was my tell.
A momentary wave of embarrassment washed over me before it turned into a tide of anger. “I may not have the neatest house, but that’s because I work full-time. And I don’t sleep on the couch because I’m some loser who drinks himself asleep watching late night television.” I would never be like my father. “This is a one bedroom apartment and I gave up the bedroom for my daughter.”
Her eyes softened and the smile on her lips was so sweet and genuine, I could have fallen in love with her and forgotten Vanessa had ever existed. “Jessica’s lucky she has such a wonderful father.” She pointed her tooth wand at me. “I’m going to let you off easy this time. But next time, I’m not going to be so lenient. I might punish you . . . give you cavities or something. Got it?”
“There isn’t a chance you might spank me instead, is there?” I asked.
She crossed her arms and glowered.
What was my subconscious mind telling me? That there was still so much I didn’t know about being a single father? That my ex-wife thought I was cheap? Or after all she’d done, I found myself morbidly attracted to my ex and the desire to rescue her. Every time I thought about the woman she’d once been and what she’d turned into, it broke my heart.
She flicked her ponytail off her shoulder. “Now, if you’ll excuse me. I have other teeth to collect.”
“Wait! Before you go, can you just clarify, are vampires and aliens and Bigfoot real, too?”
She crossed her arms. “There’s no such thing as aliens. But I have seen some energy vampires and hairy guys who I’m pretty sure were sasquatches. Oh, and let’s not forget the monsters and bogeymen.” She glanced at the coat closet and giggled before fluttering through my wall and out into the night.
Unable to fall back asleep, I stared at the closet door. Was it my imagination or did it open a little more? I would swear I saw movement in the coats.
“Is someone there? Um, someone in the closet?” I called out.
“Damn that tooth fairy. She just broke my cover,” a British voice grumbled from the other side of the closet door. “I’ll come back a different night when you aren’t expecting me. You’ve got some issues to work through regarding your ex-wife.”