|Announcing: Hobart’s First Annual Mini Book Contest
prize: $500 and publication as the first installment of our new Short Flight/Long Drive "minibook" series
If Harvey was going to get his braces removed by Dr. Sherman, he was going to have to trudge 2.4 miles, some of it main roads, which meant that other kids might see him walking. Cranston, Rhode Island was a town that didn’t encourage foot traffic. Generally, walking was something only perverts did. And old people too. Sometimes old perverts. There was a man they called ‘Slicker’ who roamed about town with one arm extended and a briefcase in the other Apparently, he’d been a professor at some big time school and then went nuts and came here and lived in a shelter but still wore a suit everyday and carried a briefcase. When you passed him on the street, he reeked of piss.
Slicker’s was the kind of fate that awaited Harvey if he got his braces off. That’s what his mother said. She told him the same story over and over about how she went to her college counselor and said she wanted to be a lawyer and the counselor said that her grades were great and her involvement in badminton was unique but that no jury or client or criminal at large would ever trust a lawyer with such crooked teeth. So she had looked into adult braces, found them too expensive, gave up the notion of a legal life and married Harvey’s dad. He had straight teeth and was a very good lawyer.
But Harvey’s parents believed more than anything in independence. So on the half day, his mother baked him a tuna melt. “Since it’s early, you can walk to Dr. Sherman and get your braces off if you so choose.”
“You’ll regret it, but it’s your mouth.”
He didn’t even like legal shows so he put on his sneakers and left. Harvey’s Street was nothing but houses that looked the same, full of families that looked even more similar. He turned onto the busier street that led to town, the one with two yellow lines down the middle and an actual sidewalk.
Cranston was an ugly town comprised of little villages that pretended to be a part of something other than Cranston. Harvey’s family lived in the snooty part, which made all social events confusing. His mom didn’t want lice in the house and whenever he asked to have a friend over she would ask “Where did you say his parents live?” It irritated Harvey because he hadn’t said where the parents lived, not ever, but she tried to trick him.
When the light on King Street turned red Harvey sailed through the crosswalk. So far, nobody had spotted him. Dr. Sherman’s office was only a few blocks away, but he was starting to wimp out. This was a life choice. This was like not putting a condom on your banana; it could change the future. He didn’t want to be a lawyer now, but what if he changed his mind when he was in college? There was Invisalign, braces you couldn’t even see, but he’d never actually met someone with Invisalign so it was impossible to know if it was real. Unnerved by the dental office sign, he ducked into Del’s for a frozen lemonade.
The world on a school day fascinated Harvey. He saw a math teacher drive by and she was smoking a cigarette. He couldn’t wait to tell Jeff and Stan about that. He was so lost in staring and sucking down the sugary crap that he didn’t realize Slicker was sitting there next to him till he smelt the piss. A real live pervert sharing the same space. Did he keep eating? Did he offer the pervert the rest of his Del’s because he was homeless and probably always hungry? Or did he toss it because perversion trumps homelessness? His head ached. He wanted to get up but if he did that the guy might follow him. But if he stayed... well, who knew? Maybe the guy had a gun under his trench coat.
“Nice day for a young boy like you to be in school.” The old man talked and Harvey got dizzy. When someone you stare at for as long as you can remember turns out to have a voice, it’s confusing.
“Yeah,” said Harvey.
“So then, why aren’t you in school?”
“It’s a half day. Nobody’s in school.”
The old man nodded and Harvey admitted that he really didn’t feel scared. The guy wasn’t staring at him or offering him candy. Maybe he wasn’t into boys. Maybe it was Harvey’s braces.
“What’s in your briefcase?” Harvey didn’t know why he said it. It was the wrong thing to do. The task at hand was his braces and he had a bad habit of going off task. The ADD medicine was supposed to fix that.
The old man opened his briefcase. Inside there was a tooth brush, an orange, a crumpled up tube of toothpaste, some dental floss, a rancid apple, and a raggedy book by some Rilke dude.
“You’ve got a lot of mouth stuff.”
“A man’s eyes are the gateway to his soul. This is true. But a man’s teeth are the gates themselves.”
Harvey didn’t know what the fuck the guy was talking about and by the time he finally got home, with his new clean teeth, he could barely remember what Dr. Sherman was babbling about while he removed the braces. Harvey’s mother spent the night calling friends and crying about being a failure of a mother and Harvey went for pizza with Jeff and Stan. He was in the backseat next to Stan when Harvey’s Mom’s caravan came up on the old man. Jeff rolled down the window, “Slickaaaaaaaah!”
Even though Harvey had the perfect opportunity to tell the story of the old man, he opted to keep his mouth shut and run his tongue along his smooth crooked teeth. Suddenly, he wanted to be a lawyer in the worst possible way.