December 20, 2010 by The Citron Review
by Naomi Huffman
We were Davey and Della then, the golden-haired, blue-eyed Arnold children. David and Adele were the names we preferred after law school and a coke addiction, respectively. Della had braces because she’d fallen down the staircase headfirst and Mother was worried about the Christmas photo.
Della hated the braces. The wires cut the tender flesh of her lips and gums until they bled. The cuts healed and formed soft scabs, which split when Della talked or smiled, so she stopped doing both. On mornings before her orthodontist appointments, she hid in the shuttle-like space of the clothes dryer until Lupita, our nanny, pulled her out. It exasperated our mother, made her chain smoke out the window of the car on our way to the orthodontist’s office, but Della never apologized. The braces were Mother’s idea, after all.
Father said, “Christ, Judy, she’ll have her permanent teeth in a few years.”
Mother said, “I just want her to have what I couldn’t.”
A week before the Christmas photo was taken, I tried to remove Della’s braces with a screwdriver. She asked me to, and I said yes because I was seven and didn’t know any better. I made her lay down on her bed and sat on top of her belly, which Mother called “fat” and Father called “a growing girl.”
“Will it hurt?” Della asked, looking up at me. She still trusted me then.
“Nope,” I said. And then to convince her, “Pinky swear.”
Of course, it all went wrong.
I forced the screwdriver down onto her front tooth. The bracket snapped off, too easily, and the screwdriver slid into Della’s gums. Bright red blood, more than I’d ever seen, gushed into her mouth. I dropped the screwdriver. Della’s tooth broke, a marbly white piece of it falling back into her throat. She screamed.
In just seconds, Lupita ran into the room and started yelling in Spanish. But I wasn’t listening, because all I could see was Della’s face: her blue eyes dark, her cheeks wet with tears, blood and saliva running in ribbons down her chin. All I could hear was her screaming “Youuuu!”
When our parents got home from work that afternoon, I was grounded. Mother rushed Della to the orthodontist for a fake tooth and new wiring. Lupita was fired.
In the Christmas photo, we’re all wearing red sweaters. Positioned between our parents on a fake sleigh, Della’s braces gleam brighter than normal, caught in the flash, and I have a bowl haircut. Fake snow twinkles on fake presents and fake fir trees and fake candy canes. It was the last Christmas photo we took before the divorce.
Naomi Huffman is a senior Fiction Writing major at Columbia College, Chicago. She’d like to thank Dr. Mike Turner, D.D.S., who for three years utilized various implements of torture to ensure the perfect alignment of Naomi’s smile, and unknowingly contributed to this work.