July 1, 2013 by The Citron Review
I once went to a dentist whose mother wrote all the stories ever written in the world. We were in the middle of my six-month checkup when he told me that his mother used to tell him a new story every night when he was a child. She told him about the little girl and the wolf, the ugly duckling that became a beautiful swan, and the boy and girl and the witch who tried to eat them. When she ran out of those stories, she told him what Alice found through the looking glass, about the bear that loved honey, and about the lion, the witch, and the wardrobe.
I told him that his mother sounded like a good storyteller and that she remembered details very well. He said that she didn’t just remember other stories. They were her own. She was the greatest storyteller ever, and because of this, it was her job to write all the stories she ever thought of down so that the stories could be shared with everyone.
The dentist didn’t laugh once as he explained that Romeo and Juliet was his mother’s idea, that she wrote The Great Gatsby one afternoon while he napped.
I reminded him that stories had been around since people could talk and that stories had been written down since people could write.
He said that all stories had to start somewhere, and it just so happened that they all started with his mother. He was very impressed by his mother’s great capacity for storytelling, he told me as I swished mouthwash for thirty seconds.
I spit and said, “When you open a book, why don’t you see your mother’s name?”
“That’s easy,” he said. “Someone changed them. It’s my job to change them back.”
He told me that on her deathbed, his mother passed on the great responsibility of writing all the stories yet to come. He told her that he had already tried, but he didn’t have the knack for writing. She said that was fine. Once he found his calling, all she asked was that he be the best at it that he could possibly be. She would take care of the stories.
“You have one cavity,” my dentist told me at the end of the checkup. I was so curious to hear more about his mother that I scheduled my filling for the following Tuesday.
When I returned to the office for my filling, I waited in the lobby and listened to the other patients whisper behind their magazines.
“Look,” one woman said as she held up a copy of Better Homes and Gardens. “He crosses out the bylines on all the articles and writes in his mother’s name. Norma Greenblatt.”
I picked up a copy of Rolling Stone. I flipped it open and saw her name written under the first article I found.
An old woman leaned close to me and said, “I heard that he spends his free time at bookstores changing all the title pages of books.”
A man on my other side joined in. “He has been kicked out of dozens of bookstores. He was even arrested once at Barnes & Noble for vandalism.”
My name was called before I heard what happened the time Dr. Greenblatt visited Powell’s in Portland.
As the dentist washed up, I asked him what his father had thought of his mother writing all the stories in the world. He told me to say “ahh” and explained that his father had died when he was three. Every month after that, a check came in the mail to help pay their bills. When he asked his mother where the money came from, she told him that she earned a living writing. He asked what she wrote and she told him that she wrote everything. She wrote all of his children’s books, even the picture books. Plus, she wrote all the novels, the textbooks, the biographies, and the Bible. “The Old Testament was especially tiring,” she had told him.
When the dentist finished prodding my teeth and my lips were numb, I sat up and stared at him.
“Don’t you know,” I said, “that what your mother said was a lie? It was just another lie that our parents tell us. You know, like an ‘apple a day keeps the doctor away’ or how we shouldn’t go swimming right after we eat. Or happily ever after.”
The dentist put his tools down on the tray, clicked off the overhead light, and returned my chair to its regular position. “I’ve finished your filling. Do not eat anything in the next hour until the numbness wears off.” He wiped his hands on his pants and left the room.
I walked to the receptionist’s desk and told one of the passing dental hygienists what had happened.
“Don’t mind Dr. Greenblatt. He tells everyone about his mother. He’s a really great dentist. The best, most dedicated dentist this office has ever had.”
“You don’t find him just the slightest bit strange for believing that his mother wrote every story that has ever existed?”
“Strange yes, but well-meaning. Besides, some things are better to believe than not to believe.”
On my drive home, I stopped at my favorite used bookstore. I flipped through a few books, a historical novel set during the Civil War and a sci-fi story about robots ruling mankind. Neither book listed Norma Greenblatt as the author. I kept searching, through the contemporary fiction, the poetry, and even the mysteries and thrillers section.
“Do you need help finding something?” A worried looking salesclerk asked when I knocked a stack of books off the staff picks table.
“No, I’m browsing.” I moved with a frantic precision along the shelves, running my fingers down the spines.
On the verge of giving up, I moved to the children’s section. From the bargain bin, I picked up a book of fairy tales and held it in my hands like something fragile. Underneath the title, there was only a picture, no author’s name. I flipped the book and studied the spine. Still no author’s name. Turning the book so it again sat face up in my hands, I took a deep breath like I was about to say an invocation, sure if I opened it, it would lose its holiness. With my finger, I traced the book title, the worn font, the curlicued magic.
Kait Heacock is a native of Washington who relocated to Portland, Oregon, where she recently graduated from Portland State University with a M.S. in Writing. She writes realist short fiction, often set in her hometown of Yakima, a constant source of inspiration for her writing. She also writes the occasional fairy tale. Kait has work published or forthcoming in Portland Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Housefire, and VoiceCatcher. She is also a contributor to the Portland-based women-run website PDXX Collective.