I sighed, looked at and in my change purse again. How much change can I use before I look poor? I wondered. Who cares? It’s not like I’ll return to this or any other Starbuck’s for the remainder of the summer. Maybe I have more money in the fall or maybe the falling leaves just kick my brain into some heightened level of excitement –
And suddenly my thoughts stopped, because I felt hot breath on the back of my neck. “Guess who?” a voice was asking, and I was pulling in my shoulders and jumping forward before I actually understood someone had been hugging me from behind. “Lola!” laughed Aviva, behind me, all teeth on display again, “Why are you so uptight?” I rubbed my shoulders, shivered a little. “Oh, hi, Aviva, hi,” I said, not knowing what to say – whatever the right thing to say was, it probably wasn’t ‘hi’.
“She’s my child’s teacher,” she waved at the barista, who was looking at both of us with extreme apprehension.
This was supposed to be the highlight of my day, I thought, and now all I want is to run screaming from this place.
“Oh Lola I haven’t seen you in so long!” she exclaimed, lips slowly pulling apart over her spotless teeth. I smiled weakly, tried telling her ‘Well why could that be!’ but it sounded like a half-hearted laugh. I shrugged. Look friendly, Lola! This is a client and you are not allowed to be afraid and after all she is a woman and you are hardly about to get raped in school in front of everyone. “So long . . . ” I trailed off, nodding and smiling like mad and trying to ease backwards.
But the woman was not to be deterred. Her smile every widening, she followed me step for step as I inched back and away, telling me what a wonderful role model I was and how lucky the children were to have me. Finally I felt a soft thud behind me and I knew I’d hit the wall. I pressed myself against it. No one would corner their child’s teacher, right? But she did, of course, hugging me tightly, like a long-lost relative and kissing me tenderly on the cheek. “We just love you so much, Lola,” she said through clenched teeth. Why is she hugging me so tightly?! Why are her teeth clenched?! Does she really like me or really hate me?!
I peeled off my layers of clothing that night. They were still stuck to my sweaty skin. “I smell like fucking two-week old turkey,” I told Havana, who sits on my bed and cocks her head at me when I speak. No one wants to hear about how often I have to wash my bras unless they’re perverts or sadists.
She comes at me, teeth bared in a wide smile, white and gleaming, eyes sparkling and lips always flushed, and I shrink a little inside. She’s going to stand too close, the smile will widen a little too far, and I’ll find myself wondering how to break eye contact, how to move backwards slightly without just fleeing in abject terror.
She is a client, after all – it isn’t as if I can just scream and run.
For two seconds or so I managed to look into Shane’s eyes and his mouth was closed, face serious, and I had forgotten about his teeth. Then he smiled and the old terror – the size! the incredible whiteness thereof! the seemingly serrate edges! – resumed.
I have always made an effort to come early on Mondays. My reason is something along the lines of “morale” but really I like the idea of starts, the delineation of time. So my clothing is straighter and my teeth are whiter and my smile wider.
He learned that I was there on Mondays; he began to appear in head to toe fresh clothing, extra groomed, extra . . . perfumed. He never said anything, only nodded at me and then opened his mouth and closed it again like a stupefied goldfish before proceeding with all haste to the door.
I ceased my Monday routine.
He learned when I came in the afternoons. I began to smell the familiar scent a few yards before he appeared and casually sneeze. I continued sneezing (casually, still) while he did something I mentally called “PM goldfish”. I came earlier or later and didn’t see him.
Last week I came in and when I sneezed from the other end of the building I realized that it had been a very, very long time since I’d seen him and so I sauntered over and helloed. He had not expected me and was dressed in some old free t-shirt and – well, it was all regrettable, rumpled. He smiled in what the staff termed uncharacteristic happiness, but it gave him the immediate aspect of an alligator and I was secretly terrified. There were so many teeth. They were very long, very white, very large. Someday I will have a nightmare about those teeth but until then their memory is undoubtedly roaming about my subconscious, causing mayhem.