Daniel

A Short Story by Alissa Nutting

Nancy thought about it often, now: the day that Daniel was born. Her water had broken just hours after Bilko, her fourteen-year-old Labrador, had passed away. When the medics arrived, they were distracted by the red herring of his sheet-covered body on the dining room floor. Nancy heard them gasp when they ran to the supposed victim’s corpse and saw a flaccid set of hairy front paws peeking out, curled under at a death-specific angle of resignation.

When they lifted Nancy onto the stretcher, she’d pointed her finger toward the kitchen. “My dog is in there, dead,” she told them. The tone of her voice suggested this was some type of clairvoyant statement. The medics did not shift their focus from her; she was losing blood.

A flurry of motion and sound formed atmospheric layers above her head; the back of the ambulance possessed a traffic all its own. But Nancy had felt oddly still amidst the chaos—perhaps the last time in her life she would ever be calm. When they assured her they would do everything they could to save the baby, Nancy Holmes thought, My dog has died and is being reincarnated as my baby. I am about to give birth to my dog.

*

Nancy’s son Daniel took his vampirism seriously. After months of Daniel pleading, their family dentist Dr. Bosch reluctantly agreed to attach enamel-colored fang caps to the boy’s upper right and left cuspids provided Daniel brought in a permission slip from his mother and promised never to attempt home removal when he wanted them off. Daniel forged the signature but got busted when Dr. Bosch’s secretary did a precautionary call home to double-check. Finally he embarked on a hunger strike that lasted four days before his mother agreed to what she considered an act of self-mutilation.

Following their installation, Nancy taped the orthodontic bill for Daniel’s round of braces, a two-year stint from ages 10-12, to her son’s bedroom door. At the bottom of the invoice she added a message in Sharpie marker: “YOU OWE YOUR FATHER AND I SIX THOUSAND TWO HUNDRED AND EIGHTEEN DOLLARS PLUS FORTY-THREE CENTS.”. “At least they’re not permanent,” she kept telling her husband Chris. “But my god. We paid all that money for beautiful teeth, only to have him return to fangs.” When Daniel’s baby teeth had fallen out, a series of curiously mismatched adult ones had replaced them—each appeared to belong to a separate human being. Dental intervention occurred, though it was not a simple project of straightening: There were extractions, shaving, veneers. “He traded one monster mouth for another.”

“Is there a special type of toothbrush we should get him?” Chris asked softly. He was always quite practical—disappointingly so in Nancy’s eyes. He never displayed anger; he didn’t find it to be functional. “I just think we should keep all eyes on the prevention of decay.”

“The fangs aren’t real; they’re just caps. Like a crown.” Her real mistake, Nancy was sure, had been marrying Chris; Daniel was just the tainted fruit, the reaping of her poorly sewn field. On the other, it meant there was no hope. No way for Daniel to escape his curse. “They’re not permanent,” Nancy repeated.

She couldn’t bring herself to look at her husband, who had begun to sketch the outline of a toothbrush with bristles arranged in a bilateral design. Despite his mechanical intellect, Nancy often felt her husband was a bit slow. When they were dating, she’d appreciated his silence and the space it had allowed her. But she’d also assumed his quiet suggested a bustling interior world of the mind. Now she was no longer convinced.