Tatiana liked the sitter. She was a thin girl with dark skin and bright teeth and big beautiful eyes, good legs. She was a neighbourhood girl; Tatiana had bonded with her mom in the organic grocery store, talking about dental floss. The girl, Lani, lived four houses down and responded in seconds to Tatiana’s Friday morning text.
You free to sit tonight?
“There’s mac and cheese in here and they can have candy after dinner but not too much, one little Twizzlers packet each, and I understand if you can’t make them go to bed but just try, they can sleep in tomorrow so it’s not the end of the world. Kendra knows how to work Netflix and they can watch whatever, but obviously use your judgment, Chloe scares easily. I’ll be back by, I don’t know, elevenish?”
David pulled up and tapped the horn.
“There’s my ride. Gotta run. Bye, girls! Love you!”
“Bye,” the girls said in unison. They sat on the couch with their faces lit blue, a device between them.
“Be good, Kendra!”
Kendra looked up and gave a phony smile.
Tatiana opened the front door just enough to slip through. David waved to her from his car. She trotted down the driveway clutching her purse.
He would take her to dinner and then they would go straight to his place for sex. This was the routine they’d fallen into over the past four months. At first there were movies, long walks, but they soon got over that. She stayed at his condo on alternate weekends when Josh had the girls. But at the moment Josh was off finding himself in India or Nepal or Bhutan or all three, and he wouldn’t return for a few weeks, and as much as she loved the girls, she really liked David too, and so despite her guilt she’d sent Lani a text and now she was in David’s car and soon they would be having loud sex at his place. She’d be back before midnight. It wasn’t a crime. Moms are human too.
She was back before midnight. The girls were asleep.
“I’m glad they didn’t give you any trouble.”
“No, we totally had fun.”
She peeked in to check on the girls, who were sprawled out asleep on their stuffies. She left the door open, crept to her room. She flopped fully clothed on her bed. She sighed.
“I should repaint this place.”
Josh had wanted taupe. But what about blue? A powder blue? She sat up and looked at the moldings. She took out her earrings. She dropped the earrings on the bedside table and noticed a nick on the doorframe. That was new. A nick, about a foot off the carpet. She got up and crossed the room. She knelt to examine the strange dashed crescent on the doorframe. It looked like teeth marks. She went in close, touched the tiny sockets. Teeth.
They were surly on Saturday morning, spooning their milk over cereal long gone to mush.
“Girls, I’m just going to come out and say it. Did one of you bite the doorframe in my room?”
Kendra and Chloe exchanged a bewildered glance. She could tell right away they were innocent.
“Why would we do that?” Kendra said.
Good question. Why would they?
“I just noticed this bite mark. Do you think Matteo did it when he came over to play the other day?”
“Bit your door?” Kendra said.
“Why would Matteo bite your door?” Chloe said.
Good question. All legitimate questions.
“I don’t know,” Tatiana said. “Maybe it’s not a bite.”
She rechecked the mark. It was definitely a bite. A small-mouthed bite.
Next Friday, another date with David.
“Thanks again, Lani.”
“No worries. You look really great. I love that top.”
“Oh, thank you!”
David tapped his horn and Tatiana backed away, smiling. She cracked the door and slipped through.
“I don’t know why I feel guilty,” she said.
“It’s one night a week,” David said. “Besides, you said the kids love the sitter.”
“They do. I like her too. You’d like her too.”
“She’s got these amazing legs.”
“Well, what gives? Invite me in next time.”
“Nope. You get what you came for. You get the mom.”
“Right, the mom. Hey, the mom’s looking pretty hot tonight, by the way.”
“The mom does what she can.”
The girls were asleep when Tatiana got in.
“They weren’t any trouble?”
“We just watched Frozen and then they pretty much conked out.”
“I don’t understand. They terrorize my mother when she sits. They never sleep.”
“No, they were totally fine. Did you have fun?”
She went straight to bed. Kendra and Chloe woke her at dawn.
“Momma? Can we watch this?”
Kendra held up a device. The rule was no YouTube unless mom can vet it. She glanced blearily at the screen. It looked innocent enough.
“Okay. I’ll get up.”
“Five minutes. Ten minutes.”
“Okay. Watch your video.”
She watched them wander out, Chloe craning to see the screen in Kendra’s hands. She rolled onto her back. She thought of David’s arms. Hairy arms, which she loved. Josh was more or less hairless, like one of those Sphynx cats. She sighed and lay there, but she was awake. She sat up. She got up. The girls were in the kitchen.
“Are you guys doing a craft?”
They were building some kind of owl out of Fimo, working from a screen.
“You’re doing it wrong,” said Kendra. “Make the eyes like this.”
“You’re doing it wrong. Look.”
“Girls. Kendra. Be nice to your sister.”
“She’s doing it wrong.”
Kendra turned the owl to Tatiana. Yes, whatever Chloe was doing, she was doing it wrong. The owl looked melted in the face. Kendra turned the screen so that her mother could see how the owl was supposed to look. Tatiana shook her head and smiled.
“What is that,” she said, “some kind of app? A craft app?”
She opened the cereal cupboard and removed a giant box.
“Momma?” Chloe said. “Are you an app?”
“No, honey. That makes no sense.”
The girls ate and Tatiana reclined on the couch in the living room to text David. Josh had texted, but she ignored it. He was apparently someplace amazing. Whatever. She looked up from her phone at the white spackled wall. Only one wall was spackled. The rest were flat and taupe. She hated spackle. Josh had insisted.
“What do you guys want to do today?” she said to the girls.
“Can we watch Netflix?”
“Girls, it’s summer.”
“Can we play hide-and-go-seek?” Kendra said.
“Olly olly oxen free!” Chloe screamed.
“Olly olly oxen free!” the girls chanted. “Olly olly oxen free!”
They went to the water park and Chloe got a burn, which seemed to please her, she glowed all night. Tatiana put the girls to bed and reclined in the dark on the couch to text. A car drove by. Lights flashed across the ceiling. She looked up and saw a bite mark.
“What the fuck?”
She stared at the ceiling in the dark. She could just make out molar dents in the glow from the streetlamps outside. She got up and switched on the living room lights, which caused the mark to disappear.
She switched off the lights and saw it again, faintly; the glow from the streetlamps came in at just the right angle and threw the right shadows, but the room lights washed the mark out. She went to the junk drawer in the kitchen for a flashlight, carried a chair to the living room. She stood on the chair and shone the flashlight. She angled the flashlight and saw it, a bite mark, a full dental impression, as if someone had broken their mouth wide open and pressed the top and bottom jaws flush to the plaster, then pushed. The bite was big—too big for Chloe or Kendra.
“What in the fuck?”
She got down off the chair. She turned on the lights. She walked the room, looking. She found a small-mouthed bite in the stairway bannister. She went to the kitchen. She found tooth impressions on the legs of the chairs. The table was bitten.
“What in the actual fuck?”
Sunday morning was waffles and syrup, food to make them sing. She played Katy Perry, and when they were good and high on sugar and morning and Hot N Cold, she very casually asked about the sitter.
“So, like, what do you guys do with Lani?”
“Lani’s pretty!” Chloe said.
“We play hide-and-go seek?” Kendra said. “And tag? And we do—um—I don’t know? We watch Frozen?”
“And you guys just go to bed? How come you never just go to bed with grandma?”
“Because grandma’s like, I don’t know … ”
“We like Lani!”
“Lan-ee! Lan-ee! Lan-ee!” They chanted.
“We even like her name,” Kendra said.
“What about her teeth?” Tatiana said. “Do you guys like her teeth?”
“Yeah,” Chloe said, “her teeth!”
“Yeah? Really? Do you guys bite things with Lani?”
The fun stopped there. The party stopped. Kendra scrunched her mouth and nose into a face she’d been making a lot lately.
“Why would we bite things?”
“I don’t know, I’m just wondering. People bite things sometimes.”
Chloe seemed confused. Kendra kept her face scrunched.
“We don’t bite anything,” Chloe said at last. She grinned and declared: “Teeth are not for biting!”
“Yeah,” Kendra sassed, “they’re for chew-een.” She did a little hip dance, one finger in the air.
Chloe picked a mushy piece of cereal out of the milk on her spoon. “Why do you keep talking about biting things, momma?”
Tatiana heard a text come in. Her phone was on the counter behind her. She resisted.
“Yeah,” Kendra said, “you’re obsessed.”
“Do you even know what that word means?”
“No,” Chloe said.
“Maybe you’re right. Maybe I am obsessed. I guess I just got teeth on the brain. Momma gots teeth on the brain. I think I’ll book you guys dental appointments.”
Chloe’s face went blank before wrinkling into frowns. “Dental?”
Kendra collapsed on the floor. “No!”
“Chloe, you love the dentist. Kendra, get off the floor.”
She made the appointments on Monday morning, emailed daycare, emailed work. That afternoon, she found a suspiciously bent grapefruit spoon in a kitchen drawer.
“Chloe? Come here. Open your mouth and close your eyes.”
Chloe did. Tatiana placed the spoon inside her mouth, lining her teeth up with the ridges of the bent handle. A perfect fit. Chloe’s tongue touched the metal and her lips puckered, she withdrew but kept her eyes closed.
“Can I look now, momma?”
“You can look.”
Chloe stared uncomprehending at the spoon. “Did you take my temperature?”
Tatiana put the spoon back in the drawer. “Yes,” she said.
The dentist squeezed them in on Friday. Kendra went first. Tatiana asked many indirect questions.
“Do children ever gnaw on things? You know, like rodents?”
The dentist backed out of Kendra’s mouth and gave Tatiana a look.
“Like rodents?” he said. “A rodent’s teeth grow perpetually.”
“Have your children been gnawing?”
Then it was Chloe’s turn. She hopped into the chair grinning her face off. Tatiana loved Chloe but did not understand where she came from, which planet.
“Do you think they’ll need braces?”
The dentist was patient.
“Tatiana, your children have uncannily straight teeth.”
“No splinters or anything?”
“Is that a joke?”
“I’m just concerned they’ll need work later on. I’m trying to plan ahead. Nothing abnormal in there?”
“Tatiana, I’m a dentist. If there were anything abnormal or even somewhat out of line, I would bill you like mad to fix it. I would bill you like mad for X-rays. I would bill you like mad for preventative measures. But these mouths are perfect. Bring them back when they have some cavities. Make it worth my while. A crack, a chip, anything, I want it. Really, though, see for yourself. Look.”
He rolled his chair aside and shone his light into Chloe’s mouth. Tatiana peeked in. He was right. White teeth, pink gums, miniature and perfect.
When they got home, she fed the girls snacks and set them up with a craft. Then she took the magnifying glass from the junk drawer and had a close look at the bite marks around the house. She stooped to examine the small-mouthed bite in the bannister. This had to be something else. Maybe a bracelet—one of those bead bracelets the girls loved to make. A flailing child, a bracelet on wood. Maybe all the bite marks were bead impressions; she’d mistaken rows of beads for teeth.
They couldn’t really be teeth. What sort of Friday-night frenzy would overtake a six-year-old and an eight-year-old and their teenage babysitter and cause them to bite a whole house?
No sort of frenzy. The house was not bit. She told herself that: The house is not bit.
“Thanks again, Lani. The girls are always so excited when I tell them you’re sitting.”
“That’s nice to hear. I totally love your girls.”
On the couch, they looked up. Kendra and Chloe, lit blue from devices. David pulled in. He tapped his horn.
“Oops,” Tatiana said, “that’s me.”
She lunged for the door. She paused. The doorknob under her hand was ringed with rows of tiny bites. Mouse-sized, but human-shaped.
She looked at the girl, who stood directly beneath the big-mouthed impression on the living room ceiling. Behind her, the spackling was dented by paired crescents, a whale-sized bite. Tatiana stared at the giant marks with a sudden detachment. Trick of light and shadow, she told herself, though it didn’t look like that at all. Lani smiled.
And Tatiana told herself that her suspicions were ridiculous. Lani was a good sitter and the girls were happy with her and Tatiana was happy with her and the girls had perfect mouths and David was waiting outside and life was pretty good on a perfect summer evening.