By Paul Whyte

 

Evening in October and everything is dark but the sky, trees, buildings - line drawings in the squinting sun. 

I was on my back, hip humming, badly rashed. I couldn't get up, couldn't face the dressing room yet. So I lay awhile, watching seams of cherry cloud become chalky and ambient. 

Soon, in the near distance, I could hear car boots yawning. The collisions of voices. 

As I made my way to the dressing rooms I noticed something on the ground. Stabbed upright in the grass like a ring-pull to a cellar door. A round bumpy thing-of-a-thing, silver plated and decorated all around with beads and a tiny cross.  I picked it up, made a fist with it inside. It had a nice weight to it, seemed like a thing you should keep, so I did. 

   

When I got home Dad sat at the kitchen table and studied it like a diamond. He told me what I'd found was a rosary ring. A single decade.

He told me soldiers would carry them into war, to wear around their fingers as they marched. I liked that. It assigned the thing a value that wasn't there before.  

Of course St Bernie had to get involved. She decided a Nun must have dropped it and that I should hand it in to one of the teachers at school. 

I told her that was exactly what I'd do, but I didn't. 

 

In bed that night I tested it. 

I placed my thumb on the cross and recited an Our Father beneath my breath, moving clockwise with each Hail Mary. 

I think I got about half way around before I drifted off. 

When I woke in the morning it was still around my finger, my hand all sweaty and smelling like pennies. I carried it with me that day at school, kept checking the shallow pockets of my uniform to make sure I hadn't lost it. On the walk home I wore it around my finger, marching like infantry. 

 

That was the night I met her. 

 

I woke before midnight; in that way you sometimes do, eyes opening without a reason, no jolt upright, no sweat - just, time to wake up. 

My windows were those old wooden kind with the steel arm that never quiet shuts right and so I lay there awhile, enjoying the air. 

That's when I noticed the light. A gentle pulse beneath the covers.

I lifted my hand out and it blinked at me like a lure. The light was coming from the ring. 

I held it up like a looking glass, peered through, the pulse leaving blond artefacts squirreling around my vision. 

Then she spoke. A kind, timid voice.  

''Excuse me, Daniel. Could you take the cross out of the ring for me? Would you mind?'' the voice asked. 

 

I can't really tell you why, but I did it. No questions asked.

The cross popped right off, even though it had been solid as you like up to then, and as it did the beads dropped off too, leaving a regular old ring. 

''Daniel, I have a mission for you.'' said the voice, the ring pulse-pulsing with every word. ''Do you think you're up for it?'' 

I carved a burrow into my duvet and sat cross legged under the covers, ''Will it get me in trouble?'' I asked. 

''No, not at all. Nobody will even know.'' She assured. 

''What is it?'' 

''I've lost something which I desperately need back. Could you look for it?'' 

''I can do that. What did you lose?'' 

''A tooth.'' 

''A tooth?! But you don't even have a mouth.'' 

''That's very presumptuous. I could have a very pretty mouth for all you know. Anyway, teeth are like money where I'm from.'' She explained, ''And I'm skint since I lost it.'' 

''How much is a tooth worth, then?'' I remember wondering out loud. 

''Well, Daniel, I suppose that depends on two things: The mouth it came from, and how it came out.'' 

''And where did you last see this tooth?'' 

''Not sure. All I remember is that it's a long tooth, pointy, clean and it still had a little bit of blood on the root.'' 

''Yuck! Ok, well, I'll let you know if I find it.'' 

''Oh, you'll definitely find it. Only a matter of time.'' 

''How do you know? And hey - what's your name anyway?'' 

''I don't have a name as such..would you like to give me one?'' 

 

I thought about that for a moment. Sometimes it's hard to name things so I just gave her my Mom's name. 

''Gráinne. Let's call you Gráinne.'' 

And with that, the blinking stopped. 

  

It was all very strange, but then, things are strange. Did you know that there's a volcano in New Zealand that spits cold, black lava? Or did you know that in China they have deer with great big tusks that make them look like vampires?

A voice in a rosary ring isn't really that strange in the grand scheme of things, if you ask me. 

 

I looked for that bloody tooth all over. Searched everywhere and anywhere. Under the car, all over the training pitch, the bathroom stalls in school. Everywhere. I even brought one of Bernie's hand shovels up to the pitch and dug a hole where I had found the ring. Nothing.

A month went by without a sniff of a tooth. And without a word from Gráinne, which was sad because I liked the idea of having someone to speak to like I'd spoken to her. 

I think I've always wanted someone like that. 

That's why sometimes when I used to pray I wouldn't bless myself at the end. I'd just leave the line open and whisper there in the dark. Talk to God about my day, about what I'd like for my birthday or what Cillian Greene kept doing. Although, I didn't want to ask him to make it stop. I felt like I was expected to make it stop myself. 

I really did want to find that tooth. 

 

Summer came and it was great because we would hang around after training until it got dark. 

We would play soccer even though it wasn't really allowed and try to kick footballs over the hurling nets. If someone had one, we might even smoke a cigarette and whoever took the last drag before it quenched would have to chew the butt for 30 seconds. I never had to, thank God. 

 

One evening, just as it was getting dark, a few of us were walking home through the alleys in my estate. Cillian Greene and some lads I didn't know were sitting on a wall ahead of us. They went quiet as we went by, then started saying stuff about Dad and Bernie again.  

I tried to ignore it but Cillian Greene was showing off and when I wouldn't give him what he wanted he started throwing stones. One hit me right on the back of my head and went skidding across the road. I stopped and looked back, almost said something. But I couldn't. 

He came for me anyway, pouncing from the wall, shouting, ''What? What?'' 

And then I was on the ground, face against concrete, a billion little stones nibbling at my cheeks. 

He was pressing down on me so hard that I could feel the bones in my face bending. There was fluid. He was spitting on me; I could hear him putting effort into it.

As much as it hurt, as much as I wanted to cry, I didn't.  I just held my breath through it, clamped my eyes shut. I made a clear, conscious decision that I would much rather pass out than give him that.

Then I felt something. Something in my pocket, pinching. 

I reached in and slipped it on my finger, all the way down, past the knuckle. 

I twisted and swung and Cillian Greene made a noise like a dog does when you step on its paw. 

 

I can recall feeling my heart beat inside my fingers and having to yank the ring out of his face, blood drooling out of him in thin black ribbons. When I stood back up he was down on his knees, talking to me like his tongue was too heavy. 

Once when I had an eye infection Dad had to pin my arms by my sides and sit on my chest to get the eye drops in. 

So that's what I did to Cillian Greene. 

   

I got on top of him. He was bigger than me, a little older too, but down there we're all the same size. 

The plan, I suppose, was to sit on him for a bit - just until he said he'd leave me alone. But then I saw it, creeping out over his bottom lip. How had I never noticed it before? 

I reached down and pried his lips apart. There it was, jutting out from its row, bold as you like all bright and clean and shimmery. A snaggletooth, pulse-pulsing up at me from its bed.

There was a moment where I felt so relieved I could have floated off, fizzed apart in the atmosphere like sodium bicarbonate.

Then her voice found me again, whispered in my ear, ''Hey, Daniel. I told you you'd find it. Do you need your little shovel?''

''No,'' I told her, ''I don't need much else than this.''

I lay my palm on his forehead like a priest maybe would. Eased it back so his mouth opened wide and proud. He looked at me, eyes quivering like leverets in their nests. 

I turned the rosary ring so that the cross stood upright on the knuckle, held my fist up to the sky, above trees, streetlights. 

And I went digging for my tooth.

 

---

 

Paul Whyte is from Tipperary originally, born in Limerick and now living in Dublin with his wife and three children. He has been working in the tech industry for the last 15 years and writing for the last ten. Paul’s writing is generally literary, with a weird or speculative twist. He games far too much, so he finds it best to keep myself busy writing - as such, he is currently working simultaneously on both a short story collection and a novel. Paul has been published both online and in print. Most recently his work can be seen in The Bohymeth and The Moth Magazine. You can follow him on twitter @TWHR