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The Night the Tooth Fairy Almost Died

The tooth fairy is dead.

Those were the first words that came to mind. After all, our family has known more than its share of death over the past few years, and what was one more? Besides, it's not like the boys knew the tooth fairy personally. The tooth fairy was just some stranger that broke into houses in the middle of the night. It was bound to happen, and, frankly, I'm surprised that the jig wasn't up sooner.

But I didn't say anything. Instead, the tooth fairy was reprieved by my silence as I stood in the bathroom with a toothbrush in one hand and a small tooth in the other. The tooth wasn't mine.

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"It was still there," said my son. "I put this tooth under the pillow three nights ago and the tooth fairy never came."

It was news to me.

"I just don't know what to think anymore," he added.

Truth be told, I didn't know what to think either. He was 9, and his brother a couple of years older. It had been a while since we had needed to unload the couch cushions at midnight in hopes of loose change and the maintaining of magic. Their teeth had been on a stubborn streak, and, in the time that passed, the boys had grown all the wiser in the ways of the world. I had, mistakingly, assumed they spent said time learning the things that I would never teach them.

I am realistic enough to know that society will do its best to beat the wonder from them, one cruel laugh at a time.

The boys are smart and clever, well-versed in literature, pop culture and the grab bag learnings of a public education; yet they have remained sweetly innocent, holding hands, eyes wide with wonder, and giving hope the benefit of the doubt.

It is an innocence that we have curated and cultivated, not as flights of passing fancy, but as ties to a time of endless joy and free-range happiness. Childhood, I would argue, is not a thing to rush one's way out of.

Instead, I am waiting for the conversation to arise, the losing of belief that feeds upon the dreams of children, until they are all too awake, forever lost to illusion. I am waiting, but I am far from wanting.

I don't remember when I stopped believing in such things, the fairies and elves of good deeds and nonsense, or if I ever did. After all, who cares if magic is nothing more than sleight of hand performed by those that love us? It is done for the merriment of children, and that seems a thing worth believing in and always holding onto.

Still, I am realistic enough to know that society will do its best to beat the wonder from them, one cruel laugh at a time. There will be days, I fear, and far too soon, when the only thing they know as true is the absolute presence of deception and the crafty promises of deceit and denial.

But then, if life is kind and the world a little giving, they will find their way back again, to that place between the coming and the going, where lingering are those things we want to believe in and they welcome us warmly, regardless of our knowing. Sometimes that place looks a lot like a bathroom.

It wasn't his tooth either.

His face, so full of confused speculation just moments before, grew soft and knowing.

The tooth belonged to his older brother, and, to be fair, my younger son had placed it under the proper pillow, although he hadn't bothered to tell his sibling that he had done so. Something else of note, it wasn't even a full tooth, but rather the remnants of a trip to the dentist that nobody likes to talk about.

"I wanted it to be a surprise," he said.

"Maybe the tooth fairy doesn't come for partial teeth," I offered. "That's barely the shell of a tooth."

"That makes sense."

"Try it again tonight," I told him. "But add a little note that explains the situation."

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He took the tooth from my hand, his eyes fixed upon the contours of calcium now broken, jagged and left lonely like an afterthought. His face, so full of confused speculation just moments before, grew soft and knowing. He had a glow about him.

"I'll do it right now," he said, and he left me like he found me, a toothbrush in my hand and nothing planned but morning.

The tooth fairy is dead, I thought. Long live the tooth fairy.

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Image by Whit Honea

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