Rachilde: “The Tooth”

by hyphology

In passing by chance the dining room, she saw, on a dresser, a dozen pistachio croquets, and, mechanically raising her hand up to the silver plate that supports the appetizing pyramid, she chose the driest and most glazed, with an inexplicable gluttony… since she is not a glutton. Suddenly, in crushing the pastry, she felt a hard object, a small object much harder than the pistachios, and at the same moment a vibration had run through her entire body, a strange vibration that went spiraling from her gums to her heels. What? What is this? She removes it with the tips of her two nails. How! a pebble in a croquet from the good creator! She approaches the pale green stained-glass window, behind which extends a dreamy field, all green and pale, then she examines the pebble very closely with a cold, subtle breath on her hair. It, it’s a tooth!


Horror sweeps her off her feet; she falls to her seat, her pupils dilated. A tooth! Hers. No, no, it’s impossible! Come on, she would have been suffering already, and she never had a toothache. She is still young, she takes scrupulous care of her mouth, all while having, it must be admitted, a profound disgust for the dentist. She probes, there, on the side, a little behind the smile, and finds that there is a hole. She leaps up, strikes the stained-glass window with her forehead, looks with irritated eyes at this little object which gleams with a slightly yellowish whiteness. Yes, in fact, it’s a tooth; it is crowned with a dark trim at the spot of the break. Worn down, but how long has it gone on for? Attacked by what? It did not cause her any suffering at first, and now she found herself plunged into one of those despairs which, for lasting only one day, are all the more terrible. From now on she has a defect! A door has just opened on her thoughts, and she will no longer know how to keep certain words from coming out, without her wanting it, of her mouth. She isn’t old; however Death has just inflicted on her his first flick of the fingers.

Throwing the remains of the damned croquet on the white and black checkerboard, funereal tiling of the dining room, she runs away as if she knew herself to be forever pursued. In her room, carefully shutting the door, she locks herself in and leans on the mirror. For a tooth!… Quiet! It’s not so bad. She tries to laugh out loud, and she turns around frightened. Huh? who laughs thusly? Who laughs with a shadow between their lips? It’s her! Oh! that black star in the middle of that double white flash! Nothing can be done at this point. And the time is so distant when she laughed with all her teeth. A wrinkle, this would be one more thing; a white hair, this would be a new thing. The one fewer tooth is an irremediable catastrophe; and if she begged the dentist to replace her own tooth, it would still be a fake tooth! Oh! she felt it, when it fell between pieces of the croquet, like a little cold heart that was escaping from her. She has just exhaled everything in a miniscule detail of herself. Oh! the atrocious reality! Come on! come on! have courage! She is a reasonable woman, she will not cry, she will not tell anything, she will have only this interior exclamation, frightfully sorry: “Lord! Lord!” Because she is pious and has made for herself a second husband of God at supreme moments of despondency. When her mother died, she shouted: “Lord!” Inwardly, also, in the same way. Tomorrow, she must approach the sacraments, she will have a greater fervor, that’s all, and will not think about it anymore.

Unfortunately, her tongue still thinks about it! With the tip of her tongue, she performs senseless snakings into that dark corner of her jaw. She finds there a formidable gap, and she suddenly has, poor woman, the very absurd vision of a castle of olden times in ruins, gazed upon during its honeymoon. Yes… she perceives the tower, over there, a tower which holds at its summit a notched crown, and which hangs, in thunderstorms, like the unequal jaw of a colossal old…

Her temples are buzzing. If her husband arrived, she would tell him everything. Incidentally, he is so discreet, so decent, that she really hopes… to hide everything from him. She walks around, tries to calm herself by closing her eyes in front of the mirror. Then, it’s finished, she will no longer laugh. She will no longer open her mouth wide to swallow an oyster. Suddenly, she stops… And love?… Oh! what a diabolical joy seizes her in dreaming that she is no longer subject to the desperate kisses of the honeymoon! And to say that there are wives who take lovers in order to try to remember those caresses!… How virtue seems preferable to her today. She rushes toward a drawer, looks for a small round case, removes a ring from it, then, with almost material care and full of superstitious fright, she places her tooth on the black velvet. How white it is, little dead one! Who killed it? It is still so healthy despite the brown edging. My God! Is it then true? It is necessary to be carried off a little every day? And the horrible thing is that there isn’t any other cause for this inexorable, crumbling (miette à miette) departure than the following: good people must nonetheless die one day. Oh! right now! A revolver! Some poison!… I want to be carried off from it completely! And a kind of interior echo answers her: “You are no longer complete!”

The door is open, her husband gaily enters: “Did you do your meditations, Bichette?”[1] Whenever she must take communion the following day, he does not get any more familiar with her, for delicate reasons. He is a serious, affectionate husband, full of pretty kindnesses without being amorous in the least. She has a half-smile. “Yes, I meditated… See, do not tease me, I say!” He is seated in front of her, he pats her thigh for a moment; he wants to chat, to tell a story, his eyes brilliant. He met the gaze of Sir Silve, that imbecile… And he speaks quickly, in order to have time to tell everything before the polite break in conversation. He is having a quarrel with Silve, the owner of the adjacent estate, and he never forgets to denigrate his dogs, his cars, his livery. Back in Paris, they will be excellent comrades again in their circle, but on holiday he cannot put up with him, because one of them, the neighbor, possesses the most beautiful pheasants.

Standing in front of him, she wonders if, out of Christian humility, she must reveal everything to him. But why deteriorate before his eyes? Her confessor will not force her. And by listening to him she feels herself enveloped in an icy mood. She is two, and yet, she is alone. Is there nothing that can carry you, soulmates, beyond your bodies? And suddenly a sentence sounds like a shot in her distracted ears. Her husband just said to her, much gentler than the rest: “See, Bichette, I have it in (je lui garde une dent) for that idiot Silve!”[2] She topples from the full height of her long chair. A nervous fit twists her. “Bichette! What have you? Damn it!…” She doesn’t respond at all. He runs to the bell, which doesn’t vibrate, for an unknown reason, but, while running, he broke a crystal cornet and the maid suddenly appears, frightened. Now it undoes her, she is alone; he withdraws, not asking for an explanation, knowing that she is always nervous on the eve of making her devotions. She remains alone, she will sleep alone. Oh! so alone with this ridiculous secret!… And the following day she wakes up bathed in sweat, she had strange nightmares: it seemed to her that she was chewing on her own flesh. She prays, she dresses, supports what is attached, chooses a thick veil, puts the round case in her pocket. She does not want to part with it. What if they were to search her furniture?… She steps out of the dense park through a hidden exit, stealthily entering the church. The old priest, a country priest, a heavy man, believes he must greet her before beginning the mass. At last, waiting for her, the host between his raised fat fingers, he murmurs: “My God, let me forget these vanities!” And she advances, eyelids half-closed, and kneels. Oh! Oblivion and Consolation! Her whole being is drawn toward the region of mystical union, where kisses are surrendered without care of the number of teeth. She receives the host, closes her mouth; but while her tongue, with a smooth and respectful movement, gently turns over the slice of divine bread, folds it in half to swallow it faster, she guesses (devine) and sees that God has stopped… He is still not used to it, and remains in a corner on the side of the little hole! The poor woman calls to his aid every last bit of saliva. She frantically departs from the Holy Table, having the sacrilegious desire to spit despite her fervor. What! Is it the God of charity who is inflicting such humiliation? If it was ordinary bread, she would understand, but Him! Then, she detaches him with a brutal blow of her tongue and suddenly swallows; God disappears, rushes away as if he were afraid, after finding out. Her face in her clenched hands, she cries. It ends up relieving her. As she walks down the shady path of the park, she cries again, although less desperately. A kind of astonishing dryness rises from her heart to her eyes. Even though death must announce itself from time to time, without it, happy people would not think about it. She contemplates a lily standing there, under a tree with trailing branches, a lily whose sickly whiteness reminds her of her deceased tooth. With a deep sigh, she removes the small round box from her pocket, kisses it, digs up the ground, and thrusts into it the tiny coffin which contains the first piece of her. Disgusted, she presses with all the strength of her nervous hands, replaces the moss around the lily, which erases all trace of the burial. Then, lips trembling, she moves away, with a little bit of dirt beneath her fingernails…


[1] The husband uses the formal vous form in this question, which explains the following line.

[2] Je lui garde une dent literally means “I’m keeping a tooth for him,” which is why Bichette reacts in such a way.

Translated by Jake Nabasny.