Wobbly Teeth

 The two girls stood in line together, holding hands. They appeared almost identical. Both pale, both blonde, both their faces gently littered in a constellation of freckles. Of the few differences between them was their height; one of the girls, Edie, was tall and slim whilst the other, Jessie, was short and delicate-looking. 
The school hall was hot and packed full of the sweaty bodies of sixteen year olds, all huddled together in tight groups as they opened their results. Edie glanced around the room, taking it all in. Teachers hugged their students goodbye. Groups of friends laughed together as they held up their results for each other to see. She appeared interested, though her expression was somewhat doleful. A photographer was doing laps of the hall, rounding up groups of smiling friends for photographs. They held up their results for the camera and wrapped their ams around each other’s shoulders as the shutter snapped again and again. Jessie squeezed Edie’s hand. 
“Are you nervous?” She asked.
“A bit, but not really.” Edie replied. “We can’t change anything now.” 
The line shortened. Soon they were at the front. In front of them was a table, behind which a woman sat, arranging envelopes into alphabetical order. Jessie nudged Edie forwards. The woman behind the desk asked her name and then began searching through the rows of paper. She skimmed her finger above the desk, hovering at T.
“Ah.” She said. “Edie Thomas.” 
The woman handed Edie the envelope. Edie stepped to the side, watching as Jessie collected her results. Jessie glanced sideways at her and, as if perfectly in tune with one another, Edie flashed her an encouraging smile.
“Shall we open them?” She asked, as Jessie stepped towards her.
“Here?” Jessie wrinkled her nose slightly.
“Where else would we open them?” 
“Our spot.” Jessie said, as if this were the obvious place.
Edie glanced back at the groups of friends huddled around the room. She caught the eye of a girl in the far corner who stood, enclosed in a circle of friends. The girl waved at Edie and called something out to her. Edie strained, as if unable to hear. The girl gestured for her to come over. Jessie stood self-consciously at Edie’s side.
“Edie.” She said. Her voice sounded pleading. Edie turned to her and they looked at each other, their eyes still for a moment. Jessie nodded in the direction of the door. Edie hesitated. She looked back into the room. After a moment, in which she appeared to be thinking, she turned to face the girl, shook her head and waved goodbye. The girl pulled a face and turned back to her friends.
Edie and Jessie began walking across the hall. On their way out, the photographer stopped them and, gesturing towards his camera, offered to take a picture of the two of them with their results. Jessie laughed self-consciously. She brushed a stray strand of hair behind her ear and said ‘no, thank you.’ The photographer persisted, raising his camera and waving his hand as if instructing them on where to stand. Again, the girls shook their heads. Appearing somewhat defeated, the photographer nodded and continued on through the hall. Edie and Jessie continued walking. They slid out of the fire escape door and into the August morning sunshine.

Their spot was the thick, low branch of a tree at the edge of the school sports field. It was slightly set back from the rest of the playground and sheltered beneath the low hanging leaves which, throughout the summer, had turned a lime green colour. The girls were familiar with the space and, easily, Jessie hopped up onto the branch, wriggling to get comfortable. Edie stood, leaning against the trunk. Jessie looked down at her. 
“You first.” She said.
Edie hesitated a second and then tore into the envelope. The paper crumpled as she slid it out and she had to straighten it before she could read. Her eyes scanned the list quickly. She was holding her breath. When she realised this she exhaled, composed herself, and began reading again from the top. She had good grades; a B in Sociology and an A in English as well as in History. It was enough to get into the Film course at Islington Arts College, which was all that mattered. She breathed out, relieved. Jessie watched her.
“How did you do?” She asked.
“I got the grades I needed.” Edie replied.
“You did?” 
Jessie slid off the branch and pulled Edie into a tight embrace. 
“That’s amazing.” She said as she let her go. “I’m so proud of you.” She added, though it was unclear wether she meant it or not.
“Thanks.” Edie said.
Then Jessie opened her envelope. She opened it a lot slower than Edie had and with more care. She slid her fingernail under the flap and delicately pinched the edges, pulling the sheet out slowly so as not to let it tear. She held the paper close to her face as she read.
“What does it say?” Edie asked.
Jessie extended her arm, offering Edie the paper. She took it and began to read. Jessie’s grades were decent, lower than Edie’s, but good enough to get into most colleges.
“That’s really good.” Edie said. 
“Yeah, I guess. It’s good enough.” Jessie said, plainly. Edie continued to speak.
“Have you decided what to do next year?” She asked.
Jessie had looked at lots of different colleges. She was unsure of where to go or what to study. In the end, she decided on an Art course. Art was her best subject, though she didn’t enjoy it much and said she didn’t know what form interested her. ‘It’s this or nothing.’ She had said, months earlier as she skim-read course descriptions on the library computer, Edie sat beside her, pointing out the pros and cons of each. 
“I don’t know.” Jessie said. She turned her gaze to the field ahead. “Everything I’ve looked at seems boring as fuck.” She laughed, though her expression didn’t change. “I thought I might just go to Islington Arts.” 
Edie appeared surprised. For a moment, she said nothing.
“I thought you hated Islington Arts.” She said, finally.
“I don’t really like any of the courses I’ve seen.” Jessie said. “But at least at Islington Arts I’d get to be with you.” 
Edie shifted, uncomfortably.
“Jessie, you shouldn’t choose a college just because I’m going there. Choose the one that’s best for you.” 
“It is best for me.” 
“For reasons other than the fact that I’m going?”
Her voice was hard. She tried to soften it. Jessie looked back at her. She narrowed her eyes.
“Don’t you want me to come to Islington Arts with you?” She asked.
“Of course I do.” Edie said, though with little conviction. “I just think you should make the right decision for yourself. It’s two years of your life, Jessie. You have to be sure you’re making the right choice.”
“I am sure.” Jessie replied. “What’s the big deal anyway? We’ve always been together.” 
Edie nodded, though she appeared to make no effort to arrange her face nicely or to hide her expression. Jessie knew exactly what she was thinking.
“It will be fun.” She said.
“I know.” Edie replied. Jessie looked sideways at her, though she refused to meet her gaze.
“It will.” She said, again.
                            *   *   *
On the morning of her first day, Edie found her way to a seminar room labelled S15 on the information sheet she’d collected from reception. A tutor was standing in the doorway, greeting students. She wore a simple white blouse and blue, denim jeans. She smiled as Edie approached and waved her through the door. The seminar room was small and crowded, though there were few students. Edie took a seat in the middle of the room. She looked around at the smiling faces, hearing the enthusiastic chatter of her classmates who talked easily to one another at the adjacent tables. Beside her sat a small, mousy girl with dark hair. She turned to Edie, smiling, and asked her name. Her name was Esme. She was from Stoke Newington. For a while, they spoke. Esme told her about Stoke Newington; about the park and the cafe on Church Street, which she claimed sold the best Nutella doughnuts in London. Edie told her about Crouch End; about Alexandra Palace and Dunns, which, she said, also sold good doughnuts.
Minutes passed. The room hushed as the tutor took her place at the front of the class. 
“Okay.” She said, addressing the room. “Welcome to Islington Arts College. My name is Anita Greco and I am your course leader.” She paused, her eyes scanning the room. “To begin, we’re going to go around the room and introduce ourselves. I want you to tell us your name, where you’ve come from and your favourite film. I’ll start: My name is Anita, I was born in Naples but now, of course, I live in London. My favourite film is A Clockwork Orange, directed by Stanley Kubrick.” 
She gestured to a boy sitting in the front row.
“I’m Toby.” He said. “I’m from Walthamstow and my favourite film is probably 2001: A Space Odyssey.” 
Anita nodded. She moved onto the next student, passing through the rows of faces, enthused by the murmurs of Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting and Silence of The Lambs.
She reached Edie.
“I’m Edie.” She started, “and my favourite film is Lady Bird by Greta Gerwig.”
Jessie sat on a hard, wooden stool in the corner of an airy, harshly-lit Art studio. The room was spacious and the walls bare, awaiting the next cohort’s work.
In front of her, she could see only the backs of her classmates heads as they went around the room, taking it in turns to say their names and their areas of interest. 
“Textiles.” One girl said.
“Photography.” Said another.
They came to Jessie and the heads turned. They watched her, expectantly. She took a deep breath.
“I’m Jessie.” She started, her skin becoming prickly and hot. “I um, I don’t have a specific area of interest. I just did quite well in Art at school and I wanted to experience a range of different areas of, um, Art.” 
The heads turned back to the front of the room where a tutor stood. He smiled, reassuringly, at Jessie. 
“Well that’s exactly what this course if for.” He said. “A way for you to explore the numerous avenues your art could take you down. It’s okay not to be sure where your interest lies yet, this is only the beginning.” 
Jessie nodded. She turned her gaze to the clock. 9:25. Still another three hours until she could see Edie.
At the end of the day, the two girls met on the street outside the college. They walked, arms linked, down Upper Street, towards Highbury Corner, where they would take the tube home. Once almost identical, they now stood apart from one another. Edie had dyed her hair. It was a shade of flaming auburn, like the colour of autumn leaves, and flailed out behind her as she walked. Jessie’s appearance had not changed.
“So how did you find it?” Edie asked.
“It was okay. Bit boring.” Jessie shrugged.
“Well the course doesn’t seem that interesting and the people weren’t particularly friendly. They all just kind of have their own groups and know exactly what they want to do.” 
“But Jessie, everybody’s new. There aren’t any groups yet.”
Jessie shrugged again. Her eyes were fixed ahead of her.
“How about you?” She asked, eventually. “How did you find it?”
“I really liked it.” Edie started. “It was really interesting. Everyone was talking about their favourite films and stuff. And everyone was really nice.” She continued. “Like, my kind of people.” 
Jessie unlinked her arm from Edie’s. She held her wrist in her hand as if it might get away from her.
“You’ll be fine, Jessie.” Edie said. “It’s only the first day.” 
Jessie said nothing. She sighed, loudly.
“I guess.” 
                               *   *   *
Edie stood in front of the mirror examining a mouth full of milky white baby teeth. They were tiny and pearly white, as if cosmetically enhanced. She ran a finger along her gum, wobbling each tooth until one broke loose and fell into her hand. She gasped, stared at it in her open palm. Her hand was now wet with saliva and her tooth, stained lightly with blood, had left a red marbled swirl. She looked back to the mirror, seeing her new gap-toothed smile.
“Oh my god.” She said to her reflection. She opened her mouth wider, getting a better look. It crossed her mind that she could get a fake tooth as a replacement and she pulled away from the mirror, relieved for a moment. But it wouldn't be the same. Her real tooth could never truly be replaced. As she realised this, she began to cry. Hot salty tears streamed down her cheeks.
She woke up. She put her hand to her mouth and felt for her tooth. It was still there, firmly in place.
Downstairs, her mum sat at the kitchen table, a cup of coffee warming her hands.
“Morning!” She beamed as Edie made her way through the door, bare feet padding against the tiled floor. Edie smiled back at her, half heartedly.
“What’s wrong?” She asked.
“Nothing.” Edie said. “I just had a weird dream.” 
Edie explained the dream, including even the smallest details. How white the tooth had been, how the blood had swirled in her hand, how it was her front tooth - not the other, smaller teeth - that had fallen out. This, she thought, seemed an important detail.
“I don’t know why I dreamt that.” She said. “I don’t understand what it means.” 
“Does it have to mean anything?” Her mum asked.
“Aren’t your dreams supposed to mean something? Like, they're a reflection of your subconscious?”
Her mum watched her from across the room. Her eyes were attentive.
“I have your baby teeth somewhere.” She said.
“You kept them?” 
“Of course. They’re special.” 
“I don’t need them anymore.” Edie frowned.
“No, but they’re still a part of you.” 
“Not anymore. I’ve got new teeth.” Edie pointed to her mouth.
“You’ve outgrown them, of course, but you still needed them at one point in your life.”
Edie looked at her mum. She placed her coffee carefully down on the table.
“You’ll outgrow a lot of things in your life but that doesn’t mean they aren’t of value. Even if you don’t need them in the same way that you used to. You’re not supposed to need your baby teeth forever, that’s why they fall out. But they should still be treasured.” 
Edie nodded. She understood.