“Peter? Peter, are you hearing me?” Mrs. Roberta Dippens hovered over her husband as he sat slowly smoking a pipe in his favorite armchair. The fact of the matter was, for about ten years he felt like he had failed to hear her hardly ever at all. He had strategically - with hours of practice during their peak years - managed to fade her voice out into the background just as he did the ocean wave nature tape that played during his weekly massage.
“You do like it don’t you?” she demanded with a voice that even sounded irksome when happy. “It’s Russian sable! Even Sarah Wilson doesn’t have a coat like this and I simply can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees this one!” She petted the coat with an immaculately manicured hand and dug her upturned nose into the fur. Mr. Dippens looked at his wife with a tired, vacant stare and just continued to suck on his pipe. He nodded at her.
“I’m going to brunch with the Stevenson’s at one. It’s a shame you can’t come darling. Couldn’t you leave just for brunch though and then go back to work? It must be terribly tiresome to look at teeth all day. I simply can’t imagine!”
And then as if she had just remembered something, she scurried to the mirror in her velvet high heels and flashed a cold, admiring smile. Her teeth were extremely large for her small mouth, pressed against each other like compressed coats in a closet much too small. They were bleached white and perfectly straight, filed down to perfection. This her husband had done many years ago. She had then been honored to be his first patient once he had finally gotten a loan to open his own office. They had dated while he had gone to dental school. She had been happier then, and much more thin.
Running a finger along a decorative shelf, Roberta scrunched up her nose and pinched her fingers together.
“It’s that maid again. She never does anything right and the amount we pay her is ridiculous! We’re cutting her salary.”
“Why don’t you dust it?”
Roberta turned slowly and glared at her husband but then quickly replaced it with a smile and laughed out of a slanted mouth; The kind of laugh you would expect a cat to have if a cat could laugh.
“Oh Peter, darling! You’re tired!” She walked toward him and her new diamond earrings jangled against her neck. “I’ll have some coffee made for you darling.” She looked at his trousers with disappointment. “You haven’t worn any of the new clothes I bought you.”
“These pants are fine. No holes.”
Her teeth pressed tightly together.
“Oh but you would look wonderful in those trousers! And that blazer all the way from France! I haven’t seen you wear it once. You still wear the same jacket you had back in college!”
“It still works just fine. I don’t need anything else.” He sucked on his pipe with thin, wrinkled lips. His body, although exceedingly tall, was shrunken in so that he looked like he had no blood at all, just bones. His fingers, frail but skilled, fiddled out a small bag of tobacco that he had folded in his front shirt pocket. Grey hairs poked up around his ears.
“You know Peter,” Roberta began hesitantly. “I do wish we could get rid of this armchair. It doesn’t match any of the other furniture and it’s worn looking.”
“You mean it’s cheap looking.”
She giggled again nervously and smiled widely.
“No, no Peter. It’s not that. I just want everything in this room to have the same theme. You understand? I know we’ve talked about this before but...everything else in this room...”
“I’m going to get ready for work,” Mr. Dippins said, getting up quickly so as to avoid the conversation he knew was coming; The conversation he had already had with her three times before.
“But Peter,” she continued wilily, following him into the master bedroom. “Wouldn’t you like everything to have a certain feel to it? Sarah’s house is all mahogany and granite and marble and ours is still so old fashioned. You remember you said that I could have the job as decorator?”
He studied the buttons on his dress shirt. One was barely hanging by a string. He frowned but continued to dress, licking his fingers and smoothing down a tuft of greying hair on the top of his head. Roberta pretended not to see him do it and just continued talking.
Her eyes were the same as they had been when he had first met her at the campus coffee shop over two decades ago: like brown sugar and sandpaper, curious and adventurous. Now they were vacant. The rest of her had seemed to have evanesced over the years, leaving nothing but the flesh behind, a machine of consumerism. Out of routine and also out of a little bit of remaining hope, he walked up to her, her mouth still spilling out words, kissed her lightly on her powdered and rouged cheek, and walked outside to his car. He was running slightly late.
When he got home the house was quiet. It was only eight o’ clock but still, all the lights were out save for a night light in the hallway. He was nervous tonight. He had planned tonight in his head for over ten years. At first his idea had started as a little jest in his head, a lark, a simple daydreaming fantasy. But as the years grew on and his wife spent more and more of his income, already diving into their retirement money, feelings of insecurity began to rise in him like a swelling tide.
“What am I to do if she spends the entire retirement fund?” he often wondered to himself, knowing that he wasn’t really asking a question at all. It wasn’t a matter of if it would happen, but a matter of when. He was growing older. His family had a history of brain cancer and heart disease and even though his income was great, it wouldn’t last them for the years to come. He was getting tired. He couldn’t work as much or as hard much longer, and on top of that, he didn’t wish to. Over twenty years of looking at teeth and swollen gums and trivial conversations and X-ray machines, he had simply had enough.
His hand trembled slightly as he opened the door to the bedroom. Roberta rested on her side snoring loudly. He turned a small Tiffany lamp on in the corner and the dim light spilled out across the ceiling. His bare feet felt an odd, new sensation: He looked down and saw that he stood on a new rug made of fox fur which hadn’t ever been there before. Scrunching up his toes nervously, he walked to the bedside and hovered over his plump wife. She smelt of hair chemical and expensive perfume. Her water glass, which she always had on the side of the bed on the dresser was barely full. Earlier that day he had filled up the glass himself, slipping in crushed up pieces of sleeping pills. A small bit of white residue could be seen on the bottom of the glass and he smiled reassuringly. Sweat began to build around his neck and on his palms but he kept moving forward.
Walking into his closet he quietly shut the door and settled himself on the floor, pulling out a tiny, empty jelly jar from a corner which had been covered by his hanging clothes. He opened it and out fell eight sparkling diamonds into the palm of his left hand. Four were ordinary white diamonds of typical cut and weight, four carats, a vivid yellow that reminded him of the color of urine after taking too many vitamin B pills. Two others were more rare and much more expensive: pink diamonds from the De Pauns premier diamond mine in Monaco. The last two were much more scarce: Indian diamonds from Galconda which he had won at an auction over five years ago in Switzerland. He kept them safe all these years, his own retirement fund, his safety net.
He gently brought the tiny diamonds up to his nose as if to smell them and then gently tucked them in his pant pocket. After his nervousness died down, he began to work quickly. Opening a tiny valise he brought out some of the equipment he had gotten from the office earlier that day. Gently picking up her hand, he rolled her wrist about gently to try to get the blood flowing with a little more bounce. He kept his eyes on her closed ones, often stealing glances at the empty water cup as if to constantly remind him that it was hardly full. A small groan escaped from her open mouth but she didn’t wake. Attaching the indwelling catheter to the tiny needle, he pricked her skin with a professional quickness and aim, inserting the tiny tube into an opening in the vein of her right hand. Quickly he began to administer the sedatives, all the while still keeping his eyes on her closed lids. Placing tubes emitting oxygen gently in her nostrils, he waited for a short moment, his heart pounding, his left eye twitching ever so slightly. She stayed tranquilly asleep.
Relieved, he began to work, bustling around the room making as much noise as he wished. He pulled out the pulse oximeter and clicked the gadget on her ear lobe, checking her breathing with his hand on her left breast. At one point she peeked open her eyes and just looked at him. He just smiled at her and told her to close her eyes and open her mouth a bit wider. She did so. He took comfort in the amnesic effect it would have on her and continued to work.
First, he numbed her mouth with local anesthetic. Secondly, he drilled out the occlusal surfaces of her top and bottom first and second molars, all the while humming the tune of one of his favorite opera songs. The deeper and deeper he got into the procedure, the more joyous and relaxed he became. He decided he enjoyed her much more in this state of dreaming insensate repose. She looked like a round little child, innocent and almost sweet when her eyes were shut and her mouth was gaping open like a turned down tulip. The roundness of her cheeks hid her once beautiful cheekbones. Putting down his drill for a quick moment, he bent down and kissed her forehead.
Her first and second molars now were completely hollow. He gently pulled the diamonds out of his pocket and set them on the blanket. With careful precision, he placed the diamonds inside of her giant, void bottom molars and then filled in the empty spaces around them. He worked quickly in this manner for the whole of two hours, a task that would have taken an amateur dentist double the time. When he was finished he briskly cleaned up his equipment, wiped her mouth clean with a tiny wet towel, vacuuming away the dust from her ground up teeth, and hid the valise under the bed. He then got in next to her and wrapped his arms around her still sedated body, feeling the warmth of her skin, the gentle thrumming of her heart, and even smelled for a moment the real smell of her skin under all the hair lotions and skin oils: vanilla. She had always smelled like vanilla, especially when she was younger. With this last thought, he fell gently asleep next to his wife.
Mrs. Dippens didn’t hear the crash of the breaking back window, but she did finally wake up when she heard unknown voices quietly conversing in the hallway just outside the master bedroom.
When she opened both her eyes, the lamp was on in the corner and Mr. Dippens was frantically searching in the closet, still dressed in his work clothes.
“What’s going on?” Roberta whispered out harshly, climbing out of bed dizzily and slightly nauseous. Her mouth felt light as a feather and she felt unusually drowsy even though the clock on the mantelpiece said 4:37 a.m.
“Where’s my shot gun?” he called back to her. “Roberta! Where’s the shot gun?”
“I- I ...I sold it last month.”
“You what?” he yelled back, running out of the closet with a frightened and horrid look in his eye.
The bedroom door flung open and two large men dressed in black with ski masks pulled over their faces scrambled into the room. Both of them carried small automatic handguns pointed in the direction of Mr. Dippens.
“Don’t move an inch,” one of them said steadily, although he seemed rather nervous. “Go look for the safe,” he called over his shoulder to the man who stood behind him. “Hurry up. Sun’ll be up in an hour.”
“The safe’s in the closet,” Mr. Dippens said calmly. “You can take the money, but please leave. We haven’t done anything to you.”
“Hey Bones, did you hear that? Check the closet first.” He turned to Mr. Dippens and snarled. “If you’re lying...”
“It’s there,” answered Mr. Dippens firmly.
Roberta’s face was red with fear. Her eyes went to the new fur rug, to the five thousand dollar painting she had had shipped from Europe last summer hanging by the fire place. Oh and her coat! Her wonderful Russian Sable coat was in that closet that the thief was in! She felt as if she was going to faint. She slowly started toward her husband but the thief yelled out for her to stop still.
“Oh, Peter! Do something!” she cried out, her mouth sloppy and aching. She put two of her hands up to her cheeks and pinched them. “Peter,” she whispered. “My lips feel cold. I feel terrible.” She then turned to the thief. “I need a doctor, do ya hear? Now! Right now!”
“That’s it,” replied the thief. “Bones, come out here. This broad is making me a little nervous, a little jittery.”
“There’s only five hundred dollars in here, Davey!” Bones called out from the closet nervously. “Only five hundred dollars, that’s it!” He walked out with a small wad of bills in his right hand, his gun in the other.
“Where’s the rest?” The thief asked Mr. Dippins.
“That’s all we have. I swear it. The rest is in my bank account.”
The thief grunted and began to look around the room, scrutinizing every single piece of furniture and area where another safe might be hidden.
“Tie ‘em up,” he called to his accomplice. “And then slice open the mattress.”
“The mattress!” Mrs. Dippins called out. “The mattress! Oh no no no! Peter, do something! Peter!”
Within a minute, Mr. Dippins was sat down with his hands tied behind his back, his feet tied together, and his mouth covered in tape. The two thieves realized quickly though that Mrs. Dippins wasn’t going to cooperate as much. They finally got her hands tied together but her screaming wouldn’t stop. Her giant mouth with her giant teeth wouldn’t stay still and one of the thieves tried to hold her jaw shut while the other cut the tape. With a last effort, Mrs. Dippins bit his hand and let out a scream so ear piercingly loud that one of the thieves covered his ears. The other, however, just stared at her open, gaping mouth with an odd, curious look in his eyes.
“Open her mouth,” the thief said to the other. “Open her mouth wide and hold it there.”
The two men peered deeply into the pink, wet mouth of Mrs. Dippens for a long while with glistening, greedy eyes.
“Well, I’ll be,” replied one of them while the other quickly took off to look around the house for pliers.