You will recall that this is the story of Hank Makeway, the smith of children’s teeth, and how he came to build a new toothway to New Jerusalem when the last of them had fallen.
Hank has sown the fourth of his eight horses; and now he feels a presence in the gums. . . .
The First Tooth
For the next month, things are easier.
Hank spends the month on walking.
He does not work, at least, not in the way a smith is usually working. Instead he lets the gums heal. He familiarizes himself with their newest contours. He plays with the remaining horses, and he sings songs, and he rambles aloud about the incidents of his life.
He displays himself openly, simply, and with trust.
He means this as an introduction of sorts. He has studied the gums of Kailani Tate. Now he sets aside time for the nascent goddess of her teeth to study him.
One day, that goddess says, “Hank Makeway.”
A current of joy runs through the gums. Somewhere, Kailani Tate startles and drops her crayon.
Trepidation seizes the gums.
Communication is dangerous. It evokes in the goddess a fear of mistakes, of misstatements, of unmaking. For a long time afterwards, she says nothing more.
At the end of the month Hank starts working again. He sets up braces and stays along the paths of the gums. He anchors them with ropes and pulleys.
Curiosity moves. The goddess asks him, one day, as he’s setting up a smith’s stay, “What are you doing, Hank?”
“I want this bit of path to stay still,” he says.
He indicates a trickle of chemical energy that is tributary to the path.
“When there’s pressure along here,” he explains.
Later, as he sets up the ropes that bind a bit of path to one of his anchors, she says, “And here?”
“It’s structural support,” he says, “for the road to New Jerusalem.”
He takes Flesh-Ripper out to a certain place and he tells the horse, “Here.”
The horse dances upon the gums. Flesh-Ripper’s hooves come down, thum-thum-thum, and drive a crystal of pure ivory into the gums.
A palpable tension manifests. The pressure and the energy of the gums rises.
“Quickly, now,” Hank urges.
Fierce and driven, Hank moves his team from place to place, planting the scattered seeds for Kailani’s first new tooth. He is sweating and rigid and he moves with a sense of urgency; for if this part fails, he must rip out all the planted buds of ivory and start again. Time weighs on him in the form of material strain. The path around him is buckling and twisting, snapping about within the confines of the braces and the stays, and it will not hold forever. Once Hank loses his footing and his ankle flares with pain and he hears a snap and for a moment he fears that all is lost: but it is a buckle and not a bone that he has broken. He is agile enough to continue.
Only once in this process does the urgency in him relent. That is when the voice of the goddess comes softly through the gums, saying, “This is strange, Hank Makeway.”
Then he stills. He draws three breaths for calm. He says, “Is it?”
“Would you like me to explain?” he says.
And he smiles.
After a moment, she says, curiosity.
“This is a process of defining,” Hank says. “These paths of yours are sound and honest, but they are equivocal. They speak of many different things. I am scouring away their indecision and putting them in the shape of teeth.
“The teeth,” he finishes, simply, “are the road to New Jerusalem.”
Solemnly, she says the ritual lines: “New Jerusalem, suffused with grace.”
“You are in your shape a transformation,” Hank says, “that takes in Lauemford and becomes New Jerusalem— takes what is immured in Lauemford at the right of the jaw and opens New Jerusalem to it at the left.”
“Oh,” she says.
Then suddenly she parses the entirety of his statement. The word bursts from her as a laugh: “Lauemford!”
“Yes,” he says.
“Lauemford,” she says, again.
Her tone is that of a child who has just learned that the milk she drinks every day comes out of a moo cow: joyous incredulity at the fallibility of the world.
“I live in Lauemford,” he protests, hitting his chest. “I have a farm.”
New gales of laughter pour forth. Hank frowns; then his cheeks burn; then, despite himself, he grins. His hurt pride becomes ridiculous to him. Hidden behind his smile, his heart begins to laugh. He squares his shoulders. He shakes his head and sighs. Then he goes back to work.
The stays are cracking but have not quite broken when he sets the last crystal in his design. Exhaling a great satisfaction, he stumbles to a stop.
The shape he’s crafted burns in Ms. Tate’s gums. Its mathematical character transfigures. Along the fault lines of symmetry and consanguinity lines of power burn. Metamorphosis seethes into gleaming lattices. The scattered seeds of Kailani’s first new tooth reach out to one another; see the shining of one another; see the seething potential in each other; embrace.
“Tooth,” says Hank, in quiet satisfaction.
Only mammals have differentiated teeth, murmurs a fragment of truth embedded in the gums; and “Tooth,” sighs after him the goddess of the gums.
It is very nearly perfect, this first of Kailani’s teeth.
There’s no smith less than Hank Makeway that could see the error in it at all; and even Hank misses it, this once.
One tooth down. Twenty-seven left to go.
but that is twenty-seven teeth too many to speak of them tonight; so we shall leave the next few for tomorrow, should it happen you won’t mind.