Tuesday, June 10

Towards Come, Approach, Avenue

THERE WAS ONCE an avenue where I kept all of my ambitions, like trees, because I enjoyed the word ‘avenue’ and how it sounded; almost French.
As a child I would walk around the garden saying—‘Avenue’ over and over until it became not a word but a sound and then finally a hiccup. I always did so in the middle of summer when the sun beat down and tormented me until I was forced to fill up the paddling pool and lie in its beating breaking waters so that I could cool down. With my fingers picking out strands of mown grass, I said—‘Avenue’ over and over.
It was very important that I keep all of my ambitions – hopes, dreams, aspirations, goals, whatever you wish to call them – in one place.
Avenue.
(Now I am forty-six and fully capable of opening a dictionary to see that, yes, indeed avenue is French in origin; feminine past principle of ‘avenir’, which is arrive or approach. Even further back one can find the French inspiration in that matriarch of European languages, Latin: ‘advenire’, from ‘ad—’ towards, and ‘venire’ come.)
I hold the grass up to my eye and inspect it. It is the middle of the blade; the tip had no doubt been lost into the belly of the lawnmower. I get out of the pool with a comic sense of childlike urgency. I have business! I dress myself and hurry out of the house to an avenue where there are no ambitions, but there are trees and houses and signs embossed with the name of the roads that fly to and from the avenue like moths on a lamp.
So long and so straight; the avenue has a talent for disappearing into the distance. The houses on either side are words and those grand houses that sit on the intersections are punctuation as the avenue extends into the distance a sentence.
I walked my dog down the avenue before she died from bleeding tumours all down her legs.
At one end of the avenue was a road that cut it off, or began it, depending on your point of view. I stood there and saw that the trees rustled their thick, summery dresses and through them fell drops of sunlight that dripped on the pale tarmac and did nothing but fizz away. I was hot once more. My hair was wet from the pool but that was warm too so that I was dizzy and not sure what to do. I was very far from the pool.
Around me was a great rattling. The rattling was coming from my teeth. They were milkteeth and they were as small as sweetcorn.
First I took my fingers to the bottom-front teeth of my mouth and, with all my infantile strength, ripped it from my mouth. It hurt. Down my chin and down my hand and down my wrist leaked blood. I held the tooth in between my index finger and thumb and, with utmost care, placed it on the floor, in the middle of the avenue.
The air made the trees breathe; silently they puffed and heaved and not a hint of cool was on their breeze. The tooth was white, hard, dressed in red, lying on the road. I took forty steps forward and pulled another; this one much harder to extract so that I yelped.
An old lady wearing exercise tracksuit was staring at me from the side. I waved to her and, without quite working my mouth properly, said—‘It’s okay. I’m fine.’ She, with more hesitancy than I was comfortable with, let me be.
Another forty steps, another tooth.
I continued like this down the avenue until I was at the end of it and without a single tooth left in my gums. A couple of times I had passed out from the pain and blood loss. Cars came and went; I moved aside to let them pass. I staggered and coughed. I burned under the heat and went mad from it, but I continued on my way and did not cease in my amateur dentistry – gory though it was.
Putting my tongue around the absentees, I was amazed by how different it felt. There was a big part of me missing – many little parts, yes – and I could not believe the impact that had upon my inquisitive tongue.
Depleted and bloody, I looked back down the avenue.
Incredible!
Each of the teeth shone in the sun. They sparkled and each of them winked at me. I smiled a toothless smile. The speckled sunlight cast down upon all of them and they bounced that solar light back to my eyes, one inch into my skull and then electric song. Their light was dressed in red and glowing. They stood in a straight line, perched perfectly, centrally aligned between the trees of the avenue.
Sweating all over, I sat down on the hot road and stared at my teeth. Lined up, they were beautiful; no longer a part of me but more beautiful than I had thought anything from me could have been. Blood continued to trickle tirelessly from my mouth, run down my neck and then burst into the weave of my t-shirt. From everything I had endured and inflicted upon myself, I lay down and passed, barely resisting, into a big black sleep.

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