The brand-new baby is screaming. In French.
No, in French. It's definitely in French.
It isn't obvious, at first. It's not like she's screaming for a Weiner schnitzel or demanding a ... [+]
Tonya was some sort of greedy little Tinker Bell wannabe. She even had the wings to go along with it. She wore them every single day. The whole idiotic getup.
But she paid well.
Just before, Joe had told Johnny he'd give him three dollars. It was one of his classic playground deals. He told him he was especially interested in the central incisor, of course. That was the grand prize, he'd explained. Size did matter. Though if it was too hard to get out, or he was concerned about his post-extraction appearance, he'd certainly settle for a lateral. He understood.
Times were tough, after all.
But they'd made it all the way to the third grade. They were survivors.
Wanda rolled nickels. She had no reason to do so. No one needed the coins. Perhaps they had in 1947 or whenever she was born, but not today.
Still, she collected them. She shined them with an extra special care that only she could provide. She stacked them, Chapstick high.
It took forever.
And then she rolled them up.
She explained that it all started when she was very young, maybe six or seven even. The tooth fairy left nickels under her pillow in exchange for her deciduous teeth. It was a magic trick.
She'd loved those nickels, every single one. She'd cherished them.
Her parents might've wondered how she would go on to lose forty-seven teeth as a child, but if they did, they never let on. Never asked a single question, raised a solitary concern. Not in her direction, at least. Wanda presumed they didn't want to ruin the illusion. After all, tell her the truth about the tooth fairy and she'd know about the bunny and the fat idiot that chooses the chimney even though they always left the front door unlocked. The whole jig would be up. They didn't want that.
She didn't either.
It was the first two dollars and thirty-five cents she'd ever netted on her own. She was elated.
She would go on to get an allowance, of course, to get jobs. But she would always, always ask for at least some of the money in nickels.
Her mom showed her how to roll them up, eventually. Now, she felt duty-bound to pass this along to her children, her children's children.
Joe was bored.
"What's the going rate, these days?"
"Ha! Grandma, we're gettin' dollar bills! Sometimes fivers! It's insane."
Wanda smiled. She was so proud.
Joe wasn't telling the whole truth. He couldn't. Poor, dear old grandma. Of course, her children couldn't pay the going rate. Joe tried to be happy in spite of it for a while, but naturally when he woke up to dimes and Tonya woke up to twenty-dollar bills, he knew something peculiar was going on.
You couldn't buy anything for ten cents. Not these days.
He only had so many teeth.
Time was running out.
Poor, poor Joseph. Never you fear. We can make this work.
Bring me your canines, your molars, your bicuspids.
And bring me my wings!
It was the perfect plan. They spit and shook on it.
Where in the heck was he supposed to find wings?
Tonya whined to her parents on a vacation in Portugal. That's all it took, honestly. She said something about Joe's grandma getting a nickel in 1947 which was, like, several centuries ago so, probably, four hundred seventy-three dollars in today's money – if not much, much more—and, really, all she wanted was a stupid twenty-dollar bill and was that asking too much?
Consider the cost of living, parents! You're embarrassing me!
Practically the moment they relented on the twenty, she made sure they knew that she would prefer it in smaller bills.
After all, they'd always taught her to be charitable whenever possible. Always think of others, they said.
Philanthropy looks adorable on tax forms.
Joe never wanted to be the playground bully, but his teeth were already gone. Once he figured out how to pull them out, they went pretty quickly.
He was rich.
With his seven-dollar cut, he was able to buy wings in several shapes and sizes. Tonya had options.
But she wanted more.
Or she was telling.
The new rules were, seven dollars for small teeth, twelve dollars for large teeth. It didn't matter where they came from, who they came from, how he got them. She didn't care about any of it.
Her parents didn't care about the twenties. After a while though, she had to figure out how to make her own change.
That was trickier.
So she went into wholesale.
Twenty dollars for three teeth.
"Mr. Zimmerman," Joe said. "If Johnny had three apples in his cart and they cost, ummmmmm, seven dollars each, what would his total be?"
Mr. Zimmerman hesitated.
They were reading Junie B. Jones.
"Joe, there are a few problems with this. One, math class isn't until after lunch. Two, you don't need a cart for three apples. Don't be lazy. Just carry them out. Get a sack if you have to."
He patted Joe on the head. He thought he was hilarious, anyway.
"Three apples would never cost seven dollars."
"What about inflation?"
Mr. Zimmerman was taken aback.
"That's not really a third-grade concept, Joe. I guess, consider me impressed. Still, seven dollars for an apple is more than a few years off, I would speculate. I don't think the market would support it. And you should also consider supply and demand, I would think."
"A nickel in 1947 is nearly six dollars today! I looked it up."
"Joe. Just. It's . . . the answer to your very bad word problem is twenty-one dollars. Multiplication is coming up later this year, okay? I promise. Now read your book."
He knew it.
Joe ripped off the wings.
"These are mine," he said. "I bought them. You know what else?"
He smiled, a toothless grin.
"Turns out, I'm pretty good at math."
And that's when he punched the tooth fairy in the mouth.