Tag Archives: The Unfed

“The Unfed” – Fiction by Nancy Au

gwashingtonsteethlocFalse teeth, depleted mountaintops, and mysterious fruit tarts are just a few of the key ingredients in “The Unfed,” Nancy Au‘s fantastic short story from our Winter 2017 issue.

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BEA OGILBY POPS HER NEW DENTURES into her dress pocket for safe-keeping, runs her fingers along the empty grooves & bumps of her mouth’s spongy pink mountain range. She glances at her reflection in the mirror before heading out. White hair twisted in a bun. Her smile, all gums, no more chomp and chew.

Outside, blinded by the bright September sunlight, Bea nearly stumbles over a fruit tart left on her doorstep. The mountaintop, which once protected her home from the afternoon glare, had been stolen by Ye Old Mining Company; millions of pounds of rock and dirt, acres of trees and shrubs ripped from the mountain in order to extract coal. The village’s sacred mountain could no longer be called The Great Peak because all that remained was a grizzled, flattened stump. No trees to glue the remaining boulders in place, to keep mud from surging down the steep slope and destroying the village during the next monsoon. No guide posts pointing tourists up the path, nor signs to indicate the diminished mountain ever even had a name.

Across the narrow dirt road, her neighbor, Teddy Nun, waves. “Hello there!” Teddy is working in his meager vegetable garden. Misshapen carrots and wilted kale poke out of the sandy soil. Bea bends down to pick up the tart, observes the glistening strawberries and buttery crust. She eagerly dips her finger in the sugary dew, and tastes a lick.

“Hello there!” repeats Teddy.

Bea points to the tart, “Did you see who?”

Teddy shrugs, Bea nods. His useless I don’t know shrugging responses are legendary in town. But Bea appreciates this in a neighbor, with stories and gossip flowing in only one direction across the narrow road. Like, when the last of her teeth were pulled, gums red, swollen, tender—a finger without the nail—she’d asked the incurious retiree: How does the Tooth Fairy for the elderly work? Where do your teeth go when the Tooth Fairy dies? Teddy’s response that time was a handful of ice carefully wrapped in a red dishtowel, a cold compress for Bea’s sore mouth.

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The first to perish while rebuilding the mountaintop was an aging horse with a three-year-old mentality, named Wilson. This equine senior dragged boulders and planks of knotted pine, in metal carts with leather straps, up the steep rocky trail using just his chompers. Every tooth of this odd-toed ungulate were bloody and broken by the time he reached the top. Bea had nightmares for weeks after this first death, awakening at dawn, soft mouthing the horse’s name over and over, as if in prayer.

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