While Alex showed off how fast she could swim, Dawn taught Thomasina something she called The Crawl, where you press your entire body upon the floor of the pond, touching your lips to the cold, shifting ground for as long as you can, to see if any of the adults notices you are missing.
She did not explain why you had to put your mouth on the ground. It never occurred to Thomasina that she could question it.
Staring into the mud, willing herself to remain horizontal even though the water wanted to force her limbs to the surface, Thomasina felt serene, as though with her careful effort she had found a secret, new place. Like when, as an even younger child, she covered her face with her hands and insisted, you can’t see me.
She closed tight her stinging eyes and listened to the ballooning sound of the liquid suspending her body. Her chest grew tense and there was a hard, squealing thumping noise in her head and she knew she’d have to leave soon. She stole a final kiss from the dirt and releasing her grip on her own muscles, allowed herself to rise up to the surface like a bubble, leading with her curved back and finally raising her head from the protective shell of the water.
The world above the surface was too bright and hard and felt less real somehow, and there was gritty silt on her lips which scoured the surface of her small teeth when she moved her mouth to say something. The adults weren’t watching at all. Dawn stared at her for a moment, then shrugged and paddled away.
Two days later they were playing on their bicycles. As they wrenched themselves around a sharp corner, the front wheel of Thomasina’s bike hit a large rock and the impact threw her off. It all happened very fast and she hit her head hard on the gravel. She placed her hands against the ground and tried, shakily, to push herself up. As she did, two of her teeth fell out.
She can make a pretty big noise with only a small mouth, said Alex.
It was late afternoon and by the time the girls got home it was almost dinnertime. Mother said Thomasina could still wash her hands and eat, and was not to complain, but, if she was good, the Tooth Fairy might visit.
Thomasina ran her tongue appraisingly around the newly empty spaces inside her mouth.
The other girls were excited about the Tooth Fairy, but Thomasina was tired.
We should try and catch her, said Dawn.
We might kill her if we do, said Alex.
Dawn shrugged. We’ll just try to get a glimpse of her then.
Thomasina slept heavily. She dreamed of being weighed down by the water again, of the mixture of comfort and horror it brought, of touching her lips to the wet earth, of running her fingers tenderly through it, and realising she could in fact slip right into it, absorbed whole, becoming the ground that she kissed. She looked down at her hands and saw a scattering of irregular holes had opened up on the soft surface of her palms. These punctures grew deeper and wider, like a laddered pair of stockings. Like the dried, spent, seed head of a lotus. Perhaps I could keep my teeth in these holes, thought Thomasina, with a kind of blank acceptance, unable to look away, and the holes excavated in her palms were unblinking eyes, staring in challenge.
She wondered idly if this was the result of the Tooth Fairy’s visit.
Whether or not this was true, the Tooth Fairy did indeed visit. She wore a long dress covered in stars tied at the waist with a gleaming satin sash. Translucent wings batted nervously like false eyelashes affixed to her lower back, and she carried a small bag of money.
The girls did not kill her. She was the most beautiful woman Dawn had ever seen.
She was a bit overdressed, said Alex.