Sixth Date

Sixth Date by Kathryn Henion

Fiona remembered too late the container of baby teeth in the spice cupboard between the oregano and garam masala. She’d sent Robert for salt, but he appeared around the partition with the grinder in one hand, the small plastic cup with a blue screw top in the other. The white bits clinked dully against the plastic when he shook it. 

“Are these…?” he asked. 

“—Yes,” she said. To stop him. To claim them.  

It was their sixth date.  

Her children’s teeth had come out over time, in the usual variety of ways. Some easy, like in a bite of sandwich. Others more difficult and nauseating, like being pried from a final gummy thread with floss. A few were extracted with pomp at the dental office. (You want to keep them, Mrs. Snyder?) Yes, of course. All of them: milestones. 

Fiona forked lemon-salmon into her mouth. The flesh was soft and fatty, lightly sour, a little like she’d become. 

“But why?” asked Robert. 

It was a question a person could ask.  

“Nostalgia?” Fiona offered to the pause between them. A familiar ache triggered in her jaw. 

Her children—long having forgiven Fiona for divorcing their father, David, who in 2008 embarked on an affair with his iPhone and never looked back—were now adults. These bits of dentin were her only authentic memento of their baby selves, of her new momhood, in a way old jumpers or stuffies never could be. Had Fiona ever questioned her impulse to keep the teeth on nights her daughter appeared half-asleep in footed pajamas with a glistening, blood-flecked kernel in her palm?  


“I mean, it’s . . . kinda weird, don’t you think?” said Robert.  

A strand of hair wisped his forehead. He was handsome, a little effeminate, with dark brown eyes and long lashes. In his youth, Fiona imagined, he might have been called dreamy. Now, age crept across his skin in shadows that lent those same eyes a disappointment she identified with. Felt deeply. It was this—her own feelings reflected in his face—that inspired her to ask him out for coffee. Fiona wasn’t sure yet where Robert’s sadness came from, but he still used a flip phone and that was a plus.  

“Not at all.” She hadn’t murdered anyone. These teeth were proof of life, not dead pieces of humanity. Still, Fiona knew it was not OK to keep bits of human lying about the house like spare buttons. And certainly not in your spice cupboard as if garnish for a roast. 

Robert held the little cup of teeth in two hands before his face, investigating closer. His lips parted to reveal his own slightly crooked teeth and a question paralyzed on his tongue.  

“What?” Fiona coaxed. Dared him. 

“But what are you going to do with them?” 

A shrug. “String a necklace?” A joke. “Return them someday?” A lie. They were hers; she’d earned them. Grown them herself—inside her body, and then outside—with her labor of pureed spinach and sweet potato, and then by way of packed lunch, of ziti and marinara, sliced apples, carrots, a handful of cashews and raisins. The hours and days and months and years she held and rocked the beings that housed them, worried over fevers and coughs, mopped sweat and shit and vomit from their bodies.  

David participated from the living room armchair by cradling his phone in his palms like a sacred thing. Fiona in the bathroom with their toddler daughter passed out from the shock of tiny fingers shut in a door. “Kid’s faint sometimes,” he’d called out. “Says here it’s a protection mechanism, for when things become too much. Perfectly normal.” His allegiance to the machine was swift and absolute. It always had answers, granted him a surety and authority that drew their children to him as they grew. It wasn’t the same as wisdom, Fiona thought. Or love. But it sure came off that way. She stopped trying to compete. So sensitive David’s phone was to his inquiries, giving him what he wanted when he wanted it. Fiona couldn’t say the same about David’s awareness of her.  

Robert set the salt before her on the table. “I don’t know if I can be with a person who keeps human teeth in their spice cupboard.” He laughed, but it wasn’t a joke. 

“I understand,” said Fi. And she did. Robert was not ideal, either. Yes, he was tall and muscular with painter’s hands (she liked the way his calloused palms dragged pleasantly on her hips). And yes, he’d unclogged the whirlpool drain that David never fixed, not even after five hours of YouTube tutorials and three trips to Home Depot. But also, Robert talked and thought too much about sports. He left unrinsed dishes on the drying rack covered in suds. He picked his nose and wiped it on his pants, a habit so engrained he’d done it just moments before she’d sent him for salt. These things affected her, would seed in her psyche, root, grow and gain weight over time. A cup of teeth in a quiet kitchen cupboard? Small and inert. Hidden. Hers alone. Until now.  

“You can go,” Fiona advised. 

Robert blinked. “What?” 

“Let’s not waste each other’s time.” 

“You don’t mean that.” 

She extended her palm for the cup. “I do.”   

“C’mon, don’t be that way.” Robert got down on one knee, eye-level, and cooed, “It was a joke.” His palm cupped her shoulder. “Don’t be embarrassed. I’ve got weird collections. Fossils and stuff.”  

“Oh, I’m not embarrassed,” Fiona said, holding his gaze. “I’m sure.”  

Robert placed the cup in her hand. “Well anyway, I’m sorry I said it.” 

“I’m not.” She untwisted the cap and tipped the ivory-colored bits into her palm. They shone and sparkled, animated in the candlelight. Glistened, like back when they were new, in the gummy, saliva-filled mouths of her toddlers, first thing in the morning, when just the sight of her carved huge broad smiles in their round faces. “I could eat you up!” she’d say, lifting them into her arms, nomming their fat cheeks. They’d giggle and settle their weight, melt into her as if they could be one again. Now their hugs were rigid tentative things, all elbows and shoulders and chin angles. Now they called to talk about their jobs and their projects, about the people they met and all the anxieties and frustrations of being adults. Now their teeth were all cavities and coffee stains, not these perfect, preserved bits of beginning.  

Robert took his seat next to her. “We can work this out,” he assured her. 

Fiona angled her palm to sprinkle the teeth onto her plate. A few onto the salmon. A couple into her arugula and cucumber salad. One bounced off and skittered across the table and onto the floor, where the cat, Oscar, was waiting to play. 

“How about now?”  

In her mouth they felt like gravel. Polished, yet with sharp edges. No taste, except for maybe a hint of sweetness. Or maybe that was the Riesling. The crunch between her molars triggered the clench, an echo of the lock jaw she developed worrying hours when her kids didn’t show when they were due home, over breakups, over calls about car accidents and drunken college parties. A lost passport in a third-world country. Yes, her jaw complained as the teeth creaked and pinched between her molars. But they didn’t break. They scraped her throat going down, but they were finally home. The knot in her jaw unwound. 

Robert stared, speechless, swallowing something hard himself. Closed-mouthed, lips pursed. He slid his hands into his pockets.  

Fiona took another bite. 

Kathryn Henion’s prose has appeared in over twenty-five journals and was a finalist in recent contests by Fish Publishing, Scribes Valley Publishing, and Beloit Fiction Journal. She holds a Ph.D. in English from Binghamton University, where she was editor of the biannual literary magazine Harpur Palate. She lives and writes in Ithaca, New York, where she serves on the boards of the Community Arts Partnership of Tompkins County and Story House Ithaca and is fiction co-editor at Anomaly. By day she works in marketing communications for Cornell Engineering. Find her at