Edward Lucas White “The Tooth”

Bill Lindblad over at Storytellers Unplugged post this article recently. The request, in a nutshell, was this: ” Take a minute or two to gather five or more titles…  stories, novels, collections, movies, what have you… by people who are no longer around… provide that list to some person or people who might be interested.”

In that last year I started keeping a list of short stories that made a real impression on me. Outstanding Short Stories (OSS). The list is not just people who are no longer with us, but Edward Lucas White fits the bill. He died in 1934. I plan to do posts like this one periodically and maybe turn people towards something they didn’t know about.

Edward Lucas White – “The Tooth”
It is not available online, but I did find this which is pretty great… Looks like “The Tooth” is in box 51

I read the story in his the collection Sesta and Other Strange Stories released by Midnight House. It appears to be out of print now. I bought it on a whim (and a sale at The Horror Mall) not knowing anything about the author or his work.

There is something about teeth that fascinates me. I don’t have any particular dental phobias, I just find them to be effective as imagery. As a friend of mine says, “It’s the only place where our skeleton shows.”

“The Tooth” is a tale of mysterious dentistry, curious trinkets, matrimonial bargains and a curse that leads to insanity and death. It was among the most unusual of White’s stories in the collection. There were other stories I really enjoyed, but “The Tooth” achieves a transcendent weird that has stayed with me since my first reading.

Dr. Lefferts, a renown dentist with an aversion to pulling teeth, has set a prohibitive price for tooth extractions. This puts him in the service of the wealthy who demand his fine skills and price is no object.

A wealthy heiress, for whom he has a long-standing infatuation, Miss Ingleton appears one day demanding his services. She insists she has a bad tooth that he can find nothing wrong with. Over a period of weeks he works on her mouth exclusively. Ultimately she demands the tooth be removed and he replaces it with a false tooth, never having found anything wrong with the original.

In the course of their working together she requests to see his personal collection of miniatures, curios and ivories for which he has some standing as a collector. She comes across as unimpressed and once her dentistry concerns are resolved he doesn’t see much of her. Enter Chow Ma, who carries in his mouth an artificial tooth that is giving him problems.

He demands it be pulled but the extraction must leave the tooth undamaged. Upon removing the tooth Dr. Lefferts discovers that it bears an intricate carving. Ma concedes that it is no ordinary tooth, it has been handed down through generations of his family with several of them having used it. Lefferts covets the piece for his collection.

This leads to a meeting in a ramshackle Armenian ghetto that reveals a rival bidder for the piece to be. . . the heiress, who has a collection of her own. It is not sold and sometime later Chow Ma returns to the good dentist with a proposal that he can have the artifact cheaply on the condition he marry anyone but Miss Ingleton.

Lefferts doesn’t believe he has a chance with the heiress, but is outraged that some mug would tell him to get married. Later the trio meet by coincidence at the shore, a disagreement occurs that leads to the offended Chow Ma to cast the tooth into the sea so that neither of them may ever possess it as a he utters a cryptic curse.

Suffice to say, that is not that last of the tooth. . .

I debated giving away the end since it’s out of print, but I’m not going to do that. The ending is, perhaps, predictable in some regards, but it’s done with a level of dread, paranoia and body horror that put’s “The Tooth” on my list of memorable, and outstanding short stories.

Cross-posted from The Aberrant Laboratory


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