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Teeth of the Dog (Jill Ciment)


jill ciment


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  Teeth of the Dog is set on a fictitious island between Southeast Asia and Melanesia, a sort of Tower of Babel, where all the religions of the world meet--Buddhism, Islam, Taoism, Latter-day Saints, Seventh-Day Adventists, Animism, even Cargo Cults. The story revolves around an American couple who have come to this remote spot to repair their irreparable marriage. The island, and the three countries which share it, are on the brink of a revolution--a fact the couple discover only after they arrive. Through a tragic mishap that has nothing to do with politics, the man dies, and his wife, in deep grief, is left to fend for herself on this tense, surreal, inexplicably foreign speck of land in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

Finster surveyed the long, volcanic stretch of beach and spotted the rinky-dink ferry boat. It chugged through the surf, spewing out diesel oil. When the sun hit the oil, casting arcs and squiggles of bright iridescent colors on the glassy swells, the drab, peeling ferry appeared to be floating atop another ferry, a bright fun ferry of the nether world.

Finster snuffed out his Thai stick, slipped on his flip-flops, and trotted across the black sand towards the wharf. Though tourists rarely entered the country by ferry these days, the hawkers had come out anyway-Chinese boys selling Seiko watches with Tinkertoy inner works and a big, sullen family of Indian shopkeepers who had recently fled Fiji. They'd managed to smuggle out the best of their inventory--hand-carved Fijian salad bowls the size of manhole covers.

Finster arrived at the wharf just as the ferry slapped against the pilings and a throng of native passengers started funneling down the gangplank. The old men wore lava lavas, but the young ones sported T-shirts that said Bay Watch or It's not Beer, Mate, This Is Just A Fat Shirt. The Muslim women glided out next, swaddled in flapping bolts of Hawaiian shirt material, followed by a trio of loud, hefty Palauans, a Chinese businessman, and a white couple. Squinting into the eye-frying sun, Finster scrutinized the couple. The man was very gray and very tall and very concave. The young woman wore a tank top and no bra and her red hair, tossed and stiffened by twelve hours on the sloshing deck, had hardened into a seascape, like one of those Japanese serigraphs where the waves, all foam and power, are forever on the verge of crashing. With a little makeup, she'd be a knockout, Finster thought. Or maybe he'd lost his connoisseur's eye and any occidental woman whose skin didn't turn bright firecracker red in the relentless heat looked smashing to him.

Mopping the perspiration from his young mustache, Finster headed up the gangplank toward the ferry's cargo hold, then stopped for a sec to watch the couple--more precisely the woman's breasts--enter the gauntlet of enterprise set up entirely for their perusing. The boys yelled, "best price, real deal" and dangled their watches in front of the couple's eyes. The Indians sat crosslegged and mute behind their colossal salad bowls. The woman didn't look left or right. Finster noticed she carried a little more than her fair share of the luggage. When the couple finally emerged from the make-shift bazaar, they were greeted by the village's only public transportation--a horse drawn carriage and a trishaw. Despite the man emphatically telling the drivers no thanks, the drivers persevered. Finster secretly rooted for them. The boy with the carriage lashed his skeletal-thin horse into rattled action, plodding along next to the couple, beckoning them to take a trot along the shadeless beach. The old trishaw driver couldn't muster enough breath to pedal and speak at the same time. He just stared beseechingly at the couple's backs as he pumped laboriously in their wake. All five wheels of both vehicles wobbled. Finster knew the drivers had only thirty more yards to seal the deal before the couple reached the only possible destination--a cinder-block motel with a thrumming generator and a hand painted sign promising AIR CON.
 
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Copyright © 1997 by Jill Ciment. From a forthcoming novel, to be published by Crown Publishing, Inc.