“Alaia”: The Gums of Kailani Tate

Posted on May 2, 2007 by Jenna

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So where were we, then?

We have said how the last toothway to New Jerusalem had died; and how Hank Makeway took up the commission of a new one. And if you do not remember this then the path to that story is here.

Having accepted the assignment, Hank Makeway traveled to the gums of a suitable child, there to make his path… .

The Gums of Kailani Tate

The first task of a smith is to assess the lay of the gums. For weeks this is all that occupies Hank. He wanders back and forth within the child’s pinks, feeling out the secret ephemeral structure of the gums, assaying their striations. Where the gums are strict and abrasive he builds the camp-spots that will later become his anchors and his grinding points. Where the gums are fruitful and rich in the substances of teeth, he sifts out a molecule or two and rolls them between his fingers, heats and chills them, and shows them to the horses of his team. He “learns the clay,” as the toothway makers call it, and his face and body grow pink with a smattering of the kid’s gums’ dust. He walks the paths, the natural magnetic and chemical ways, that wander in rife disorder through the child’s gums, twisting around in great coils, turning back on themselves, leading off in great long dead ends, shaped as nature’s answer to the labyrinther’s art. Eventually he knows them well enough to walk them blind.

From the coded substances of the worldgristle spires he learns the child’s name is Kailani Tate and that her parents call her Kell. Vegetables she despises and mathematics adores; she wears checkered blue when she can, and rolls inexplicably upon the carpet as a form of play. He walks among her baby nubs and feels the records of her life, the paths of providence and freedom that shift left-right-left around the unstable center. Sweets she is not fond of, and he takes note of that, but even so decides to lay down the foundations for a cavity-retardant shell. The toothway to New Jerusalem is too vital to allow it to succumb to the hazards that face ordinary teeth.

Wandering among the baby teeth in the upper ridge, he finds a corrupted flow of the child’s fortune. He sits before it and stares at it for a good long time before rising and taking his first definite action: hammering a toothway needle into the enamel near the flow and marking it with an orange flag. In the lexicon of his craft, this means, “Here we go against the grain,” or, “Here the toothway supercedes the child’s fate.”

Only when he is wholly comfortable with Ms. Tate’s gums—only when he could imagine living there, like some primeval savage, among its labyrinthine paths: drinking from the gingival pools; slaughtering bacteria for his meat; and moving swift and sure and silent in the wilderness of her gums—does he begin.

At a grinding point central to her lower jaw he establishes his refinery and begins to cleanse the raw materials of her gums. He kindles a smith’s fire, stokes it and feeds it, builds it up until the grinding point is entirely inflamed and the landscape cast harshly into light. Along the pathways through her gums the gingiva soften, almost resentfully, and begin to roil. A black and purple film seeps out, a scum of impure elements, and accumulates along the paths. For a season Hank travels up and down the ways of Kailani’s gums, peeling thin layers of filth from the roads, hauling them down to the grinding points, and lathing them with bitter effort down to dust.

He is sore, each night, all through, when he takes him to his bed.

Finally he is done.

“Here,” he says, and caps the flame with Milk-Guzzler, drives her down into the grinding point until she becomes one with the fire and the pink.

Strange and wild power surges through the gums.

All around him he can feel the pulsing of that power, in time to the surging of what had previously been his horse. It is a beat of equine magic embedded in the world. It is flowing and stomping, chomping and chewing, and it is rending down forever the impurities of Kell’s gums.

He sleeps and wakes and when he wakes he groans, for before he can go further he must do the same thing for the roof; which is to say, all the same labor, all the same effort, only vertiginously upside-down in the substance of her higher gums. There he will place Stress-Grinder, as he placed Milk-Guzzler below.

Slowly Hank grinds the wilds into truth. Laboriously he imposes a red and angry honesty on the upper gums in turn.

and to tell you how he placed the next two horses will take, we think, some time; so let us leave it for another day.