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#151

The Money and the Teeth



                In the town of Multioak there lived a man named James.

                He spent his time on petty crime, his friend Alvin did the same.

 

                Together they ran scams on everyone they knew,

                And thus had many enemies, and the friends they had were few.

 

                Conditions for a con were perfect as Christmastime drew near,

                So James and Alvin plotted one just as they did each year.

 

                They decided that they’d take their operation to Dalcette

                Where the citizens were not aware of their reputations yet.

 

                The plan was very simple, they walked from door to door

                Telling everyone they were raising funds to contribute to the poor.

 

                James did all the talking, for he had much better teeth,

                And when he showed them in a smile, they inspired real belief.

 

                Alvin held the collected cash in a green and silver pail,

                And he never spoke, he was worried that if he did the scheme would fail.

 

    Nearly all who answered their doors when James knocked,

    Felt comforted by his honest teeth while he gave his little talk.

 

    Then Alvin would step forward with his little pail held out,

    And the people dropped money into it without a hint of doubt.

 

                Snow fell as if from heaven, and it blanketed the ground,

                As the men made their way with success through the sleepy, trusting town.

 

                Just as they were settling into an efficient pace,

                James slipped upon a patch of ice and struck the pavement with his face.

 

                James stood and took stock of the damage he had sustained:

                One tooth was gone, two more were chipped, there was lots of blood and pain.

 

                He and Alvin did their to best to clean up his mangled mouth.

                Then resolute, they moved on to the next sucker’s house.

               

                But the house was owned by an elderly and widowed man

                Named Barney with a crew cut and two steady hands.

 

                Now with James’s teeth battered and bloodied, his smile

                Could not hide his deception nor conceal his guile.

 

                It only took Barney just one good, long look

                To determine that James and Alvin were both crooks.

 

                As James began his speech, instead of feeling trust,

                Barney mainly felt a rising and intense disgust.

 

                When James finished speaking and Alvin held out the pail,

                Barney, instead of dropping money in it, said, “You’re both going to jail

 

                Unless you go back to each house from which you stole

                And apologize and return to them their money in full.”

 

                James was on probation so the last thing he would need

                Would be a run-in with the cops so he grudgingly agreed.

               

                “I will go along,” said Barney, “to ensure that it’s done.

                To ensure that the money gets back to everyone.”

 

                So the unhappy trio retraced the con men’s route,

                Returning all the cash that the people had given out.

 

                But James and Alvin hadn’t kept track of what each house had given,

                So they were forced to rely upon the honor system.

 

                But some of those who had given, when they realized this fact,

                Chose to lie about the amount that they should be given back.

 

                James knew they were lying but he had no solid proof,

                And Barney didn’t believe James was telling the truth.

 

                But as they moved on and the money in the pail dwindled,

                It became clear that now they were the ones being swindled.

 

                At last, with ten houses still left to go,

                Alvin upturned his pail and nothing fell in the snow.

 

                “Now look,” said James, “these people are no better than me,

                For with many dollars still to return, the pail is empty.

 

                In fact, they’re worse, for I conned total strangers,

                But these people stole from their friends and their neighbors.”

 

                Barney, eyes full of rage, grabbed James by the chin,

                Saying, “It was you who brought this corrupting influence in.”

 

                Then James slapped Barney’s hand away from his chin

                And said, “The money’s gone, my mouth hurts, let’s go home, Alvin.”

 

                Then Barney said, “No, it doesn’t matter that the money’s gone.

                You still have to apologize to all those you wronged.”

               
               
                Then James said, “I think not, how will you convince

                The authorities I committed crimes without evidence?”

 

                Then Barney said, “I don’t think you want to see police

                Right now considering your background and the state of your teeth.”

 

                Then James said nothing for he knew Barney was right,

                So he heaved a sigh and trudged on toward the next porch light.

 

                But before James knocked he turned to Barney and said,

                “When they ask where their money is, you tell them instead.”

 

                Just as Barney began to argue, the front door swung open,

                And so Barney’s protest remained unspoken.

 

                The woman who had opened the door said “Hello,

                What are you boys doing out in the cold and the snow?”

 

                The woman was fiftyish, in pajamas, and small.

                James had no recollection of meeting her at all.

 

                Then James said, “We’re sorry, I hope you were still awake.

                We thought we were here earlier, but that’s our mistake.

 

                Perhaps your porch light wasn’t on, otherwise I couldn’t say

                How we could have missed your house, but now we’ll be on our way.”

 

                Then the woman smiled and said to James, “Listen, before you go,

                If there’s anything I could give to you, then please let me know.”

 

                Then Barney stepped and forward and said, “Ma’am, you don’t understand,

                You are speaking to a crooked and dishonorable man.”

 

                Then the woman said, “That claim very well may be true,

                But men of that kind certainly have needs like me and you.”

 

                Then Barney said, “But if you give to him and his friend,

                Then dishonesty is that on which they will grow to depend.”

 

                The woman said, “That may be, but it’s none of my concern,

                I give without worrying about what the recipients might learn.”

 

                Then to Barney and Alvin she gave a hundred dollars each,

                But to James she said, “I don’t think mere money will repair your ruined teeth.

 

                But if you will step into my house and put some faith in me,

                I will happily perform for free a little expert dentistry.”

 

                James couldn’t quite explain why, as his thoughts began to blur,

                But as he listened to the woman speak, he couldn’t help but trust her.

               

                So with Alvin and Barney both confused, holding their hundred-dollar bills,

                James stepped into the woman’s house, it was warm, but he got chills.

 

                The woman led James down the hall to a dim and cozy room

                And said, “Take a seat in the dentist’s chair, and I’ll be with you soon.”

 

                Then James did as he was told, sighed, and reclined the seat,

                And after a moment smelled a fragrance strong and sweet.

 

                And the room swirled and faded and James fell asleep and had a dream. He dreamt of a winter woods, the light of the rising sun filtering through the trunks of slim trees, a running deer, its delicate hooves punching through the hard crust surface of the snow. Somewhere deep in the woods, an organ played a melody, merrily, but its distance, its faintness gave it a melancholy tinge, and then, accompanying the organ, came the voices of a choir, but James couldn’t quite place the melody of the song, sweet though it was, and he knew that when he awoke, with his mouth remade anew, the melody would surely stay securely lodged in his mind, and he knew that he would whistle it through and around his unmarred teeth and spread seasonal cheer wherever he went.

 

                James woke up in a dark room, tucked snugly in a bed.

                There was no pain but he could still feel the song inside his head.

 

                He got out of the bed and walked through the woman’s home.

                Everything was dark and quiet and he could tell he was alone.

 

                James found Alvin waiting for him, sitting on the porch swing

                With his arms wrapped tight around himself, he was shivering.

 

                Then James said, “I’m gonna smile now, tell me what you see.”

                He did so and Alvin gasped and dropped to his knees.

 

                And so with renewed purpose, the two dishonest men

                Returned to every house where they’d already twice been.

 

                James spoke very softly, and with a gentle smile, bared his teeth,

                And the people wailed and they tore their clothes and they pleaded for relief.

 

                 Then James would laugh and say, “Now, put aside your evil greed,

                And give all of the cash you have on hand to assist people in need.”

 

                Then the people scurried ‘round, from room to room they’d dash,

                And return to the door to fill Alvin’s pail with their cash.

 

                Then at last, James and Alvin found themselves back at Barney’s place.

                James couldn’t wait to display the power of his exquisitely-toothed face.

 

                Barney answered at the first knock and James flashed him a grin,

                And said, “We were just passing through, there’s no need to ask us in.

 

                But as long as we’re here, I’m sure you would agree,

                That the needy need a lot of money and you should give it generously.”

 

                Then, with a pallid face, Barney reached into his pocket,

                Pulling out the hundred he’d been given and into Alvin’s pail dropped it.

 

                Then unable to resist, James said, “Barney, tell me how

                Earlier you said we were dishonest, but you fully trust me now.”

 

                Then Barney, in a quivering voice, said, “There’s no trust here.

                I gave you that hundred dollar bill because I’m overcome with fear.

 

                The same fear, in fact, that caused the woman who fixed your teeth to flee

                From her own house to get away from you and seek safety here with me.

 

                Now you’ve got your money and your terrifying teeth,

                Please leave our neighborhood alone so we can reclaim a little peace.”

 

                James and Alvin drove in silence, James’s face fixed with a frown,

                Until he spotted what was likely the most needy house in town.

 

                James told himself not to smile as he approached the door and knocked,

                The needy woman who received the pail of cash was overjoyed and shocked.

 

                But then James said, “Merry Christmas, ma’am, we wish could have given more.”

                And the woman caught a glimpse of his teeth, screamed in fright, and slammed the door.

 

                From the back of his truck, James pulled a wooden bat,

                And he handed it to Alvin, and said, “Hit my open mouth with that.”

 

                On the way home, deep inside his head, James still heard the song

                From his dream and through blood and broken teeth, he began to whistle along.

 

                And then, as he whistled, he began to comprehend what he heard.

                For the first time, he could understand, the singing choir’s words.

 

                Oh, the rising of the sun, the running of the deer.

                The playing of the merry organ, sweet singing of the choir. (X4)




Discussion Questions

  • No questions. Each one of you gets an A. Merry Christmas.