Maxwell’s New Teeth.

A short story about stubbornness and friendship.

Robert Cormack
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readOct 12, 2023

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Courtesy of Wendy Treacy

In the face of an obstacle which is impossible to overcome, stubbornness is stupid.” — Simone de Beauvoir

We’d gone about two miles, hobbling along on three wheels, the fourth being a spare you could fit through a mail slot. Every bump caused a teeter-totter effect, sending my Uncle Maxwell’s head into the roof while leaving some of his angry gray hairs stuck to the headliner. I understand now why he kept his teeth in his pocket. That forest track wasn’t meant for teeth, much less anything else.

The timber belt is an interesting place, full of cleared lumber swaths, pine saplings sprouting up like new grown whiskers, dried stumps, and tracks often mistaken for roads. I’d been down those tracks numerous times, always coming to a dead end with nowhere to turn around. I guess the same thing happened to Maxwell. He’d gotten stuck in the mud and had to hike back to a phone box to call Ned Grundy at the gas station.

“Dammit, Ned, turn this thing around. My teeth must’ve fallen out of my pocket.”

When Ned arrived with his tow truck, he found Maxwell’s gas tank was punctured by a small sharp stump. They had to haul the truck out, and it wasn’t until they passed Tucker’s Creek that Maxwell slapped his pockets and said, “Dammit, Ned, turn this thing around. My teeth must’ve fallen out of my pocket.”

Ned couldn’t do that with Maxwell’s truck in tow, so Maxwell called me from the gas station. I went over there. He was sitting in Ned’s office eating corn chips and drinking coffee. We got in my car and started back to the logging track, Maxwell going on and on about how nothing was going right, especially his new dentures.

“I didn’t want’m in the first place,” he kept telling me.

As far as he was concerned, he was doing fine before Irene, his wife and my aunt, took him to the free dental clinic behind the IGA. It was supposed to be a travelling medical trailer, but it’d been up on blocks for years. Beecham — the old dentist — told Maxwell to open up, then went in with pliers, pulling out every rotten tooth (which in Maxwell’s case was all of them).

The dentures themselves weren’t free, something else Maxwell said he didn’t need to hear. “Four hundred dollars,” he’d said, “and that’s with the senior’s discount.” He’d come home and stared at himself in the mirror, his sunken cheeks now blossomed out with his new dentures.

“I look like a goddamn well-groomed horse,” he told Irene.

They did look twice the size of his old teeth. Maybe that’s why he kept them in his shirt pocket. It was so stretched, they could’ve fallen out at any time.

“I don’t see why you can’t kept’m in your mouth,” Irene told him.

“I ain’t lighting up the whole neighbourhood,” he replied.

Well, the jack was about as effective as a broken toothpick, and the tire wasn’t much better. I got it on regardless.

Anyway, when I drove Maxwell back to the forest track, it was raining hard and all those logging ruts looked like small streams. I bounced through the majority until I felt something go underneath. I got out of the car. One of my back tires had blown. Well, the jack was about as effective as a broken toothpick, and the spare tire wasn’t much better. I got it on regardless.

Down at the end, there were tire tracks everywhere, all of them deep enough to ruin the undercarriage of my car. “Maybe I should back up to that last turnaround,” I said to Maxwell, but he wouldn’t hear of it. He kept sucking in his whiskered cheeks, looking at me like I wasn’t up to any task that required a certain amount of manly insouciance.

“Stop bein’ such a goddamn sissy,” he said. He got out, pulling his oilskin up to his throat. He went over every inch of ground with his hands on his knees. Meanwhile, I checked the spot where the stump punctured his gas tank. Some of the tracks around it still had a blue green film of gas.

Maxwell suddenly let out a whoop.

“I found the dang things,” he yelled, holding them up in his hand.

He was doing a little dance like he did when he won the turkey at Muller’s Feed Store. “Found’m right in the nettles there,” he said, brushing the teeth off on his sleeve. “Ain’t lost my eyesight, that’s for sure,” he said.

He kept looking at those dentures, telling me he’d like to file them down to half what they were now. “I look like Milton Berle in these damn chompers,” he said.

“I don’t know what’s she’s got against prospectors, toothless or otherwise,” he said. “They did more for this country than Milton Berle ever did.”

Well, Maxwell that he didn’t know the first thing about filing dentures, and Irene wouldn’t have let him, anyway. She’d probably say he should be glad he looked like Milton Berle. It was a far sight better than looking like one of those toothless prospectors on Gunsmoke. “I don’t know what’s she’s got against prospectors, toothless or otherwise,” he said to me. “They’ve done more for this country than Milton Berle ever did.”

When we arrived back at the gas station, Ned already had Maxwell’s truck up on the hoist. Maxwell got under there with him. They both stared at his gas tank with the usual huffs and grumbles. “Ain’t much more than a pinhole,” he said to Ned. “Can’t you weld a little patch over it? Get me back on the road?”

“Not tonight, I can’t,” Ned said. “I’ll look at it tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to look at it, Ned. I just told you it’s a pinhole.”

“I still gotta take the tank out.”

“Well, do it now. I’ll watch the pumps.”

“It’s already after six, Maxwell. I haven’t eaten since breakfast.”

“I’ll go get you a burger. My nephew will, anyway.”

“My wife’s already made dinner,” Ned said.

He kept stubbing his toe into the floor. Ned wasn’t a man to miss dinners. Neither was his wife. They were both heavyset, often seen at the Pancake House.

“I’ll give you twenty-five dollars if you do it now,” my uncle said.

“It’ll probably cost that just taking the gas tank off.”

“Why do you have to take it off?”

“I ain’t workin’ on it unless I know it’s safe. Besides, I’m just plain hungry. I don’t know why you’re rushing me like this. I’ve never known a man to enjoy retirement less than you do. I’ll look at it first thing in the morning. Right now, I’m goin’ home and eatin’ Katie’s casserole.”

Maxwell was red as a Rome apple at that point.

“All you can think about is fillin’ that big gut,” he said. “You and that wife of yours. It wouldn’t hurt either one of you to miss a dinner now and then.”

“Now you’re makin’ me sore,” Ned said.

“Makin’ you sore?”

“That’s right.”

“You’re one lazy-assed son of a bitch, Ned.”

“What did you call me?”

“A lazy-assed son of a bitch.”

They pulled each other back and forth across the garage floor, looking like the worst kind of dance partners imaginable.

Ned grabbed Maxwell by the collar, Maxwell did the same to Ned. They pulled each other back and forth across the garage floor, looking like the worst kind of dance partners imaginable. With all that pushing and shoving, Maxwell’s dentures flew out of his pocket again. Ned stepped on them first, or maybe it was my uncle. They both looked down at the same time. “See what you did,” Maxwell huffed, picking up what was left of his dentures. “You gonna pay for these, Ned? Four hundred dollars—that’s what it cost. You got four hundred dollars?”

“I wouldn’t give it to you if I did,” Ned said. “Nuts to you, Maxwell.”

I thought my uncle was going to hit Ned at that point. He didn’t, though. He walked straight out of the garage and got in my car. “Let’s go, youngster,” he called out the window. When I got in the car, he told me to turn on the heat, him being suddenly cold and shivering. I blasted it all the way to his place.

Coming up his driveway later, he said, “Your aunt sure ain’t gonna be happy with me. Guess I’d better go inside and get it over with.”

The next day, he called me up, saying he was back at the garage. The truck wouldn’t be ready until noon. I went over hoping he wasn’t insulting Ned again. Instead, I found both of them in Ned’s office, drinking coffee and sharing a bag of corn chips. “Youngster,” my uncle said to me, “your aunt’s got me on grocery duty. Take me over to the IGA and I’ll pop around to that dentist while I’m there.”

“You’re getting new dentures?” I asked.

“Well I ain’t gettin’ my shoes shined,” he said.

Ned was looking out the window at my car. “You’d better get a proper tire on that,” he said. “Running on that spare will throw your tie rod eventually.” Without saying anything else, he went out, drove my car into the garage, and got it up on the hoist. Maxwell sat there sipping his coffee. When Ned found a suitable tire for my car, Maxwell got up. “We’d better give him a hand,” he said.

Maxwell showed her the crushed dentures.

We did that and then drove over to the IGA. Maxwell decided to go in the dental office first. Mrs. Druthers, the receptionist, was there holding fort. Beecham was over in Sheridan doing some dental work there. Maxwell showed her the crushed dentures in his dirty handkerchief.

“How did you manage to do that?” she asked.

“Long story, May,” he said. “Can I order new ones?”

“You don’t have insurance on these?”

“No, I don’t.”

“It’s going to be another four hundred with your senior’s discount.”

“Can’t I trade these ones in?” he asked, winking at me.

“No you can’t, Maxwell,” she said.

She did the paperwork, saying they’d be in touch when the dentures came in. Maxwell started chuckling when he got outside. “May’s never had much of a sense of humour,” he said. “Remind me to get your aunt some of that ripple ice cream. Calm her down a bit after last night.”

We picked up the ripple ice cream along with eggs, milk and some bananas. On the way to the cash, Maxwell grabbed a bag of corn chips. “Better take these to Ned,” he said. “Make up for all I ate.”

Ned was welding a patch on the gas tank when we got back. Maxwell put the bag of corn chips on Ned’s bench. Ned opened them and started eating.

“I meant to ask you before, Maxwell,” he said. “What were you doing out on that forest track, anyway?”

“None of your business,” Maxwell said.

I was curious about that, too.

“C’mon,” I said. “We went to a lot of trouble yesterday.”

He ran his hand through his gray hair.

“I was burying a cat,” he said, finally.

“Whose cat?” I asked.

“Elouise’s next door. I backed into it by accident. Figured the least I could do was give it a peaceful place to rest.”

“Down a logging trail?” Ned asked.

Maxwell sipped his coffee.

“By god, you didn’t tell her, did you, Maxwell?” Ned said.

“No, I didn’t, Ned. What difference does it make?”

“Might to her.”

“I paid for it, didn’t I?” my uncle said. “Losin’ my teeth, gettin’ my truck banged up. All for a stupid cat.”

“You gonna fix my truck or tell me where to bury cats?”

“You could’ve buried it out past the fairgrounds,” Ned said.

“You gonna fix my truck or tell me where to bury cats?”

Ned took the gas tank over to the truck. We helped him put everything together again, all the while listening to Maxwell complain about his dentures again. Once the truck was ready, Ned lowered the hoist and my uncle backed out of the garage. He rolled down the window. “I’ll pay you next week, Ned,” he said, and drove off.

Ned lifted his hat and scratched his head.

“All that to bury a cat,” he said.

I had to go over to Sheridan to buy some new shoes. Ned stood there having a smoke as I drove off. He waved and closed the garage door. It was raining again. All that fall it rained almost every day. Most of the fairground was underwater by the end of the week.

Maxwell finally got his new dentures. They were just as big as the ones before, but he had to wear them or face the consequences. As my aunt said, they’d paid out enough money because of his stupidity. So he wore them, and like he said, he looked like a “well-groomed horse.”

He also went to the Animal Shelter and got Elouise a kitten. I don’t know what he told her. Probably just smiled that big toothy grin and handed it over. At least those new teeth were good for something. That’s what he told me, anyway. He was smiling when he said it, so I guess it must be true.

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Robert Cormack
Human Parts

I did a poor imitation of Don Draper for 40 years before writing my first novel. I'm currently in the final stages of a children's book. Lucky me.