Linda Selig opens her hope chest and reaches inside, fumbling beneath the linens and quilts until she finds the plastic baggie full of baby teeth. She winces while shifting her knees over the hardwood floor and then closes the chest in a cedar-laced sigh.
There are twenty teeth inside, and all of them were Jordan’s. He’s their first-born, and when Hannah came three years later and Chloe ten years after that, Linda and John were so swept up in the day-to-day that they forgot to save most of the girls’ teeth. Linda usually swapped out dollars beneath their pillows and flushed the teeth down the toilet.
An airplane growls somewhere overhead. Linda stands and stretches her back. Her bedroom blinds are open. The sun has set, and eventide has settled over the small cemetery on the corner. The buildings next door to it are dark, except for the barbershop, where pockets of disinfecting blue light wash over the combs. Linda pours the baby teeth into her palm.
There is a bright blue vein that runs down Jordan’s forehead, above his left eye. It was there when he was an infant and has never gone away. Over the years, as his mess-ups turned to broken rules and eventually broken laws, Linda would stare at the vein, to remember.
John gave up on him years ago. “Kid could slit his throat with a safety razor. Or someone else’s.”
When Jordan was nine he and Brandon Sellars spray-painted the misspelled word ASSHOLL on trees throughout Jaycees Park. A few years later he was suspended for bringing a knife to school, caught because he’d carved MY BLADE WAS HERE on bricks and tiles throughout the building. And when he was fifteen he and two older guys who’d sometimes buy him beer were arrested at the industrial park trying to steal pallets of aluminum platforms to sell for scrap. They were parts of a playground structure that a charity was shipping to Guatemala. Jordan was charged with misdemeanor petty theft and served probation.
There were fights, but Linda didn’t know the details. He’d dropped out of school by then and was working part-time jobs at Home Depot and then the car wash. She was still convincing John to let him live under their roof.
Jordan would come home with dried blood on his face or bruises on his hands. Then he’d sit at the kitchen table to make himself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, slipping potato chips between the bread slices—the way he did as a boy—so that it would crunch with each bite. Or he’d roll his old BMX out of the garage and ride slowly back and forth down the sidewalk, making U-turns in the driveways of empty homes.
She taught him how to ride a bike when he was five—there, across the street, at the little cemetery. Years later, John called it bad luck. They’d taught the girls in the church parking lot, and they’d turned out fine. Hannah made honor roll this semester and is working her first job, standing alongside 28th Street after school, wearing a yellow T-shirt, waving at cars, and holding a sign for one of those cash-for-gold places. And across the hall from Linda, Chloe has just run into her bedroom and begun jumping on her trundle bed while speaking to stuffed animals in baby voices. Twenty years ago that rhythmic squeaking of bedsprings would have come from her and John, in that respite between wedding and pregnancy, when sex was more elation than release.
Jordan is now nineteen, and tonight—a few hours from now—he will enter the gates of Jackson State Prison for what Linda hopes is only five years but could be ten. Last fall, after a Lions game, he and three other guys from the car wash stumbled out of Ford Field and trailed a man in a Packers jersey for eight blocks. When the man cut through an alley toward his hotel, Jordan and the others beat and stomped him. Smashed bottles over him. Cut his face with brown glass.
The man was Kevin Vaughan, a forty-two-year-old father of three from Marquette who’d become separated from his friends in the crush of exiting fans. He was comatose and paralyzed when loaded into the ambulance. Surgeons removed sections of his skull so that his brain wouldn’t swell. Linda saw this on the news.
She refused interviews—after the arrest, during the trial. After Jordan was convicted of assault with intent to do great bodily harm. On the day of the conviction, she came home from the courthouse and wandered into the backyard. She doesn’t remember the actual moment when she lay down beneath the magnolia. It was just days past its full bloom, and the grass beneath was covered in pink flowers. But she does remember slowly arcing her arms above her head, slowly scissoring her legs in the grass, making a shape like a snow angel amid the blossoms. And she remembers John, standing and staring in the driveway, horrified.
So what would he think of this?
Linda closes her hand over the teeth and squeezes them—kneads them beneath her fingers like a palm full of gravel. She opens her hand again. The roots of some teeth are tainted pink with old blood. She pinches one between her right thumb and forefinger and slips it into her mouth like a pill. It rests on her tongue, and in the seconds before swallowing she searches for its taste. There is something in this pink blood. Something faintly umbilical.