Sharpest Tooth by Emma Booth
Friday night. Raff stands in front of the full-length mirror. Smiling, he picks up his phone and takes a couple of mirror selfies. Every few snaps, he changes his stance slightly and checks the images. Unsatisfied, he tries a few serious-faced shots, narrowing his eyes intently at the camera’s eye on his phone. He swipes through the images until he finds one that he is happy with and opens an Instagram post. He begins to type a caption and deletes it, starts to type another, and deletes that one too.
“Raffie, you’re going to be late, love,” calls his mum from downstairs.
“Nearly ready!” Raff decides on Drinks with the lads #boys. He puts his phone in his pocket and squirts on another generous helping of Loup-Garou aftershave. He bounds down the stairs, gives his mum a kiss on her head and leaves the house. On the driveway is his beloved blood-red 1972 Volkswagen Beetle. He runs his hand lovingly over her voluptuous bonnet. The long hot day has blessed his car and she feels hot to the touch. Not too hot, just before really warm gets too hot. Just right.
The walk to The Huntsman’s Arms is a short one. It is summer and although it is almost nine p.m., it is still light and warm. There are some pewter clouds gathering in the distance and Raff wonders whether a storm may break in the night. He loves summer evenings, but they are always better interrupted by a few heavy downpours. They fracture the heat, reset the humidity; make it more comfortable. He walks down the terrace-lined Pindale Road. There is a small pack of neighbourhood lads playing footy across the street. Raff raises his hand to wave to one of them. The boy waves back and kicks the ball over. Raff kicks it back and smiles at the delight the younger kids show at the quick interaction with an older lad. A few doors up, at the end of the terrace, he sees Mrs Hood bringing her bin out to be collected the following morning. She seems to be struggling to get it through her gate. Raff breaks into a jog.
“Hang on Mrs Hood, let me give you a hand.”
“Oh, Raff. You are a good boy. Thank you.”
Raff easily manoeuvres the bin and lines it up outside Mrs Hood’s garden. Pulling away, the back of his hand brushes against the flowers on her rose bush. Its blooms are rich and full. They look like velvet; he resists the urge to stroke his finger across the crimson petals.
Mrs Hood stands at the end of her path, holding the gate open with her hip. It has been a hot day and she is wearing a loose vest and shorts. The blush from the roses reflects in her face as she smiles at him. She must have been pretty when she was a young girl.
“You’ll have to excuse my slippers,” she says. “I just threw them on to bring the bin out.”
He glances down and notices her legs are unshaved. He wonders if it feels soft or stubbly. The setting sun highlights the silvery blonde down. He catches himself and looks up quickly, feeling a tug in the pit of his stomach. Guilt? It’s like he has seen something he shouldn’t have. She doesn’t seem to notice or mind.
“Goodness, it’s been a hot one today, hasn’t it?” she says, wafting the front of her vest back and forth. The movement makes her bra strap stutter down her shoulder. She leaves it there.
Raff can see sweat patches on the underarm part of her top. He looks away, studying his own feet on the pavement. “Yes, it’s been a proper scorcher.”
“On your way out with your girlfriend?” asks Mrs Hood.
He looks back up at her, smiling. “I don’t have a girlfriend, Mrs Hood. Saving myself, I am.”
“Enjoy yourself, love. Don’t talk to strange girls.” She smiles and waves him off.
Raff doesn’t remember the bin being out at home, so he rings his mum and reminds her. As he is hanging up the phone, he arrives at The Huntsman’s Arms.
Raff sees his mates already sat at a table. He holds up one finger to them and heads to the bar. The Huntsman’s Arms is what his mum calls ‘an old man’s pub’. The décor is murky and tired with lots of dark, painted wood. The carpet is patterned, disguising decades of stains. Although smoking in pubs became illegal over ten years ago, the ceiling still sports its nicotine glow. There is an uncarpeted island surrounding the bar. When you walk on the uncarpeted section, you can feel the stickiness holding on to your shoes with every step, years of neglected beer spills. There is an old jukebox. Raff can’t remember the jukebox ever working, even when he used to come in with his mum when he was a kid. There are always lightbulbs that need changing, and it isn’t unusual for there to be no bog roll in the toilets. However, The Huntsman’s Arms is also the kind of pub that you can go to, alone, and end up having a great night; everyone knows everyone. It is a hub, an intercommunity. The place is dingy, claustrophobic and dated but it is as familiar as the curves of the road that hold you as you near home.
The landlord greets Raff by name. They exchange a few pleasantries and Raff orders his drink. He carries his pint over to the table and sits in the empty seat.
“Why are we inside?” he asks.
“Because Paul is in love,” says Michael.
“Shut up,” says Paul. “I just like the view in here.” He nods in the direction of a small group of girls and winks at Raff.
Raff looks over to the group of girls. He recognises one of them: it’s Mrs Hood’s granddaughter.
“Especially that one,” says Paul, following Raff’s gaze. “Hands off.”
“I’m not interested mate,” says Raff, with a little shake of his head. “But I’m pretty sure she’s too young for whatever you’re thinking about.”
“Shit!” Paul’s eyes swing back over to the girl. “Nah, bullshit. She’s old enough for what I have in mind.” Paul smiles in Michael’s direction.
Michael takes a diplomatic drink from his pint and looks at the ceiling.
“Stop being a dick, Paul,” says Raff, rolling his eyes.
Raff gives Paul a look.
Michael stands up and fishes about in his pocket. He pulls out two fifty pence pieces.
“Which one of you losers am I going to beat first at pool?”
Michael jostles the three pints onto the table, impressively only spilling a little. It is busy tonight and the white noise of the chatter around them means they have to raise their voices to talk.
“How’s the rust bucket, Raff?” asks Michael as he sits back down.
“Fuck off,” answers Raff with a smile. “Not a single scrap of rust on her. She’s gorgeous.”
Michael drives a slate grey Audi A1 that his mum and dad bought for him when he turned seventeen. Michael is a single child, and his parents are well-off. Michael works for his dad’s company and doesn’t have to contribute to the household expenses even though he earns much more than Raff or Paul, who both pay rent to their mums.
“You’ve finished her?” asks Paul.
Paul drives a Fiat that must have been blue once. The engine makes a clunky noise and doesn’t like to start in the cold. Paul doesn’t care, and he doesn’t seem to care, either, that it smells like an old trainer. Paul doesn’t give a shit about cars, just that he has one to get him where he wants to go, and back again.
“Yep. All done.” It had taken him months to find the perfect car online. It wasn’t that there weren’t any for sale; there were. Raff had wanted one that he could restore, with all original parts, himself. Eventually he had found one. The photographs showed that the car was in a terrible condition. It had been sat in someone’s overgrown garden and it looked like nature was claiming it as its own, brambles were slowly swallowing the vehicle. When he saw it, though, he had known. Mum’s boyfriend had driven Raff all the way to Hereford to pick it up. 333 miles to pick up a car that was older than his mum. That had been six months ago. He was apprenticing at a garage and the mechanics had given him lots of help and advice. They had helped him source the original parts too. The only thing he had not been able to source, which is why it had taken him so long, had been the engine mounting.
“About fucking time,” says Paul. “How long did it take you?”
“Fuck off mate,” answers Raff. “What have you done in the last six months?”
Paul laughs. “Fair enough, Raffie lad.”
Michael grins. “Are we counting porn? I bet he’s watched loads of that.”
Raff, who had just taken a drink, starts coughing and laughing. His eyes water.
Paul holds up his hands as though he’s accepting an award and nods solemnly.
There is a moment of easy silence. It is interrupted by Paul.
“Exactly how old is she?”
Raff’s eyes slide over to where he is looking. The girls are now playing pool. There are four of them in total. They are all relatively nice looking, but Mrs Hood’s granddaughter is the prettiest by far. Girls have a way with make up that makes them all look quite similar, anonymous. Like copies. But she stands out. She has long, bright red hair that falls in a curtain over her creamy white shoulders. She is wearing a short white summer dress and white trainers. She may be wearing make-up, but Raff can’t tell, she is just all big dark eyes and smiling mouth. She is leaning over the pool table, lining up a shot. The front of her dress gapes slightly and Raff can see her skin, bra-less. Fuck! As if she can feel his eyes on her, her lashes raise, and she makes eye contact with him. She smiles in recognition; Raff raises his drink slightly in her direction then looks away. He hears the pool balls collide behind him.
“Too young,” he answers.
“But how young is too young?” whines Paul.
“Like, fifteen, I think,” says Raff.
“And why can’t she be facing the other way and bending over?” says Paul.
Raff smiles, his smile not reaching his eyes, and he shakes his head at Paul.
“I’m going for a piss.” Raff stands up and walks over to the toilets. He is wiping his hands on his jeans as he walks back out.
“Hey, Raffie isn’t it?” The girl is stood in front of him, smiling.
It takes Raff a moment. “Hi,” he answers. “Raff. My mum is the only one who calls me Raffie. You’re Mrs Hood’s granddaughter, aren’t you?”
“Yes,” she says, smiling. “I’m Rowan.”
“Hi Rowan.” He smiles broadly at her. “Saw your Nan on the way here.”
She actually looks a little like her grandmother. Raff silently congratulates himself for knowing that Mrs Hood would have been a looker back in the day.
“Did you?” she asks. “I’m staying at hers tonight; Mum and Dad are away for the weekend.”
Raff looks down at her. She is shorter than he expected. One of her thin straps slides down her shoulder. She catches it and pulls it back up, her fingers lingering on her smooth shoulder. From this angle he can see as easily down her dress as he could when she was bent over the pool table. Who doesn’t wear a bra? A fifteen-year-old with small perky tits, he answers himself. He pulls his eyes up. Fifteen. She is smiling up at him. She knows that he was looking at her tits. He thinks she should wear a fucking bra if she doesn’t want people looking at her tits. She doesn’t look upset though. She catches the straw sitting in her bottle between her teeth. She maintains eye contact with him as she closes her lips around it and takes a sip of her Bacardi Breezer. She shakes her red mane back behind her, which thrusts her small breasts forwards. Raff feels a familiar pull in the pit of his stomach. He mumbles something about his mates and returns to their table.
“Thought you weren’t interested?” says Paul.
“Fuck off, I’m not,” says Raff. “She’s pissed and flirting, that’s all.”
“Maybe I should go to the bogs then,” says Paul.
“I don’t give a shit,” says Raff. He looks down as his phone pings. It’s an Instagram notification, @RowanRed is following him. He glances over to Rowan and her friends; they are grouped around her and they all appear to be looking at her phone. His move, he thinks. “Let’s go and sit outside. It’s too hot in here.” He casually presses the blue follow-back button as he picks up his things.
“Feeling hot, hot, hot,” sings Paul.
Michael laughs as they stand up and go outside.
The indium grey of a summer night has finally arrived. The storm has not yet broken. It sits, lurking. Waiting. Stalking. Although Raff does enjoy summer nights, he misses the anonymity of their winter counterpart. There is something very comforting about dark nights.
It is quieter outside, more relaxed too. Raff is enjoying the breeze. He’s looking at a group of empty beer bottles huddled around a discarded fish supper on the pavement across the road. The scene is an echo of the one with Rowan and her friends. Raff is positive now that she was flirting with him before. Tease.
“So, did you find the engine mounty thing that you’ve been bitching about?” asks Paul.
“The engine mount,” corrects Raff. “Yes, I did. Waited for an authentic part. You can’t rush these things.” He takes a swig of his beer.
Steve, his boss at work, had tried all his garage contacts but no one had had an authentic Volkswagen engine mount. Eventually, Steve had managed to talk Raff into using a Porsche 911 engine mount and told him how to make it look the part. In fact, he had one in the back which he had suggested Raff use at the beginning. Each time Raff drew a blank, Steve had reminded him about the Porsche mount. Raff kept refusing but Steve knew his stuff and kept hold of it, knowing that Raff would have to use it or wait, possibly forever. Those parts were obviously rarer than unicorn shit.
“That’s great,” says Michael. “I thought you’d have to settle for a botch-job.”
“Nope. Not a chance I was going to do that,” answers Raff. “She deserves the real thing.” Raff had gone through three wire brushes removing all the rust and dirt off the Porsche engine mounting. The scum that came off with the wire brush had looked like the sea scum he had seen around the old boat of Caol on a school trip to Corpach beach. The sea scum gathers around the bottom of the boat and in between the stones on the beach. He had been twelve before he had realised that not all beaches were stony. They had fish and chips for lunch and had then walked to the lighthouse. It had been listening to how the positioning of simple prisms and lenses helped the lighthouse warn sailors of the rocky shore that had first got Raff interested in mechanics.
Once the engine mounting was finally clean and had all the Porsche branding buffed out, Steve had found him some nuts and washers that would fit. The engine in his 1972 model is at the back of the car, so he had used a jack to keep the engine lifted. He removed the old engine mounting and measured where the holes were against its Porsche substitute. He was dreading them not lining up. Steve told him not to be so wet, that he could drill new holes. Raff knew then, though, when the bolts and studs were on it would be obvious the part had been botched to fit. It had to look right. In the end he had been lucky, everything measured up well; it was like a blessing. He fitted the new mount into place, attaching the studs to cover the nuts. Lastly, he carefully lowered the engine back down and tightened everything up. Unless an automotive master mechanic was investigating for some reason no one would ever know that it was a Porsche part.
“Pity you can’t fit her into your bed,” says Michael.
“That might not stop him,” says Paul.
Raff laughs and finishes his pint. “One more for the road, boys?”
“Not for me, Raff,” answers Michael standing up. “I’ve had a text from Jenny.”
“I’ll go for you,” says Paul, smiling lewdly but remaining in his seat.
“Thanks, but no thanks mate,” says Michael.
“Spoilsport,” says Paul with a shrug.
Michael leaves. Raff goes to the bar to get pints for himself and Paul.
Raff is putting the drinks on the table.
“Your phone has been buzzing,” says Paul.
Raff checks it, Rowan has been liking his Instagram posts.
Paul’s eyes are wide. “You looked her up on Insta?”
“No, she looked me up.”
“Let’s check out her profile,” Paul says.
With a small sigh, Raff opens his Instagram app and they both look at her last few photographs.
“Fuck!” says Paul.
Raff silently agrees. The latest image dated the previous day is of Rowan, in tiny black shorts, a white fitted t shirt and over the knee socks. She is in profile, knelt on a bed and a half smile on her mouth. The caption reads New hair, new lashes…why not? #babesofinstagram.
They scroll through some more of the photographs. There are lots with her friends and lots with filters on too. Raff rolled his eyes; filters were one of his pet hates. He turned his phone off, ignoring Paul’s protests.
“You know, I think I might shoot off,” says Raff, putting his empty glass down on the table.
“You had a booty call too?” asks Paul, raising his eyebrows.
Raff stands up. “Nah mate, my bed’s calling.”
“Fair enough,” says Paul. “Later, loser.”
“Shit!” Raff is about halfway home when he realises he has left his phone on the table at the pub. He turns around and starts retracing his steps back to The Huntsman’s Arms. He is almost there when he sees two people walking towards him. As they get closer, Raff realises that it’s Paul and Rowan.
“Alright?” Raff asks.
Rowan nods. Her arms are crossed in front of her, her shoulders hunched a little.
“We’re fine, Raff,” says Paul, smiling. “Walking this pretty little thing home, I am.”
“I can see that,” he says. “Make sure you behave yourself.”
“Are you going back?” Rowan asks.
“Yeah, I left my phone,” Raff says. “Wait if you like and I’ll walk with you.”
“We don’t need a chaperone, Raffie, lad,” says Paul.
Raff laughs and carries on to the pub. If he jogs, he can catch Paul and Rowan back up.
Seeing Paul and Rowan up ahead, Raff slows to a walk and slides his phone into his pocket. They are stood still. As Raff gets closer, he notices that Paul is trying to pull Rowan towards him, and she is trying to push him away. He speeds back up.
“I have a boyfriend,” says Rowan. Her hands are braced against Paul’s chest. Her head is lowered too so that it looks as though she is using her head and hands as a tripod to put space between them.
“Paul!” shouts Raff as he jogs up. “What the fuck are you doing?” As he reaches them, he pushes Paul, hard.
Paul stumbles backwards and Raff inserts himself between Paul and Rowan.
“Fuck!” says Paul. “I wasn’t doing anything.” He holds his hands up. “I did nothing Raff, promise.”
“Why don’t you go home mate?” suggests Raff. “Go and sleep it off.”
“K. K. But I didn’t do anything to that little prick-tease, okay?” He is already turning back the way he’d come. He is still muttering to himself as he walks away.
“You ok?” Raff turns back to Rowan.
She nods at him; her eyes seem even bigger than before.
“Come on, I’ll walk you back to your Nan’s house.”
“Thanks,” she answers.
“Not exactly out of my way is it?” says Raff.
They begin to walk together. They continue in silence for a little way.
“That was fucking stupid, you know,” says Raff.
“What?” says Rowan, looking at the ground.
“Walking on your own with someone you don’t know,” says Raff. “Fucking stupid!”
“I didn’t lead him on!” says Rowan.
“I’m not saying you were leading him on,” says Raff. “Fuck, didn’t your mum ever tell you not to walk home with men you don’t know?”
Rowan’s bottom lip juts out a little, her eyes are downcast.
“For that matter, you shouldn’t be drinking either. What are you? Like, fifteen?”
Rowan looks like she’s about to cry. “I’m almost sixteen.”
“Don’t sulk,” Raff says, his voice softer now. “It doesn’t suit you.” He elbows her, gently. When she looks up at him, she sees that he is smiling.
She relaxes and smiles back. “I don’t really have a boyfriend,” she says.
They carry on walking.
The lights, at Mrs Hood’s house, are all out.
“Looks like she didn’t wait up for you,” says Raff.
“I have a key,” answers Rowan.
They have come to a stop now. Rowan is rooting around in her bag for the key, Raff has his hands in his pockets. He looks up and down the street. The night is punctuated with streetlights. There is something eerie about a street at night-time, like a kitchen in darkness. It feels illicit.
“Thanks for walking me home Raff,” says Rowan. “Do you want to come in for a drink?” She is stood in front of him, her arms by her sides. She is looking up at him, without tipping her head so that her eyes look heavily fringed and huge.
Raff finds his mouth is suddenly dry. She is fucking gorgeous. He clears his throat, “I could use a drink.”
They walk around the narrow path that leads from the front garden, down the side of the house and into the back garden. Rowan leads the way. Raff thinks it’s a good thing that they are both in trainers. Trainers are so quiet. His mum always wears heels. His favourite teacher when he’d been at primary school always wore heels too, Miss Forest. All the teachers had been women, they had all worn heels, but he could tell Miss Forest’s clippy walk apart from anyone else’s.
Rowan fumbles with the key. At one point she drops it, swears, and starts giggling. Raff decides that the only way they are going to get inside is if he does it. He stoops down, retrieves the key, and deftly opens Mrs Hood’s back door. The two of them slip inside. Raff locks the door behind them and puts the keys on the kitchen work surface.
“What do you want to drink?” asks Rowan, her voice low. “There’s tea, coffee, water, orange, coke and I think she has some brandy around here somewhere.”
“Water’s good for me,” answers Raff.
Rowan gets out two tall tumblers. She lets the cold tap run for a few seconds, allowing it to get really cold, then fills up the two glasses. She hands one to Raff. She looks at him and takes a sip from her own drink. She leans close to Raff to put her glass down on the counter, still looking at him. She steps closer to him, arms by her sides.
“Thank you for making sure I got home ok,” she says.
“No worries,” replies Raff.
Rowan slips the thin straps of her dress over her shoulders. A reverse of her earlier gesture. The loose summer dress slides down her, catching loosely around her narrow hips, like a sarong. She is completely naked to her waist.
“Shit,” says Raff.
“Do you want to touch me?” asks Rowan.
Raff looks at her. Her skin in the moonlit night is like milk petals. Her breasts are small with hard, puckered, red nipples. They looked like new rose buds. Raff takes another mouthful of water.
She is looking at him with her big dark eyes again, her lips turned up into a smile.
“You’ve had a lot to drink tonight,” says Raff, hoarsely, half heartedly trying to look anywhere but at her tits.
“So?” she answers.
“I don’t want to take advantage of you,” he says. “You’re fifteen.”
“I’ll be sixteen in twelve weeks,” she answers. She reaches out and takes his hand. She brings his hand up to her breast. His hand completely cloaks her small breast. He can feel her hard nipple. She is watching his face. His cock jumps. Shit. She leans forwards and pulls his head down. She kisses him clumsily. His hand is still on her breast, crushed between them awkwardly, his other hand is by his side. She tastes of lemons and cigarettes. He can smell her sweat faintly.
Raff pulls away gently. “I need a piss.”
“Upstairs, first door on the right,” she answers. “I’ll go and wait for you in the lounge. Don’t be long.”
Raff escapes up the stairs. Shit. What is he going to do? He shouldn’t have come in. It isn’t that he doesn’t want to fuck her. Well, not that, exactly. She is gorgeous and his mates would be impressed. Fuck - Paul knew he was with her. He definitely can’t fuck her. She is too young. He could go to jail. He has a piss. He takes his phone out of his pocket, finds a meme of a bed, posts it on Instagram with the caption Nothing worse than having to get out of bed for a piss when you’re enjoying some beauty sleep #zzzzzzz. He takes his time washing his hands, and then spends some more time debating whether or not he should flush the toilet. He decides not to. There is a towel rail radiator in the bathroom. Hung on the radiator are a couple of pairs of white cotton knickers and a white lace bra. They must belong to Mrs Hood. He fingers the delicate lace.
When he leaves the bathroom, he hesitates on the landing. He clenches his hands and releases them, stretching his fingers out wide a couple of times. He doesn’t want to go back downstairs. The landing is shadowy, but he can see it is papered with roses in full, glorious bloom. A tartan blanket lies folded on top of a laundry basket. Everything is very neat and tidy. There are two doors on the landing, other than the one belonging to the bathroom. One room lies empty with its door wide open. This must be where Rowan is going to sleep tonight. The other door is ajar. That must be Mrs Hood’s room. He can smell flowers on the landing; he closes his eyes and drags the scent deep into his lungs. He suddenly hears a movement from the occupied bedroom. His heart jumps and he feels hot prickles crawl across his scalp. Quickly, Raff makes his way back down the stairs. How is he going to handle this? He has to leave.
In the lounge he finds Rowan, laying on the couch, asleep. He blows out a long breath through his mouth. He had not realised he was holding his breath. Relief. She is still exposed to the waist. Even though she is laying down, her breasts are still pert, like she’s a Barbie doll. He should cover her up. He remembers the tartan blanket upstairs. There have been no further noises from upstairs; after a moment’s hesitation, he turns around and silently, climbs back up the stairs. He stands on the landing, outside Mrs Hood’s room. He can hear her breathing steadily. He finds himself wondering if she sleeps naked. Silently, he takes a step towards the door. From this angle, he can see that the covers are flung off and her arms are on the pillow above her head. She sleeps in a vest and pair of knickers. His cock is throbbing as he watches her.
The house is quiet. He walks down the stairs, almost silently on the dark staircase. He looks around the lounge door, into the room. The downstairs is a little brighter, thanks to a table lamp on in the lounge. The lamp creates a rock pool of pale gold light beneath it and picks out a brass frame with a slightly faded photograph of a little girl. She’s about three years old, with blonde hair in short, curly bunches, and she is wearing a red t shirt and denim dungarees. The girl is stood in a clearing of trees, holding a butterfly net, and smiling at whoever is holding the camera. Next to the photograph is a ceramic wolf, its head thrown back. On the sofa, snoring gently, is the sleeping girl. Her face is half covered by her red hair. He walks over towards the lamp, and uses his forefinger to trace her smile, smearing sea scum across the picture. He wipes his hands clean on the tartan blanket and uses it to cover the girl’s exposed skin. He quietly lets himself out of the back door, locking it behind him.
The loitering storm has broken and there is a refreshing taste to the rain. It feels good. Walking around to the front of the house, he posts the keys through the brass letter box. He brushes against the rose bush as he passes. Several red petals fall to the floor and he treads on them as he goes through the gate. As he walks from his neighbour’s house to his own, he removes something white from his pocket. When he reaches his own driveway, he unlocks the passenger door of his beloved blood red Volkswagen and opens the glove compartment. He folds the white cotton and places it on the top of the pile that is already in there. He carefully locks his car back up, looks up at the moon and grins.