Emily Dickinson in her own words: ‘A Tooth upon Our Peace’ (459)

by Colin Gee

I was sitting primly in the Parlour, holding my head proudly erect because I was about to skunk my brother Austin four games in a row in cribbage and the tinkling little ice cubes in his untouched lemonade had melted into soft little nubs where the glass sat on its damp coaster next to his pale fat hand, perhaps warmed by his desperate yet inept pegging, and even the beads of sweat on the drink were themselves surely quite lukewarm by this time, not fit for human consumption.

None of my hands had given me less than 16 points — a grim smile played upon my lips as I thought, quite frankly, about vitalizing my Grace.

I was content, my work there was done, but I knew that Austin would create some kind of disturbance to show that the Universe was pitted against him since boyhood, his fortune as small-town ambulance-chaser who recited no poetry by heart had been predestined, or that his Calvinist God wanted him chastised because he had had thoughts about second servings of dessert, or tarried at the lawn dart game with his pals Thomas and Roger instead of rushing home to eat Susan’s mushy dinner, or had killed a man in Italy.

There was a Tooth upon our peace.

‘Look Austin,’ I said, speaking coldly, ‘why don’t you just throw in the towel and surrender your pawns to me.’

He said, ‘There are no pawns in cribbage.’

‘You know what I mean.’

‘I’m no quitter, Emily.’

‘Yet you are most certainly a loser, Austin.’

‘It is my Calvinist God,’ moaned the little pussy. He said, ‘I was predestined to suffer loss, and muggins.’

I closed my eyes in pleasure and arched my back in delight against the ramrod-straight spindles of a chair.

I said, ‘The Universe is pitted against you.’

‘The Universe is pitted against me,’ he sobbed, throwing his pathetic King-Queen-Six-Three zero-point hand onto the tablecloth and beginning to hyperventilate.

I pictured the Universe: extremely starry out there, full of exotic flowers, breathable air, and ships of faithful Christian soldiers. It was enough to ask oneself, Wherefore be the Tooth?

I said, ‘Austin, there is no Tooth upon our peace.’

‘Then why does God want me to lose every time,’ he wailed, kicking out his legs like a toddler and sloshing the lemonade in its sweaty container.

I said, ‘You should memorize the combinations that give you points. The main combination are cards that add up to 15.’

But he would not listen.

‘Is this about me getting married again,’ he shouted. ‘Because it was Calvinist God’s will.’

No no no no no, no no no no, Austin, I thought. No no no no no. No. This is about HER getting married.

I said, ‘And runs generally get you a lot of points. Do you know what a run is?’

Austin looked at his warm drink and his apoplectic face said, I swear it, ‘Where is Mrs. Meryl? I need a fwesh wemonade.’

And that is how Calvinist God made Austin’s lemonade no good for drinking. It had been written before the dawn of time.

William Austin Dickinson, fresh out of lemonade

Just then Susan burst in, carrying a tray of store-bought cookies, and both our jaws dropped, for she was with her hardbody little friend Angie, and Angie was wearing a scandalous skirt.

‘Miss and Mister Dickinson,’ said Susan, flicking a booger deftly from the tip of her nose, ‘may I present Miss Angela Smith. Her name means angel. We may play four-way now.’

My mind, I confess, returned to Heaven and did the Hokey-Pokey with some angels that looked like Miss Angela Smith. Yet every Heaven hath its Hell and devils, or else how the hell do you think we could distinguish one from the other. That’s just how it works.

‘If you’re an angel, I’m a Calvinist Christian,’ I growled to this angel under my breath, looking her slowly up and down. She blushed and pivoted on a slender ankle. Next to this sweet merengue Susan only looked lumpier and dourer than ever.

‘Emily, have a cookie,’ she gagged, talking around her enlarged tongue. ‘We made them ourselves,’ she said, lying as usual.

Angie said, ‘You would have to teach me how to play. I don’t know anything about parlour games,’ in a high squeaky voice, then actually put some fingers in her mouth and tittered.

‘Yes, sweet peaches,’ I was about to retort, when Austin said, ‘No more cribbage. We’re going home.’

Angie glanced back at me over her shoulder as she was being hustled out, and her expression I took to be the Guilt of Sacrifice.

‘This means you forfeit, you loser!’ I stood and screamed at my brother’s gaunt backside.

‘Good-bye, Emily,’ said one angel, as two devils took her away.

‘A Tooth upon Our Peace’ (459)

Emily Dickinson

A Tooth upon Our Peace
The Peace cannot deface —
Then Wherefore be the Tooth?
To vitalize the Grace —

The Heaven hath a Hell —
Itself to signalize —
And every sign before the Place
Is Gilt with Sacrifice —