Keith

by John Holland

Keith was worried about his huge toothy smile. He knew his teeth were growing—his toothpaste bills were soaring.

Dentists offered him no helpful advice. “Your teeth are in wonderful condition. Perhaps your lips have thinned with age, so your teeth look bigger. Keep smiling, Keith.”

Walking out of the dental surgery, Keith was approached by a man who asked him if he could sing in a high voice. His brief falsetto in the dentists’ porch impressed, and on the spot the man offered him a job.

A week later, he had a manager and was on stage at the legendary Boston Gliderdrome as a Barry Gibb lookalike. Keith couldn’t believe it but every time he opened his mouth the fans screamed.

After the gig, his manager told him he had to let him go.

“Nothing to do with your voice, Keith,” he said. “It’s just as terrible as Barry’s. But when you smile, people are recoiling. They were screams of fear. You’re giving the audience the heebee-beegees,” he said, laughing at his own lousy joke.

Keith’s smile belied his disappointment that his flirtation with the entertainment world had ended so abruptly.

With a heavy heart, and a heavier mouth, Keith tried other jobs.

Circus clown – “Clowns are supposed to be sad. Can’t you stop smiling?”

Human Resources – “You find it amusing making me redundant, do you, mate?”

Funeral Director – “My mum’s dead. What’s so fucking funny?”

But Keith’s teeth continued to grow, his mouth unable to contain what was inside. And in the way that people are identified with a physical feature—their hair, or their nose, or the hair sprouting from their nose—Keith became his smile. People never looked in his eyes. His teeth were all there seemed to be of him. Although no one ever mentioned them to him.

Finally, depressed and beaming, Keith gave up. Smashed every mirror in his flat. Lay on his bed unwilling—or possibly unable—to eat, and died.

Weeks later, his putrid remains were discovered, the broad, white smile still in place on his yellow cadaverous face.

His former manager and three others attended the funeral, which was on a bone-chillingly cold winter’s day. The vicar, raising his voice over the nonstop chattering of Keith’s teeth in the coffin, paid tribute to one of the happiest people he’d ever met. Those gathered sang a chorus of “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”

After the cremation, his former manager opened the urn containing Keith’s ashes. The teeth were only slightly charred by the fire and grinned back at him from the bottom of the urn. He took them home, filed them down a little, polished them up and sold them to Barry Gibb.

Occasionally, to give his old teeth a rest, Barry pops in his spare pair. You might have spotted Keith’s teeth at a concert belting out one of the Bee Gees hits. ‘Stayin’ Alive’, perhaps. 

John Holland is a prize-winning short fiction author from Gloucestershire in the UK. He also runs the event Stroud Short Stories. Website: www.johnhollandwrites.com Twitter: @JohnHol88897218
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