Excerpt from Chapter 2: Dark Faerie
He watched TV for a while as his mom vacuumed. He couldn't hear what the cartoon characters were saying over the sound of her machine, so he made up a plot and a dialog for them.
Ronny's favorite cartoon was Felix The Cat, because Felix had a bag of tricks that always got him out of trouble. Sometimes Felix would pull things out of his bag of tricks that didn't look like they should be able to fit inside.
But Felix wasn't on this morning. All he could find was Yogi Bear. In Ronny's version of the story, The Ranger had decided that Yogi had been making trouble long enough -- so now The Ranger was going to kill him. Ronny kept expecting Yogi to pull a big long sword out of his little picnic basket and kill The Ranger in self-defense, but it never happened. Also, in Ronny's version of the story, Boo-boo, Yogi's little bear buddy, talked just like Ronny's best friend Floyd.
When she was done cleaning, his mom made Oscar Mayer bologna sandwiches and took Ronny down to Riverside Park.
Floyd lived over in Harlem, but his brother, T, sometimes brought him to Riverside to play. Ronny had been looking for him in the park since kindergarten had ended, but he hadn't seen him yet.
His mom held his hand as they crossed Riverside Drive. While they were still only halfway across, Ronny spotted a little black boy playing in the sandbox who looked like he could be Floyd. He pulled his mom the rest of the way across the street, pulled free of her hand as soon as his sneaker touched the curb and ran over to the sandbox.
"Hey, Floyd! Look what the Tooth Angel left me!" Ronny held the shiny, bicentennial quarter up for Floyd to see.
"Yeah, my mom says that an angel takes baby teeth and leaves quarters."
"Well ain't no angels come to my house," said Floyd, burying his knees in the dirty sand. "Tooth Fairy give us nickels. And she don't even give T nothing no more. Momma say he too big."
"T has all his grown-up teeth already?" T was almost 9 years old, and the coolest kid in the world. He was cool like Fonzy on TV, but T was black and Fonzy was white. Ronny was white, too, but he was just a little kid. He figured he'd have to become a grown-up like Fonzy before he could be cool like T.
"No, T still got a couple baby teeth left, but the Tooth Fairy only give her nickels to me and Shondra. Momma says T just too old, that's all."
"But that's not fair," said Ronny.
Floyd shrugged. "What's more not fair is that Reggie Axton next door to me gets a dime for his baby teeth. Momma says it's cause Reggie's momma is white."
Ronny put his bicentennial quarter into the front pocket of his shorts. He needed time to think this through. Something wasn't right about this whole baby-tooth setup.
"Hey hey, it's Renaldo!" said T, striding up to Ronny and Floyd.
"No, T, it's just Ronny, not Renaldo," Ronny explained.
"I know, man. I'm just playin' wit'you!"
"Oh." Ronny grinned. He blushed.
"I see you got a brand new hole in your face," said T.
"Ronny say an angel come to his house and give him a quarter for that tooth," said Floyd.
"Yeah," said T. "I can see that. I bet that tooth was worth a quarter."
"Is it because I'm white?"
T started laughing. His little brother joined him. Ronny tried to laugh too, but he was feeling confused.
"Nah," said T. "I'm just saying you look like you got good teeth."
"How come he got a angel come to his house when we got a tooth fairy come to ours?"
"Floyd, you so dumb!"
"Shut up, T! I am not!"
"Angel. Fairy. Same thing. A lady with wings."
"Have you seen her?" asked Ronny.
"No," said T. "Not as such. But you kids know what she looks like!"
"Oh, yeah," said Floyd, nodding.
Ronny didn't know, but he didn't want to say so.
Ronny watched TV while his mom made dinner. A Brady Bunch episode was on, one he'd seen three times already. He turned the volume down so he could think.
Why was the Tooth Fairy -- at this point, he figured his mom was simply wrong about the Tooth Angel -- giving less money to Floyd than to Ronny? Were black kids' baby teeth worth less to her than white kids' teeth? T said it wasn't because Ronny was white, but Floyd said his next-door neighbor was half-white and got twice as much for his teeth as Floyd got.
Ronny counted on his fingers and then counted again to make sure his numbers were right. If each penny was counted on one finger, then Floyd got one hand's worth of pennies, Reggie Axton got two hands and Ronny got FIVE hands. Floyd would have to lose five baby teeth to have the same amount of money as Ronny just got for losing only one.
Ronny and Floyd's kindergarten teacher was a white woman named Mimi. She had a big bushy head of hair and wore lots of beads that clicked against each other when she moved. Mimi was always saying, that We Are All The Same Under The Skin. There were these two kids in kindergarten -- the two Johns. John Smith was white and John Brown was black. They were called White John and Brown John to tell them apart, but Mimi got angry when she heard kids using those names. White John and Brown John kept getting into fights with each other. White John once called Brown John a little black booger. What he said was "My daddy says you're just a little black booger!" and Brown John tackled him to the ground and punched his head. Mimi pulled White John up and screamed at him "Black is beautiful! Black is beautiful!"
Ronny had grinned at Floyd and said "White is wonderful!"
"Says you," said Floyd.
When Brown John got up, Ronny saw that his knee was skinned open. His blood was the same color as Ronny's, but the flesh underneath was darker. And his skin was getting all puffy around the cut. Ronny noticed once that Floyd's cuts got all puffy, too. So Mimi was wrong: black and white kids weren't the same under the skin because Ronny's cuts just bled and bled and then scabbed over.
Something was different and Mimi didn't want the kids to know about it. Grown-ups were always trying to make sure little kids didn't know things that were true.
If the Tooth Fairy thought black was beautiful, she'd give Floyd more money for his baby teeth, wouldn't she?
At dinner, Ronny asked his mom, "Why does Floyd only get five cents for his baby teeth when I get twenty-five cents for mine? Is it because Floyd's black?"
His mom looked angry at him, like he'd said a bad word. "No," she said. "It's not because he's black. He's just poor."
"But we're poor, too," said Ronny. "You always say so."
"I don't always say so, Ronny. We're just having some money trouble at the moment. And Floyd's family has even more money troubles than we do."
Ronny argued with himself for a while, then asked "Would you like my quarter, mommy?"
His mom looked very sad. "No, sweetheart. That quarter is for you."
What Ronny didn't say was, "So why did you try to steal it from me while it was still under my pillow?"
They finished their dinners in silence and Ronny asked to be excused.
In bed that night, Ronny said a quick prayer to God, then turned his thoughts to this new information. Somehow poor people's teeth were worth less money to the Tooth Fairy, which seemed really backwards. Shouldn't poor kids get more money for their teeth? Didn't they need the money more than kids who were having fewer money problems at the moment?
Ronny knew he didn't yet know enough to understand what was going on, but it was clear to him that the Tooth Fairy was helping to keep poor kids poor. He was glad he'd decided she wasn't an angel, because he was starting to get really mad at her.
"Ronny Faber Versus The Tooth Faerie" debuted December 14, 2001, performed by bkMarcus.