Robyn Holthouse

The Missing Tooth

Cliffie and May are seated at their kitchen table enjoying their usual Thursday night tea of steak, egg and chips. Cliffie is feeding their Jack Russell terrier named Maxie the browned fatty bits from his meal. May growls at Cliffie

 ‘Stop feeding Maxie at the table’.

Maxie turns briefly to look in her direction and then fixes his gaze once more on Cliffie, wagging his tail intermittently and whimpering. Cliffie ignores May and continues to sneak Maxie little tit bits under the table. 

Cliffie and May live halfway down Dead End Street in Andamooka in South Australia. Their house is built into large mound of earth, most of it is underground. Only the front entrance is open to the street. Cliffie has a very large shed built at ground level to the rear of their dwelling. He keeps the last remnants of his mining equipment in the shed. Cliffie does not rely on opal mining as his main source of income. He carts water and is one of the part time undertakers for the town.

After Cliffie’s dessert of tinned peaches and custard he says to May that he suspects that the back corner of the shed is sinking.

 ‘I will need to get Milo to come over tomorrow an ave a look at it to see if we can stabilise the ground. We might even need to get a cement truck to come over from Roxby Downs to fill it in’

‘Mmmm’ says May ‘that’s gonna cost a pretty penny’ ‘It’ll probably cost more than what that ramshackle thing is even worth’.

Cliffie sniffs loudly, takes the phone off the wall and calls his mate Milo. 

Milo arrives next morning. He and Cliffie dig out some of the shed floor. Milo is poking the ground with a crowbar when it suddenly gives way and a cavernous hole opens up. Cliffie and his friend Milo peer down into what appears to be an abandoned mine shaft.

  ‘Well bugger me’ says Cliffie.

  ‘You gotta a big job on your hands now Cliffie ole mate’ says Milo. 

   Cliffie says ‘I think we will still be able to fill it up with cement’.

  ‘What about before we jump the gun, we shore up the shaft and go down and have a look see, there might be a trace of something down there’ Milo replies

Cliffie has some of the timber and props that they will need to buttress the hole but to make it safe they really need some more materials. Milo says

  ‘I’ll go home and get some gear and I will see you back here tomorrrer’

May and Cliffie are watching the television that evening. It is turned up very loud because Cliffie is hard of hearing. May says

‘Did you feel that’?

‘What’? Says Cliffie

‘I felt a rumble’ says May.

Maxie the dog is rushing up and down to the front door and back again. He is excited and barking loudly. Cliffie says

  ‘Naaaah its just young Joey bringing some of his machinery home’

  ‘But He’s way over on Horse Paddock Road, and Maxie heard it too didn’t you boy?’ says May.

At first light Cliffie stands at his front door looking out, breathing in the freshness of the overnight desert air. The mullock hills in the foreground take on the glow of the first rays of sunshine. The sky is ablaze with all the colours of the spectrum ranging from the palest blues to gaudy red. Venus and the full moon are both still high in the sky. He is able to pick out the five brightest stars of the Southern Cross almost directly overhead. 

He wanders up the steps to the shed behind the house, he walks into the shed and peers into the shaft. He is surprised to see that it has opened up even more overnight. This must be the results of the rumblings May was talking about last evening. He shoos Maxie away from the edge and calls out to May to come and get him to keep him out of harm’s way.  

Milo arrives with ropes, a very long ladder and some shoring gear. Cliffie heads down into the shaft first with Milo monitoring his progress from up above. Milo has brought along his radios so that they can talk to each other. Cliffie is down the hole for about five minutes when he calls Milo on the radio. He is yelling so loudly that Milo can barely make out what he is trying to say.

  ‘I have found some colour’! ‘Come and have a look!!’He yells.

Milo clambers down the ladder.

 ‘Hell and snakes matey, what have we here’? Milo says.

This is no ordinary find for there before them is the skull of a fossilized creature. Milo climbs back up to the surface and grabs some small tools and brushes. After scratching, scraping and brushing the surface carefully they discover that this is a complete skeleton. It is a wonder to behold. The creature is fully opalised. Hues of mostly blues and greens reflecting in the light of their torches.

Cliffie and Milo climb back to the surface. They talk about what they should do. They know that if they break the skeleton up into smaller pieces it will be worth a lot of money but they also realise that the scientists in Adelaide would be very keen to get their hands on it. Milo suggests that they call their mate Victor to come over. Victor runs a tourist shop and gallery in the town.

 ‘He will know what to do to make the most money out of it’ Milo says.

Victor is astounded at what his mates have discovered.

  ‘I’ll get hold of this geezer called Corbett he’s at the Museum in Adelaide, he’ll know what the best thing to do is’

Cliffie was not very keen on this idea.

‘Naaah, I don’t want a whole great gaggle of people up here:’ says Cliffie

His mates convince him though that this is the best thing to do.

  ‘I am pretty sure they will pay you something for it” Victor says.

They talk about their fantastic find over a cup of tea and some scones that May has cooked for them. After Milo and Victor leave, Cliffie heads back down the ladder by himself. He carefully extracts a tooth from the skeleton. He secrets it inside his house to the safe that he has buried under the earthen floor. 

Cliffie and May have barely finished their breakfast the next morning before the phone starts to ring. It is a Mr. Corbett who says that he is the senior collector of the Museum. He is very excited.

  ‘I have lusted after a find like this for years’ He says.

 He makes Cliffie promise that he will not try to remove any of the skeleton himself. He asks Cliffie all kinds of questions. Cliffie is feeling quite overwhelmed so May takes the phone from him and talks to the scientist.

 ‘I will be leaving Adelaide very shortly, I’ll be with you in a few hours’ Mr. Corbett says. Cliffie is not at all happy with this turn of events. The next thing Cliffie knows is that the journalist from the local paper is on the phone saying that he too will be driving over from Roxby to meet up with the Scientist when he arrives. The Imparja news person rings next. She will also be there to interview the Scientist. Cliffie is not at all keen on all of this attention.

The following hours are very unnerving for Cliffie and May. Cliffie ensures that his mates, Milo and Victor are the ones who are interviewed by the radio and television people. May holes up in the house with Maxie.  

Mr. Corbett is joined by hordes of Museum people. Cliffie is flabbergasted when he realizes that the shed will be completely disassembled while the Dinosaur is being extracted.

 ‘What about my bloody shed?’ he asks.

 ‘Don’t worry Cliffie we will put it all back together again, you won’t know that we have been here’ Mr Corbett says. 

The town is abuzz with talk of the goings on in Dead End street. The Museum people fulfil their promise to Cliffie. The shed is reassembled and the floor is evened out.

Cliffie and May are grateful that their lives have returned to some semblance of normality. It was very disconcerting for them having people coming and going disrupting their peace.

Shortly after the Museum people leave Andamooka, Cliffie is down the pub having a few beers with Milo when May calls him on the phone. She is very upset

 ‘Come home straight away’

 ‘May, May, just calm down, what on earth is the matter’? asks Cliffie

 ‘A whirly wind has blown through the yard and the shed is a pile of wood and iron, she sobs, ‘there are pieces strewn all over the yard and out on the street’

Cliffie and May are well and truly rattled.

 ‘She’ll be right mate. We’ll give you a hand to put it up again. Victor reassures Cliffie. We’ll be round in the morning bright and early to get a start on it’

The next morning true to their word Victor and Milo arrive with young Joey in tow as well.

Several days later, Cliffie wonders why May is grumpier than usual with him at breakfast. It then dawns on him that he has forgotten her birthday. It is October the 8th and he knows that Opal is her birthstone. He takes his opportunity to retrieve the tooth when she is watering the geraniums out the front of the house. May scolds Maxie for lifting his leg on the pots.

  ‘Stop it, rascal dog’. She says

May comes back inside, Cliffie hands her a brown paper package tied up with twine.

 ‘What’s this’? She asks.

 ‘Happy Birthday love’ Cliffie says and pecks her on the check.

She opens the package and asks ‘Where did you get this’? ‘It is the dinosaur’s tooth’

Cliffie says ‘Don’t say where it came from’.

May holds the tooth up to the light admiring the colours and even though Cliffie wants to keep it a secret she hides it in plain sight in amongst other pieces of opal in their display cabinet.

At morning teatime May walks up the steps to where the shed is being rebuilt.

 ‘Come down to the kitchen and sing Happy Birthday to me, I have made some little cakes and a cup of tea’ she says to Victor, Milo, Joey and Cliffie.

Maxie leaves his mark, lifting his leg in every corner of the half built shed.

As May heads back down the slope she slips and falls. Cliffie takes her over to the Medical Centre on hospital road.

  ‘Looks like you have broken your arm love’ says Jeannie the nurse.

Cliffie and May drive the 31kms to Roxby Downs to have May’s arm X rayed and put in plaster. When they arrive back home they find that the front door is wide open and Maxie is nowhere to be found. May is distraught. She stands at the front door calling mournfully.

 ‘Maxieeeeee, Maxieeeeeee’ .

Cliffie writes out a sign on cardboard and takes it to the General Store to hang up in the window.

May has been in the habit of taking the wonderful tooth down from the shelf several times a day. She loves to hold and admire it. She imagines what the dinosaur looked like when it was swimming in the ancient seas that once existed where they now live in their desert home. May goes to the cabinet the day after Maxie has gone missing and the tooth is not there!!!

  ‘Cliffie, Cliffie,’ she yells louder and louder.

 ‘What now woman’? Cliffie says as he comes back down the slope from where the shed rebuilding is still underway.

 ‘The Tooth is missing’. She says and starts crying all over again. 

Cliffie calls the Police Station in Roxby Downs. The Policeperson drives over and checks out the scene of the crime. It seems that the only thing missing is the tooth. The police constable says ‘it is very strange that the tooth is all that is missing’

   ‘Maxie is missing as well’ says May.

  ‘There have been a few of these break in’s lately but don’t worry we have a few suspects in mind’ the constable says.

Several days later the Police pull up out the front of Cliffie and May’s house. The constable has the dinosaur tooth in a brown paper bag. She hands it to May.

  ‘Thank you so much’ says May.

  ‘Where was it’? Asks Cliffie.

The Constable says ‘we found it in the thief’s car after it was written off, he hit a roo just outside Roxby on the highway. He is lucky to be alive’

Cliffie has a very bad dream. He is under the sea and a large creature swallows him whole. It is just like he is Jonah inside the whale. The creature speaks to him. It says

  ‘if you want to have a peaceful life I would very much like my tooth back please.’

Cliffie wakes up in a cold sweat, he wakes May and says

 ‘we have to get rid of it’

 ‘What’? asks May groggily ‘What have you woken me up for”?

  We have to give the tooth to Mr. Corbett. ‘Says Cliffie.

 ‘Are you sure’? You gave it to me’ May says indignantly.

  ‘We have had nothing but bad luck since we’ve had that bloody Dinosaur’s tooth in our house says Cliffie ‘I hate to think what else in store for us’.

May reluctantly agrees. ‘I guess you are right’ she says.

Cliffie and May call Mr. Corbett at the Museum first thing the next morning. Mr. Corbett doesn’t ask them any hard questions. He is thrilled that the skeleton will now be complete. He says that he will pay for Cliffie and May to come to Adelaide and stay at a posh hotel if they want to bring the tooth with them. Cliffie is quick to say

 ‘No thank you very much’ to that offer.

Mr. Corbett says that he will drive up again. Cliffie says

‘we don’t want any fuss at all this time thank you very much’.

May is quite downcast. She has lost her Maxie and now her present is being given away. 

A few weeks later Cliffie and May are in the throes of their usual Friday evening routine. May is watching a quiz show on television and Cliffie is picking out his horses for the next day’s bets. The Cross Lotto numbers come on between shows. Cliffie is not paying any attention but May suddenly lets out a yell.

 ‘Cliffie we have all the numbers. We have won, we’ve won’.

There is a knock at the door and there is Victor with Maxie in his arms.

 ‘One of the tourists found him wandering out among the Mullock heaps’. he said