This story is by David Beye and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Kevin Carmichael was a man with a dream. Not just any dream, the American Dream. He might be a balding overeducated unemployed nobody now, but he thought Ideas and saw Visions. And what was America but a land of boundless Visions? He would descend from the mountain and bring the people new exciting products from the World Of Tomorrow! Well, ok, he wasn’t literally coming down a mountain. He was actually in a café. And he wasn’t bringing anything to the people yet. Technically it was just one person, his girlfriend, Nora.
Nora sat across from him at the café table. She opened her mouth, then closed it again. That was alright, thought Kevin, she’s probably just floored by how brilliant this idea is.
“I’m not sure you’ve thought this through,” she said slowly though a forced smile.
“What are you talking about?” Kevin said showing her the spreadsheet on his phone he had pored over for the last week. “It’s a great idea! I’ve seen the future and it’s teething rings! Not just for babies anymore, they’re a high-quality oral hygiene and stress relief product for all ages. Look at this tactical camo one I designed.”
Between the recession and fact that they were there after peak hours, there were only a few customers in the café. Still, they were getting strange looks from nearby
“I don’t know.” She put her hand on his, trying not to offend him. “It’s a good idea on paper, but let’s think about it a little more before we put all our money in this ‘business’ idea.”
He sat back and sighed. Nora looked at him sitting there silently. Unemployment had done strange things to him.
“Look,” he said. “I know it sounds crazy, but I can’t find a job, not a good one anyway. There are no jobs and it’s getting worse. Just think about it, your uncle’s some kind of venture capitalist, right? We could get a loan from him.”
“What?” She drew back. “My uncle already thinks I made a bad decision by not dating an investment banker, and now you want me to pitch ‘adult teething rings’? That’s crazy!”
“Fine, forget I said anything.” Kevin put the phone away and began angrily devouring a croissant.
Later that night after he fell asleep at his desk, Nora crept over to see what he had been working on. She had always been the more social of the two. Between her church and her community theater group, she kept herself busy with other people. But Kevin had just been sitting here alone, growing more restless day by day. There were dozens of tabs open. Articles talking about how the human mouth was too small because we no longer had to chew our food. Another one talked about chew sticks being used to clean teeth. Others talked about how chewing gum, tobacco, and khat promoted social bonds. Well, she thought, social bonds would help Kevin spend less time at home reading weird articles about teeth.
She read over his sleeping shoulder, looking at the bright colorful teething rings. She felt an ache in her mouth and an urge to chew on something. A horrible idea flashed across her mind; this could work.
The next morning, Nora left for work an hour early. Giving herself plenty of time, she pulled into a Walmart parking lot and took out her phone. She crossed her fingers, gritted her teeth, and called her uncle.
“Hi Uncle Ross,” she said in the most perky voice she could summon. “It’s Nora, yeah it’s been such a long time I know. I just didn’t want to bother you because I know you’ve been so busy, and I know the rest of the family constantly asks you for favors.” The voice on the other end grew tense but Nora pressed on. “I don’t want a favor. I want to do you a favor. I want to get you in on the ground floor of the most spectacular investment of your career! I just need a meeting.”
Ross had agreed to meet them in the same café they usually went to. That was a good sign, thought Kevin. Why? He didn’t know, but he needed a good sign. Ross wore a gray tweed suit that matched his carefully cropped hair. His thick black glasses brought out his prominent eyebrows. And the red tie made him look more like a high school vice principal than any actual high school vice principals Kevin had ever seen. Ross listened to Kevin’s spiel with a scowl befitting a high school vice principal listening to a student explain why they didn’t want to go to the pep rally.
“Teething rings?” he said. “The most spectacular investment of my career is teething rings?”
Don’t back down now, thought Kevin. I can do this, I’m an explorer, a trendsetter. Boundless opportunities await.
“That’s right!” he said leaping up from his seat and flinging open the sample case filled with 3D-printed teething rings. “You have an untapped niche here. Think about it, didn’t fidget spinners sound crazy? Didn’t all the naysayers laugh at adult coloring books?”
“Sure,” Ross nodded.
“What about adult-sized onesies. Or cartoons? We want to believe we outgrow this stuff, but the truth is we never do.” He sat down and locked eyes with Ross, as if he was staring deep into the man’s soul. “All of us have a mouth and an inner child. Deep down, we all want to chew.”
“Hey, can I try one of those?” a middle-aged woman at the opposite table spoke up. Kevin handed her a bright yellow ring.
“Thanks,” she said putting the ring in her mouth. Kevin turned to Ross. “They’re all the same color now, but as you can see in the file, we have a wide selection planned.” Ross, who had ignored the file, was now thumbing through it.
“Can I try that?” An old man pushed a walker up to Kevin’s table.
“Absolutely,” said Kevin. “Just tell your friends that Carmichael’s Mouthmates keep your mouth strong.”
“Mouthmates?” Ross adjusted his thick glasses.
“Just a test name,” said Kevin. “I’m sure your people can come up with something better.”
“I like this,” he said, stroking his chin. “I wasn’t sure how you were going to market this to young men, but it looks like the science says it gives you a…”
“Chiseled alpha jawline,” said Kevin beaming. “And it comes in tactical camo. There’s also pink for breast cancer awareness and a wide variety of sports and politics themed teething rings. Did I mention they’re also vegan and gluten free?”
Ross kept reading the catalogue. “The John 3:16 one might be a little overboard but,” he shrugged, “we can always focus group it.”
By now a small line had formed behind the table. It seemed like everyone in this little suburban café wanted a teething ring.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” said Kevin. “All these people, women and men, black and white, Republican and Democrats, gay and straight, all these different kinds of people lining up to buy what can be your product. Because despite our differences, we all have mouths.”
Ross sat back and smiled. “It sure is a lot to chew on.” He reached out and shook Kevin’s hand. “I think we can work something out son.”
As they drove home, all Kevin could talk about was the future. Designs for new teething rings and the company they were going to build together flowed from his mouth like the visionary words of some ancient oracle. This was the American Dream, he proclaimed. Boundless possibilities like this were what made this country great. One man with a great idea could build a limitless future. Nora smiled inwardly as she listened to him go on. It was nice to see him so happy. She was happy too. With enough money behind it, the teething ring idea could go somewhere. Still, she could never tell Kevin how she had cajoled, begged, or outright bribed all those people to come to the café and pretend to be excited for teething rings. Besides, who was she to argue with the American Dream?