Tamara Breuer


Tamara Breuer is a Paraguayan-Lebanese writer based in Washington DC. She lived a nomadic childhood spent between Peru, Paraguay, Nicaragua, Bolivia and the U.S. Both of her parents are academics and instilled in her a passion for writing. She currently works as a licensed massage therapist, personal trainer and freelance writer.

El Ratoncito

On the same day that my mother fired our empleada, I lost my last baby tooth. The tooth fell out painlessly in my sleep, and I drifted through the first few hours of my day unaware of its absence. It was only while Daniela was making my bed that she found the tooth and rewarded me with one of her shaky hugs. When I shared the news with my mother, she commented on how strange it was for me to miss such a major detail, given that the first hour of my morning was spent in front of a mirror.

“I guess you were too busy looking at yourself,” my mother said with a knowing smile, “a beautiful girl’s greatest comfort is her face. “

Beautiful: a word that my mother tossed around with ease, bestowing it upon me as an extension of herself. I could never have told her that the real reason I had overlooked my missing tooth was because of my preoccupation with the rest of my body. I was at the point in my life where my body terrified me, this unpredictable mold of flesh sprouting hairs in places that had once been smooth. Every morning, I scrutinized my reflection in the mirror to make sure that all my parts were still there as I remembered them. I had forgotten that even my teeth had the power to betray me. 

I showed my mother my baby tooth. “How much money do you think el Ratoncito will give me for this one?”

“Oh come on Matilda,” my mother said impatiently, “you’re too old to believe in that by now.”

It was true, the concept of a little mouse sneaking into children’s rooms to trade fallen teeth for coins was pretty ridiculous, but I still held a steadfast belief in the small magic of the world. After all, I had received a few cordobas for every tooth I had ever lost, and I knew that neither one of my parents would go through the trouble of keeping a story alive for me. 

At that moment, Daniela shuffled into the room carrying a pitcher of passion fruit juice.  The pitcher trembled in her hands as she poured my mother and I each a glass. My mother calmly ignored her presence, but my body tensed up and I avoided eye contact. I had a secret that would turn Daniela’s world upside down, and it was only a matter of time before she found out.

            *                      *                      *                      *                      *

Daniela had been working at our house since I was five years old, and she taught me the ways of the world through storytelling.

Drink your milk daily and your bones’ll become hollow enough to fly. Don’t step on the flowers in your Mama’s garden, or the garden gnomes will pinch you—like this! Go to bed at 10pm—sharp!—and no evil ghosts will enter your dreams.

In this manner, Daniela taught me that the magic of the world existed as long as I abided by it rules.

I followed Daniela around the house as she worked, craving her stories and obsessive attention. Daniela doted on me as if I were her own child, calling me hijita and mi amorcito. When Daniela discovered my final baby tooth, she gave me a shaky hug and told me that I was becoming a little grownup.

“I bet el Ratoncito has something special in store for you,” she said, her eyes twinkling.

Her arms had not always trembled as she embraced me. In fact, I used to think of Daniela’s hugs as sloppy bear hugs, as she would fasten me in her grasp and envelop me completely. A couple of years ago, Daniela had given birth to a baby boy, and the unimaginable had happened: her body started changing. Daniela had always been a thick-boned woman, but suddenly, she ballooned into twice her size, walking around as if each leg were a suitcase. The weight gain seemed to highlight her physical flaws. Her forehead became too small for her circular face. Her nose made no attempt at maintaining symmetry, her left nostril invading more of her cheek than her right. Her eyebrows, on the other hand, seemed eager to occupy as little space as possible, bunching up together at the center of her forehead like two hands in prayer. While she had always been an undeniably plain woman, after childbirth, she became positively ugly.

My mother became extremely irritated by Daniela’s presence, snapping at her for no apparent reason. I knew that Daniela’s weight gain gnawed at her—my mother ranked beauty as the highest attribute a woman could possess. Her own cultivated glamour made her the admiration of men and the envy of women. She spent an excruciating amount of time constructing her face every morning, and she wore fashionable color-coordinated outfits purchased in the United States, the kind of clothes that few Nicaraguan women could afford. My mother went to the gym every morning and was constantly on a low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar, low-meat and low-dairy diet that amounted to plates of steamed broccoli. Women like Daniela who were so clearly unattached to their physical appearance threatened my mother’s entire existence.

My mother was unaware of the effect Daniela had on her. She murmured that the poor woman lacked self-esteem and had never been taught to take care of herself.  One morning, she pressed a bottle of amphetamines into Daniela’s hand, smiling the same soft smile that danced upon her lips when we went to church or donated clothes to charity. More energy, accelerated weight loss, I used it after my pregnancy and it worked like a charm.

It only took a couple of months for us to notice the changes. Daniela’s circular face became an ellipsis and her suitcase legs grew wheels. My mother became more relaxed in her presence.

I, on the other hand, found her unpredictability very unsettling. She would sporadically decide to bring me breakfast in bed, entering my room with trembling hands, half a cup of tea spilled on top of scrambled eggs. I could hear her coming from across the hallway, the chattering of a teacup against the tray serving as an alarm for me to spring out of bed lest she spill the tray on me. She was instantly transformed from my intimate confidante into my worst nightmare.

The evening before I lost my tooth, I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of rustling noises and found Daniela scrubbing an imaginary spot on the floor. When I woke up again hours later, she was still in the same spot, scrubbing just as viciously. That was when I knew it was time to take action.

*                      *                      *                      *                      *                      *

After consuming close to an entire jug of Daniela’s passion fruit juice, I lay sprawled on the living room couch with my math book in front of me.  It was unusually hot for Nicaragua in January, as the weather tended to be a comfortable 82 degrees farenheit year-round. My breasts were itchy and sweaty: a few weeks ago, I started noticing my nipples protruding from my shirt and had begun to apply tape on top of them in the shape of an “X” to cover them up. The daily application of tape was uncomfortable and somewhat painful, although the alternative of confessing to my mother that I needed to buy a bra seemed mortifying. Despite the beads of sweat pooling under the tape, I didn’t dare scratch myself because Erasmo, my classmate, was sitting on an armchair next to me, twirling his pencil between his fingertips. Erasmo and I had been friends ever since kindergarten, but recently I had noticed his gaze lingering on me for longer than usual when he thought I wasn’t looking.

Erasmo groaned and flung his pencil onto the worksheet we had been working on for the past half hour. “Señor Gonzalez is a turd.”

It took a moment for me to answer him, as I was scrutinizing a particularly challenging geometrical transformation. I could hear Daniela’s arrhythmic shuffling in the room next to us.

“Why do you say that?”

“He gave me a fucking C on the last problem set.”

“Did you deserve a C?” I asked patiently.

Erasmo scowled. “That’s not the point.”

Suddenly, I heard a loud shriek and a clatter coming from the next room. A few moments later, Daniela barged into the living room and began pacing frantically about us.

“Daniela, what’s going on?” I said irritably.

She didn’t seem to hear me, and her eyes traveled wildly from one end of the room to another. They finally came to a focus on the coffee table, and she made a beeline towards it as if nothing else in the room existed. She urgently sifted through the stack of magazines on the table as if searching for something between their pages. When she did not find what she was looking for, she dumped the magazines back into a pile on the coffee table, significantly more disorganized than they were before. Her hands traveled frantically from the coffee table onto the couch that we were sitting on, and she began to tug at the pillows underneath us.

“Hey, stop that!”

 She stopped in her tracks and looked stunned, as if only just noticing our presence in the room.

Chicos, I left something here when I was cleaning earlier,” she muttered, her fingers tugging at her hair, then her ear, then at the patch of skin where her neck met her jawline.

“We’re trying to study,” I answered, hoping she would get the hint and abandon her search.

My words were lost on her, as she seemed to be looking through us at the couch we were sitting on. Without a warning, she plunged her arm over my body and into the crack between the couch pillow and the back of the couch.

“Daniela! Your pills aren’t here!” I yelled at her.

She froze. “How did you know that I was looking for the pills?”

“I—what else would you be looking for? “ I widened my eyes to look innocent, but I must have looked like a deer caught in the headlights.

“What did you do with them?” she asked sternly.

I shrugged and shifted in my seat. Daniela sensed my discomfort and her face instantly softened.

Hijita, tell me where they are. It’s my medicine, it’s really important that I take them every day.”

“It’s not medicine. Those pills aren’t good for you.”

“Sweetie, medicine is a grownup thing that shouldn’t be messed with. Please give them to me.”


In an instant, Daniela’s face changed into an ugly scowl. “You stupid girl. What did you do with them?”

I was stunned into silence. With no reply from me, Daniela spun on her heels and dashed out of the room. She moved with surprising agility for a woman that looked as if she could snap in half at any moment, and she was almost at the top of the stairs before I realized that she was headed to my room.

“Daniela! I’m going to tell my mom!” I screamed.

She didn’t seem to hear me and continued making her way upstairs. Erasmo burst out laughing: “Your maid is cray-zee!”

I didn’t bother answering him as I leapt to my feet to follow her. By the time I had reached my room, my mattress was overturned onto the floor and Daniela was tearing through my closet, digging into the pockets of each article of clothing and then tossing them onto my bedroom floor.

“Stop it!” I screamed. The predictable order that had sustained the fabric of my daily life was splitting at its seams, and my head was spinning.

“They have to be hidden here somewhere,” Daniela muttered. “You’re too much of a prissy to take them yourself.”

“If you don’t stop right now I’m going to call my mother!” I yelled, my voice becoming more high-pitched.

Daniela had stopped listening. A bright red dress that I had worn for Christmas last year parachuted from its coat hanger. It was two sizes too small for me now.

Soon all my clothes lay in a heap on the floor. Daniela swiveled her head around to my chest of drawers, like an eagle spotting its prey. She gave the top drawer a hard pull, but it did not budge.

“It’s locked,” I said smugly.

Instead of dissuading her, this seemed to incite her. She started yanking at the drawer aggressively.

“Daniela, please.  Those pills make you crazy, they’re not good for you.”

Daniela didn’t stop. Her yanking was accompanied by grunting now. Erasmo appeared at the doorway and watched the entire spectacle with wide eyes.

“My mom only used them for a short time,” I continued.  “She stopped when she lost the baby weight, and you’ve lost enough for two babies by now.”

Daniela’s strenuous noises became louder, drowning out my words. Then, with what seemed like superhuman strength, she tore the entire drawer out of its wooden frame.

An assortment of cordobas spilled onto the floor next to my clothes, along with Daniela’s bottle of pills. She snatched the pills triumphantly.

“If you really didn’t want me to take them, you would have flushed them down the toilet,” Daniela said, her eyes becoming small slits in her face. “But if you had, I would have slapped you silly.”

She walked away, leaving me (and Erasmo) in the wreckage that was now my room. My eyes welled with tears, and I knew that no one would clean this mess for me. I kept hearing Daniela’s shrill voice over and over again. Stupid girl.

I attempted to hide the day’s fiasco from my parents, but it took Erasmo all of two seconds to spill the story. “She threatened to slap Matilda!”

Daniela was fired on the spot. She asked to speak with me before she left, but my parents refused, as they hadn’t wanted her to traumatize me further.

“It’s sad really,” my mother said. “You just can’t help people that won’t help themselves.”

A few days later, I found my baby tooth in a corner of the room.  It had been misplaced when Daniela overturned my mattress, and I had forgotten all about it in the chaos that had ensued.

 I returned the tooth to its place under my pillow. I no longer felt any excitement at what el Ratoncito might bring, but I followed the steps of the ritual with a sense of obligation. It was what Daneila would have wanted me to do.

When I checked under my pillow the following morning, the tooth was still there. I didn’t think much of it, since I had probably confused el Ratoncito by offering my tooth a few days late. However, when the tooth still remained after a week, I was forced to confront a truth I had always known deep down. I wrapped the tooth in a Kleenex and placed it on my bedside table, unsure of what to do with it. What had Daniela done with all my other teeth?

The next morning, the tooth was gone. The new empleada had mistaken it for trash and thrown it away. A few days later, my mother ordered a new chest of drawers to replace the one Daniela had broken. The only reminder of that day’s jarring events was the giant hole in the back of my mouth, and it was only a matter of time before that too disappeared and a new tooth grew in its place.

©The Acentos Review 2020