After “Toothbrush Ghost Story” by Richard Brautigan
Once upon a time in Brooklyn, a moderately attractive young man courted young women he found attractive. They were slim but not skinny, white but not un-exotic. Like him, they worked in the arts or aspired to. He was experiencing an end-of-a-decade in-between, and was not looking for a specific potential future. He lived in a neighborhood known for its many places to go on dates. He never took home women who were sober, nor women who were extremely drunk.
(He remembers only once waking to the thought that something immoral might’ve taken place, that he may have done something someone would read as troubling. If anyone did, he never heard. He rarely thought of it.)
He did not sleep as well with another body in the bed, but this temporary discomfort was usually worth the thrill of an attractive young woman agreeing to be the other body. One night an old schoolmate came over, they made love until late, and he invited her to stay. She wanted to, but did he happen to have a toothbrush for her? She just wouldn’t be comfortable without. He checked the medicine cabinet, happily remembering he’d bought a pack of two and had a fresh one remaining. Voilà, he gave it to her with a gimmicky flourish. They brushed together for 90 seconds, self-conscious that this is the type of thing their parents do, and went to bed.
They saw each other one more time, and she used the toothbrush again. A few weeks passed; he had another sleepover with another woman. He wanted to signal considerate manliness, especially after their teasing tussle at the bar – he had gone to the bathroom when the check came. So he thought of the toothbrush. But all he had was the same spare one from before, tucked back in its cardboard box. It looked like new, and he figured he wouldn’t mind at all if he was on the receiving end. She was touched by the gesture. It may have even contributed to her asking for a second date, which he declined.
Eventually his roommate, a woman, noticed a correlation between the toothbrush’s appearance and a closed bedroom door. He slept with it ajar to let his cat roam freely between the litter box and the amusements of the rest of the apartment. His roommate found this peculiar, but she was not the type of person to leave a bedroom door open. She was a very perceptive person – to the point of nosiness – and she noticed the differently pitched voices and the varying sizes and styles of feminine shoes kicked off in the kitchen on those nights when the door was closed.
What never changed was the toothbrush. It was the same white drugstore model with a lilac accent and electric blue bristles that made its way to the green glass cup on the sink ledge. The roommate’s toothbrush updated more often, and she was not the type of person to remember to do this frequently.
But the toothbrush did change, of course. Toothpaste dripped and stained the rubber grip. The bristles were yellowed, fanned out and frayed, like a spiky cleaning tool that should go nowhere near the mouth. Some of the bristles were actually hairs. Red lipstick was mashed into crevices that would never be cleared and pink lipstick smeared the flaking plastic base.
The roommate wondered if the man perversely liked presenting this disgusting instrument to conquests, if he got off a second time by seeing it enter their mouths, adding themselves to its history.
For as long as the roommates lived together, the toothbrush reappeared, again and again. It would be there in the morning, while a woman never was.