Toothbrush by MT Cozzola

close up of worn toothbrush bristles“You have got to be kidding me.” We’re standing in Mom’s bathroom, my brother David and I, tugging on opposite ends of a toothbrush. Until two days ago, we called this Dad’s bathroom, even years after he died. Even just a few weeks ago, when Mom took to sleeping in the room that adjoins it, and we should have started calling it Mom’s bathroom. She always preferred a smaller room down the hall, but when her caregiver moved in, it didn’t seem fitting to put Olga in the master suite, so Olga went in Mom’s room, and Mom moved in here.

Now Mom is dead, Olga is back in Ukrainian Village, and this tiny bathroom has a new name. David and I are in the very first phase of cleaning, the part that should be easy, where we just have to get the house ready for after the funeral. Our parents threw great parties, and we’re one hundred percent agreed that we want this to be the right kind of send-off, full of food and drink and laughter. And when you go to a festive event you don’t want to see certain things, right? In the front hall closet, you don’t want to see her red jacket. “The last thing she bought at T.J. Maxx.”

In the soap dish you don’t want to see a faded little sliver of Dial. “The last bar she ever opened.”

And sitting on the back of the sink you definitely don’t want to see her toothbrush. “The last thing she ever stuck in her mouth.” David feels the same way. My solution: Chuck it in the trash. David’s: Pack it in his suitcase.

“Please tell me you’re kidding,” I say, tugging on the toothbrush.

David won’t let go. “It’s Mom’s toothbrush.”

“Exactly. It’s no good anymore.”

“Sure it is.”

“David. If we can’t get rid of her toothbrush, what can we get rid of?”

“If it was up to me, not one thing,” he says. “I want to come back here in twenty years and have everything be exactly the same.”

“That’s impossible.”

“I know it’s impossible. It’s the way I feel.”

“But David, doesn’t it break your heart? The worn bristles, that little bit of dried toothpaste on the handle?”

“Yeah, but I’m already so sad, it kind of feels good.” This is the problem with David. He feels everything. I shove my feelings down, where they belong, so I can order the food and pick out music.

“David, you cannot take this toothbrush. I cannot think of you back home, depressed, sitting in your basement, pulling out the toothbrush late at night and talking to it. What if Dionne sees you? What if the girls see you?”

“I’m not gonna talk to it,” David says. “I’ll use it next time I need to bleach some grout. Mom wouldn’t want it to go to waste.”

He’s right, Mom was practical. But she knew how to clean house. When the Salvation Army called, she’d bundle up all kinds of things we loved – the Danish coffee table, the Cheer Up thermometer, the Stardust ashtray. “I’m not having you kids stuck with this crap when I’m gone,” she’d explain. “Believe me, when I’m worms in the ground, you’ll thank me.”

Yet here we are, standing in her bathroom, tugging on a toothbrush. I look at David and see Mom’s high cheekbones, and that funny bump in his forehead just like Dad used to have.  I see Uncle George’s long upper lip and Grandma Milly’s wide blue eyes And in those eyes, I see the intensity that is David’s alone. Now that our parents are gone, we will either drift apart or grow closer, once the house is sold and we’ve made it through the firsts of all the holidays, and people stop asking how we’re doing.

I let go of the toothbrush. David packs it away, and we move on to the sliver of soap.

MT-CozzolaMT is a Chicago-based writer and performer. Previous prose and poetry have appeared in Crawdad Literary Journal, After Hours, and Hippocampus Magazine, and she’d told stories at This Much is True, Essay Fiesta, and other venues. She keeps a story blog at www.midwesternrobot.com and you can find her first feature film, Eye of the Sandman, on Amazon.com. Some things she loves are the color orange, a fully committed clash of context, and really, no kidding, the kindness of strangers.
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  • Marjhopper

    T.J. Maxx, sliver of Dial, dried toothpaste on the toothbrush handle…I ache from the smallness and the bigness.

  • No home should be without a Cheer Up Thermometer (It’s a Sparkling Refresher). Lovely story, beautifully told.

  • Dionnemccarthy

    Very beautiful story. It choked me up.

  • N_tsoutsouris

    As always, MT writes with an effortless grace and makes even the most heart wrenching tales absolutely lovely. It’s always a pleasure to take part in her world.

  • Beautiful story. I love the precise details, the pacing, and the depth of emotion you create in such a spare essay.

  • Charles Barthelme

    It’s funny what you hold onto in moments of loss. I am similar to your brother, in that I have saved small and unimportant objects from of all of my grandparents. While none of them is a toothbrush, I do have a piece of broken tail light from my grandfather’s work truck. It’s like a memory trigger more than anything else. And it keeps me from trying to hold onto larger objects I don’t actually have a place for. Still, even I think a toothbrush is a little weird. 

  • Shela

    So thoughtful and beautifully written, loved it. I know of this David that you speak of, very sweet!

    Shela McCarthy

  • David Cozzola

    Well written Mare.  I laughed.  I wept.  I felt glad to be human…   

    I ended up taking too much and not nearly enough.  Oh, and I’m done with that bar of soap now if you want it.

    • I have to admit, there are times I wish I had taken more, too. Sudden clutchy spasms where I think if I had more of their stuff they would be less gone. But….don’t save the soap.

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