Dry Bristles

Originally published in The Weekly Knob

Nick pulled into the driveway of his condo. Before getting out of the car, he stared at the small townhouse and sighed. It didn’t feel like home. He grabbed his suitcase and suit bag and went inside. The air was stale. He looked down the main hall towards the back window where he kept the house plants. They were dried out, having not been watered in a few weeks. The lavender plant was dead. I should’ve asked the neighbours to water the plants, but I didn’t know I’d be gone so long, Nick thought to himself.

He trudged upstairs looking at the pictures on the wall of the stairway. One caught his eye for a moment and he stopped on the staircase to look at it. He ran a finger down the frame and sighed, and then kept climbing the stairs to his room where he tossed his bloated suitcase on the bed. A plume of dust burst up from the bed and Nick waved his hand in the air to clear it. The room was dark; Nick opened the curtains and blinds, and then unpacked his suitcase. As he was putting away his clothes, he pulled other, unused clothes out of the drawers and tossed them on the ground by the bed. “No point in holding onto these now,” he whispered as he took down several hangers that held dresses on them. After he emptied the drawers of the old clothes, he hung his suit up in the half-empty closet. He put the old clothes in garbage bags, marked them for donation, and brought them downstairs.

Nick sat down on the couch in the living room, and felt very heavy. He sank into the cushion and looked once again at the dry plants. Their stems sank beneath the weight of their once lively petals, leaning them over and lifting up the roots from the dry soil. Nick knew they could not be saved. He went over to the plants to begin removing them, and he reached for the dead lavender plant, touching the wilted flowers. He lifted the plant and saw a folded piece of paper beneath the pot. Nick paused a moment as he looked at the folded note. He put the dead lavender pot on the floor and opened up the note. It said “You make my days brighter”. Nick let out a shaky breath as a tear welled up in his eyes. He folded the note back up and placed it in his pocket. He continued to remove the dead plants.

Clothing, plants; what else? Nick thought as he surveyed his living room. He nodded to himself and headed back upstairs into the office, which was next to his bedroom. In the office was an old wooden bookshelf he had found at an antique shop. He loved how it looked when he bought it, but he rarely used it. Most of the books on it weren’t his. He took an empty cardboard box from the closet and began to fill the box up with the books. He kept his books and a few books that he thought he may read in the future. When he was done, only seven books remained. I should read more, he thought. He heard his phone ringing in his bedroom and dragged himself over to answer it but was too late. He listened to the message. It was his father asking if Nick was alright, and asking him to call. Nick thought about it, but put his phone back down and went to the bathroom. He emptied the drawers of the things he didn’t use or need into another bag which he brought down with the box of books. He took everything but the bags marked for donation into the garage and set it all next to the garbage bins. It was what he needed to do.

Nick went back inside and poured himself a cup of water. He looked back over to the empty shelves where the plants were and sighed. He went back upstairs to his bedroom and sat on the side of the bed. Laying down across the bed, his head sunk into the impression on the other side of the bed. Nick let out a long breath and stretched his arms out to the sides. He lay there for a few moments before checking the drawers one last time, the bookshelf in the office, and finally the bathroom. As he was walking out of the bathroom, he noticed a second toothbrush next to his. He stopped and stared at the toothbrush. Its bristles were frayed. It looked like it hadn’t been changed in months; it hadn’t. It was haggard next to his. He reached out and ran his finger across the dry bristles, and began to cry.