Aphelion Issue 278, Volume 26
November 2022
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That Damned Toothbrush...

by Ioana Visan

I woke up with an itch in my left palm. Great, I thought. I'll receive money, or did it have to be the right one? I didn’t remember. I yawned and eyed the ceiling for a few minutes, trying to wake up. Gee, look at all those cracks! If my upstairs neighbor left the water running again, it would certainly fall on my head.

My wife had grumbled for weeks to go and talk to the old hag, but to be honest, I was kind of scared of the lady. The sight alone of the rolls on her head--those she claimed were curlers--made the hair on my nape rise. Grrr... awful woman. That's why I didn’t let the wife socialize with her too much. No afternoon coffees, no borrowed cups of sugar, nothing. I was afraid she might catch something.

Ouch, my wife! Today, she would return from her parents. The last day of freedom. Maybe I should clean up a little around here. My guest had made a mess, especially that slime left on the floor. What could I do if he was drooling worse than a baby? Above all, mopping the floors really ticked her off, and then a week of sleeping on the couch followed. It worked during the football season, but not now. She’d been away for a week, her father had some health problems, and I, as the loving husband I was, I missed her. Hmm, let me see... yes, I really did. Let's make an effort; after all, I was supposed to love her.

I rolled out of bed and swung my legs until I found my balance. I vaguely remembered a long night, fully soaked in beer. Empty plastic bottles still lay scattered on the floor. Initially deterred, after trying all the drinks in the bar--he’d seemed to enjoy those--he’d agreed with me that beer worked as well. There was more of it, too.

It had been a farewell party. My buddy had solved his problems and was ready to go. Just in time. Not to be rude, but I had a feeling my wife wouldn’t have liked him. However, since she daily lost about an hour chatting with the shop girl from the street corner, I had the right to a few friends, too. Now I had half a day to straighten things out in our love nest.

But meanwhile, where was my robe? I wasn’t going to walk around in my underwear and cause a heart attack to my neighbors across the street. I looked around, but I didn’t see it anywhere. I bet he’d taken it with him as a souvenir! Sly guy, he knew he looked good in it. The green matched the scales on his forehead. Well, good for him. He’d torn a sleeve when he put it on and, rather than ask my wife to mend it, I would buy another one.

I shrugged and walked to the bathroom. The disaster in the corridor made me frown a little. There was a need for a serious trash bag supply. That was all right, as it would free some space. Since when I kept saying I’d throw away all that crap... I now had the opportunity to do it quietly, without anyone here to disturb me. A bit of physical effort was going to do me good after all that beer. I’d burn some calories.

To my surprise, I found my toothbrush on the sink and not in the cup holder where I usually kept it. Perhaps I had been too drunk last night to put it back. I certainly didn’t remember how I got to bed. The toothpaste tube, however, was in its place. I wondered whether to shave or not, wouldn’t it be better to do it when I finished with the cleaning, and I raised my eyes to look in the mirror and estimate how bad the situation was when my attention was distracted by the scene behind me.

The bathtub was old from before we had moved into our apartment. I had intended to replace it from the beginning, but it was expensive, it was heavy… I always found excuses to delay it. Now it lay broken in two on the floor. We used to complain it was too big for one person and too small for two. My friend had found it a perfect fit.

Just a few hours after his arrival, the apartment had begun to smell bad. Even my wife would have used a less delicate word. Why chase around the bush? It stunk. So, I grabbed him by the wing, metaphorically speaking because he wasn’t a bird, and I dragged or rather pushed him into the bathroom. It was enough to turn on the water and let it flow into the tub for his eyes to flash as excited as a child’s. He didn’t have the patience to let it fill and plunged in after just a few minutes, which was a smart move because otherwise, given how much space he occupied, it would have flooded not only the floor below but also the ground floor. Later, the neighbor from across the hall told me he’d panicked, believing it had been an earthquake.

You should have seen how happy he was swimming in there. My buddy, not the neighbor. When he discovered the bubbles... He’d definitely doubled my water bill. Unfortunately, like any miracle, it lasted only three days, in fact less, because the next day the porcelain gave in. Seeing how mournful he was, I had the bad idea to suggest he try the shower. Big mistake! The stall really was too narrow. My wife and I joked about forcing us to keep our figure. A steeper movement was enough to turn it into shards scattered everywhere you did or didn’t expect. I found one even in the soup.

I tried to gather them the best I could, but I still missed some. Like now. I grimaced and leaned over to pull a shard out of my foot. I hadn’t felt it enter the flesh, but I heard it scratching the tiles on my way to the toilet. The misfortune was, having a mouth full of toothpaste, I couldn’t swear properly. I finished washing my teeth, I cursed, and adding to the shopping list a bathtub and a shower stall, I turned into the kitchen. After some calculations, I concluded I couldn’t afford a similar visit in the next decade. A part of me noted, distracted, even the toothpaste tasted like beer. Strange.

Since the door to the living room was open, I had a look inside when I passed by. The couch with torn cushions and protruding springs didn’t catch my attention, apparently, they were very good at teeth picking, but I looked longingly at the aquarium. Not one fish tail shook the mud clogged by algae.

As soon as I brought the guest into the house, I had hurried to make him something to eat, so he wouldn’t get any ideas. I hadn’t even got to put the potatoes on the stove when he’d already wolfed down half the fish in the tank. I had to do a lot of convincing for him to leave some for breakfast.

He appreciated, however, the fries. After consuming about five kilos, his head had begun to hurt and he treated it with a special selection of herbs that grew in the balcony turned by my wife into a green house. Only then we switched to beer. Yes, I should add to the list three flowerpots and a dozen fish, and let’s not forget the potatoes!

I opened the fridge to get a yogurt, although I was in the mood for something more filling. I couldn’t get it because of the half sheep stuffed forcefully inside and about to break the shelves. At least it looked like sheep, though frankly I couldn’t tell. Had he been shopping to show his gratitude before leaving? I hadn’t heard him go out and he didn’t move silently. Eventually, he’d understood the shards were a bad thing, but I failed to teach him not to slam the doors, perhaps because he wasn’t used to our handle system.

I had to give up on the yogurt as I found no pleasure in touching the carcass. I settled instead for munching on a baguette of bread. I didn’t care about the crumbs since I would be the one to do the cleaning, but later.

For now, I had to get dressed. I shifted through the pile of clothes--for some reason it had seemed funny to him to pull them all out of the closet and drop them on the floor in the middle of the bedroom--scratching not only my head until I found a shirt and a pair of pants that wouldn’t irritate my skin. Buy softener.

I lost a few minutes investigating the damages and adding to the shopping list. Nothing was unfixable, no wall destroyed, just a little paint and plaster fallen behind the seat my friend had used. He tended to become increasingly agitated and gesticulated continuously while trying to explain something I didn’t understand.

Finally, I found my car keys, hard to say how they had ended up on the bottom of the aquarium or why I had thought to look for them there, and I turned slowly towards the exit. While I put on my shoes in the hallway near the front door, I realized why it was so quiet. The dog was missing. Normally, by that hour, he would have dragged me with his fangs to walk him. Now where was he? The guest must have left the door open and the dog had escaped. No problem, I would probably find him in front of the building, playing with the neighbor’s granddaughter. I didn’t worry, as it wasn’t the first time he went out alone and he always returned to scratch at the door. Maybe it was better to order a new door if I was still working on decorations. The one I had there, you could almost pass through.

I had left the car in the parking lot across the street. No sign of the dog. I preferred to go to the store as soon as possible and order the materials in hopes that maybe they would send workers to install at least the bathtub on the same day. I had abandoned the idea of doing any housework after the failure with the parquet. My wife’s patience had its limits. Let the experts do their job and earn their bread. I’d have to whistle for the mutt upon my return.

What had my friend looked for in the car? I wondered, realizing I sat on a layer of corny scales. I brushed off the seat with my hand before starting the engine. It would have been a shame to pierce my pants. I put it in reverse, surprised by its reaction time, and left the parking lot. It was still early. With a little luck, I’d get to the store just before opening.

On my way downtown, I passed by the square where I had met my new friend. A large circle of burned grass marked the spot. Three days ago, I had walked the dog in the square, and the dog's wet nose had led me straight there like a magnet. At the time, the place had been occupied by a smoldering heap of metal, around which muttered, shaking his head, obviously upset, an alien.

Some time ago, such an event would have maybe been considered a novelty and have a few gawkers gather, plus one or two curious journalists and thrill seekers. Now it was not an unusual occurrence. They came to us all the time and we went to them without any problems. They were not dangerous, we understood each other quite well, and we all liked traveling. More or less. The truth was they found our world more fascinating than we did theirs, or maybe it was a simple consequence of the fact they could afford their own ship. Anyway, they landed here all day long and no one paid much attention to them any longer. We were used to them. In theory.

I had seen a few, but still hadn’t had the opportunity to get acquainted with one. I was curious, so I stopped to stare with my mouth open like a fool. I had no idea how to help him, but I offered to try.

He looked at me with round yellow eyes, mumbled something, and pointed down with his thumb. It was the universal sign for “Boom!” It had crashed, I understood that much. He growled, probably more details about the accident, but he didn’t speak our language, and I didn’t speak his either, so I took his word for it. It was getting dark. I didn’t see how he would fix it that night and it seemed polite not to let him spend the first night on Earth outdoors.

I waved at him to follow me. I had to repeat the gesture because he didn’t look convinced, but eventually, he understood. The terrier wasn’t happy with my decision. There were good reasons why I was the master and not him. I pulled him by the collar and I brought them both home. I was secretly glad it was dark enough and no neighbors would see me entering the elevator with a hell of a crocodile. I had enough trouble with the building manager because of the dog, who barked at the most inappropriate hours.

Yeah, that's what happened. Now the square was empty. It was too early for kids or garbage collectors. He’d left. Without saying goodbye. He wouldn’t know how. I refused to let the melancholy overwhelm me and moved on. I couldn’t wait to tell my wife. I wanted to slap myself for not filming him. I could see us inviting friends over on Saturday night for a beer and two hours of projection on the living room wall, better than at the cinema. The neighbors would have threatened to throw us out because of so much laughter.

At the store, in the plumbing aisle, I came across a sleepy young man, who wasn’t able to tell me what day it was if asked too fast. Moreover, he was intent on selling me an oval bathtub with a blue flowers pattern on the sides, which allegedly was the highest fashion. I had to growl at him, a curse learned from my friend, to calm him down. You should have seen his face pale, but after that, we had no problems. He went out of his way to find me a bathtub I liked and swore to God, mother, father, and all grandparents whom he had ever had that he’d send the workers to install it before noon. Since I was there, I also ordered two radiators. I had to turn on the central heating for my guest despite being midsummer, and I had noticed how good the heat was for my joints.

Satisfied, I returned home thinking I had already done more than I had hoped for. After so much work, I deserved to eat something. My gut growled hungrily when I thought about the half the sheep in the refrigerator. I wiped my mouth with my sleeve, wiped the steering wheel as well, and veered into the alley. Let the guard dare stand in my way. He didn’t, and as I was up to great deeds, I went over to the neighbor upstairs to tell her to her face what I thought about her goddamn bathroom. I was very proud of myself when I returned to our floor. There wouldn’t be any more discussions on the subject.

The key would not go in the lock and, after several attempts, I lost my patience. I pulled the door off its hinges, crossed the threshold, and propped it against the wall. It was enough for now. Given the state of the apartment, no one would break in. There was nothing to steal.

In two steps, I got to the fridge. I grabbed the hunk of meat, and I bit into it with relish. Something told me it was not sheep, but it didn’t matter. It was fresh and so tasty, even with the wiry fur left on it. This is how my wife found me, wiping my snot on a piece of fur, which proved to be less appetizing, especially because I was already full, and wagging my tail happily. The poor thing, she froze in the doorway, unable even to scream.

I smiled from ear to ear, showing all my fangs, then I took her in my arms, half unconscious, and I carried her into the bedroom, where I dumped her on the pile of clothes in the middle of the room. Come on, woman, we've got eggs to hatch!


2016 Ioana Visan

Bio: Ioana Visan has always dreamed about reaching the stars, but since she can't, she writes about it. She’s the author of several science fiction and fantasy series among which The Impaler Legacy, Broken People, The Stolen Wings, and Law and Crucible. She was awarded the Encouragement Award by The European Science Fiction Society at Eurocon 2013. You can visit her website here.

E-mail: Ioana Visan

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