Winter 02


Lily Brushing




     In the morning when Lily goes to brush her teeth, she discovers that the old bathroom sink is stopped up, a pool of water, thick with hair and dust in the basin. She paints the toothbrush bristles with blue paste and walks toward the window.
     Lily's live-in boyfriend is outside leaning over the open hood of his car, which has, he says, been leaking oil for the last week. He is wearing a white t-shirt. Lily can see the beginnings of a belly where the sun shines behind him. She tries to open the window but it is stuck. She places her toothbrush handle in her mouth like a rose, and repositions her palms on the windowsill. She pushes harder. Still it does not open. Lily takes her toothbrush out of her mouth and raps her knuckles on the glass. He does not look up. She raps again, and he stands. She waves at him. He waits for her to speak. Lily tries to make her voice thick and strong, to be heard.
     "I need to brush my teeth," Lily says, and smiles.
     His face tightens and appears irritated. He thrusts his head forward. He did not hear. She speaks louder.
     "I need to brush my teeth," she says. Lily holds up her toothbrush and points to it.
     "Oh," he says. "Do it in the kitchen sink." His voice sounds bottled and far away.
     Lily turns and walks to the kitchen. She stands before the kitchen sink. It is full of dishes, precariously piled glasses, bowls with floating cereal O's, half drunk mugs of coffee. She pinches her nostrils against the stench and moves a pile aside. The drain is filled with ancient spaghetti and peas. She considers removing them but then imagines how it would feel between her fingers.
     Lily walks back to the window. She raps on the glass. Her live-in boyfriend looks up. "What?" he says rudely.
     "The sink is full of dishes," Lily says and purses her lips.
     "What?" he says again, his forehead wrinkly and his mouth twisted.
     "The sink is full of dishes!" she yells.
     He lights a cigarette and blows out the smoke. "So do it in the bathtub," he says.
     Lily turns and walks back to the bathroom.
     Sitting on the edge of the tub, Lily reaches out and cranks the cold water handle. The water comes out rusty at first. It loosens a clump of hair from the drain, hers mixed with his, which floats around and then settles. She puts her brush under the stream and then into her mouth. The water tastes funny, almost dry. Lily has always considered bathtub water to be inferior to sink water, but with some things, you just have to make do.


Julianna Spallholz lives in upstate New York.