‘A Brush With Death’. A flash fiction.

I was in Calgary this week and took a stroll down by the Bow River. The ice had bugun to melt and the water was flowing exuberantly between the frozen banks. Crossing over on the footbridge I paused to look down at the gushing river and spotted a toothbrush hanging over the edge of the bridge. I immediately decided to make this my prompt for this week’s #fridayflash. I’ve been a little short on time, but hope you like the results all the same.

Incidentally, I’ve been interviewed over at flashquake. My flash fiction piece ‘Fast Lane Phonetics’ appears in their Winter 2011 issue.

Back to this week’s story anyway…

 A Brush With Death

The mortuary smelt much as Emma had imagined it would: chemically clinical. Keep breathing, she told herself, you’ll be fine. This she did, using her mouth to avoid the stink. A few more breaths and she felt calmer than she had all morning.

‘Mrs Dawson?’


‘My name’s Brian. I’m a forensic officer. Would you follow me please?’

The young man’s smile was all kindness and empathy; part of the training, assumed Emma.

‘It’s very good of you to come down here so quickly,’ said Brian, holding the door open, ‘I take it the police called you?’

 ‘They left a message, but it cut off halfway through. The machine’s pretty full, you know, well-wishers and that.’

‘Of course.’

‘So, I take it they found something?’ Emma’s head swam under the white light of the room, so she tried to focus on the table in front of her. Something was placed on it under a small piece of cloth. ‘Oh God!’

‘I’m so sorry Mrs Dawson, this won’t take long. Would you mind telling us if this is your husband’s?’

Emma gulped.

‘My husband’s what?’

The man lifted the cloth.

‘Your husband’s toothbrush.’

‘Thank God!’ she gasped, ‘I thought you were going to show me part of his anatomy.’

‘Didn’t the police tell you?’

‘I didn’t get that part of the message.’

Brian blushed violently.

‘I apologise Mrs Dawson, that must have been rather a shock.’

‘You might say that,’ said Emma approaching the table. ‘Yes. It’s Gary’s. He always buys the most expensive ones. Where did they find it?’

‘On the footbridge over the river I think,’ said the pathologist, ‘of course, it doesn’t mean anything.’

Emma smiled. She paused for a moment.

‘It means everything, I’m afraid.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘That was Gary’s favourite place: looking at the river rushing by. He once told me he liked to imagine it whisking him away on an unknown journey.’

‘It’s just his toothbrush, Mrs Dawson. We haven’t found a body.’

Emma nodded.

‘My husband was rather particular about his teeth. Over-zealous, you might say. Two minutes precisely, twice a day. He used to time me too. He even did it on our wedding night; sent me back to the bathroom to finish the job.’

Brian turned away quickly and covered the brush back up with the cloth.

‘He never left the house without one,’ continued Emma, ‘just in case. If I ever had anything stuck in my teeth he could always produce a toothbrush from somewhere and make me clean them straight away; said it created a bad impression otherwise.’

‘As I explained,’ said Brian, ‘there’s no evidence he jumped.’

Emma sighed.

‘How long could a person survive in the river at this time of year? With the ice and everything.’

‘Not long,’ said Brian, ‘a few minutes I should think. But please, you mustn’t think…’

‘Of course, he might have hit a piece of ice first; could have broken his neck or something. Might that have happened, Brian? What do you think?’

‘Mrs Dawson, please.’

‘I need to know. I’m sure you understand.’

Brian directed Emma to a seat near the door.

‘In theory, yes. There’s certainly enough ice in the river now that the melt has started. But as I said, there’s nothing to suggest your husband has taken his own life.’

‘Gary’s uncle broke his neck falling down the stairs,’ said Emma. ‘There were mutterings at the funeral that his wife might have pushed him, but Gary said he’d always been a clumsy bastard.’

Emma looked at her watch.

‘I’m sorry, Brian, I’m rambling. I do that when I’m tired. I think I’d best go home and see if there’s any news.’

‘Good idea. And please remember, there’s no need to lose hope yet.’

‘No,’ said Emma, ‘you’re right.’ She pointed to the table. ‘One thing’s certain: wherever he is, he’ll wish he had his toothbrush.’


© flyingscribbler 2012


17 comments on “‘A Brush With Death’. A flash fiction.

  1. Sonya Clark says:

    I couldn’t tell how she felt about her husband probably being dead. She did seem very sure he was dead so I wondered if he had a little help, like the uncle mentioned.

  2. Lovely exchange of dialogue..and funny that it was only his toothbrush..thought for a moment it was going to be something a bit rude..hubby sounds a bit obsessive about those teeth of his!

    ..but why would a pathologist be interested in his toothbrush..or am I missing something?

  3. John Wiswell says:

    The first half rolls along quickly with the desire to find out what’s really gone on. And congratulations on placing in Flashquake!

    • Thanks John. The first half is the better half I think. It’s one of the dangers of writing flash and writing it fast: I knew the begining was working for me and in retrospect, the story probably should have gone another way. I might give it go later and see what happens.

  4. Helen says:

    I think this was a good use of dialogue and it moved along pretty fast. I wonder if she really did believe he was dead?

    Congratulations on the interview and publication in Flashquake.

  5. Icy Sedgwick says:

    Excellent way to get a story out of something so peculiar. Good oral hygiene is a must, even in the afterlife!

  6. Steve Green says:

    Nice underlying humour here Justin. The message machine full of “wellwishers” messages, as though something good had happened, and I have a feeling that when she spoke that last line her face was sporting a barely-concealed smirk.

  7. ganymeder says:

    That was quite a writing prompt, and you certainly rose to the challenge. I really enjoyed this. Nice title, btw.

    One small mistake. ‘Smelt’, in the first line, should be ‘smelled.’
    A smelt is a type of fish. 🙂

  8. “A Brush with Death.” The title is hilarious after a read through, and like mentioned a great prompt, I doubt I would have come up with something as entertaining. Well done!

  9. Congrats for your Flashquake spot, I enjoyed this immensely – I’m quite certain the over talkative wife had something to do with the teeth fanatic’s disappearance.

  10. What a great way to get a story prompt.

    I think she done him in.

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