Barely two days after arriving back home in Australia from the US I found myself overnighting in a small country town where I will be working for the foreseeable future, with two colleagues, Mary and Thomas with whom I’ll be working for the foreseeable future and our gracious host, Tracy.
Still considerably jetlagged I had had trouble keeping up conversation all evening and by 10pm found myself lying on my bed in the guest room listening to the ambient sounds of the country night. Gradually I became aware of muffled chatter interspersed with the occasional chuckle coming from the bathroom across the hall from my room. “Gasp!” I gasped, “That sounds like toothbrush talk.”
I love toothbrush talk; it’s not as intellectual as smoker’s conversation, it’s less candid or intimate than pillow talk but it’s where the best small to lower-middle level conversation is had. People discuss life logistics, complain or swap a bit of trivia.
I wanted in.
I rolled off the bed and hunted through my overnight bag looking for my toothbrush. I found my toiletries bag and tipped its contents onto the bed, a contact lens cleaning kit (I don’t wear contacts), a few Q-tips and a loose strand of dental floss. I turned my bag upside down onto my bed, as I sifted through my luggage I came to realize that I’d forgotten my toothbrush.
I stood back and scratched my head trying to work out an alternative. I looked through my open door at the closed bathroom door across the hall. Another chuckle sounded out from inside.
Then I thought of a potential solution. I rifled through the debris now littering the bed until I found it: the loose thread of dental floss. It wasn’t a toothbrush but it would give me a pretext for going into the bathroom and joining the conversation.
Pushing the string of floss into my pocket I crossed the hallway and knocked on the bathroom door. The chuckling stopped; I spoke through the door, “hey can I come in?”
I heard bare feet pad across tiles; the door opened to reveal Mary standing in a t-shirt and track pants a toothbrush hanging from her mouth. Standing behind her was Thomas and Tracy also in their bedtime attire, toothbrushes in hand.
“Come on in,” Mary smiled, “we were just telling each other our favorite animal trivia.” (Textbook toothbrush talk).
“Did you know an octopus has a little brain in each of its tentacles?” Thomas said over Mary’s shoulder.
“Why no, I didn’t!” I said as I entered the bathroom.
“It’s so cool,” said Tracy, then everybody returned to brushing their teeth in silence. I stood brushless, trying to work out why the toothbrush talk had stopped, was it me?
As Mary scrubbed her molars she turned to me. “So ah you brah-hing?”
“Brah—hing?” I asked.
She removed her toothbrush, “Brushing. Are you brushing your teeth?”
“Oh brushing. No. Well, not no, I mean, I did brush, I brushed in my room earlier,” I lied. “I actually came here to floss because you know what they say, never floss where you brush and never eat what you shit.”
“That’s not what they say,” Thomas corrected me. I went to respond but noticed Tracy making her way towards the sink. I quickly placed myself between her and the basin. “Woah, what are you doing?”
She stopped and stared at me then said with a mouthful of toothpaste, “I ahm funished brah-hing, con ou moob so I con shpi ou moi tooshpashte.”
I looked over at Mary who removed her own toothbrush, “she wants to spit her toothpaste but you’re in the way.”
The host nodded, she tried to go around me but I guarded the basin.“Woah, wait, woah,” I said a little frantically, “I mean, don’t you want to hear my animal trivia?”
The host crossed her arms and tapped her foot, “Fihne, tell ush.”
“Great, just a moment while I get my floss.” I searched in my pocket for the little thread. I pulled the pocket inside out, the loose string popped out and we all watched it float onto the bathroom floor. I stooped over and picked the floss up then held it up to them like a magician then got to work.
I found myself working at cross-purposes, trying to explain some made up animal trivia while the thread, sawing back and forth across my gums, undermined my enunciation, “Weh, do oo knah tha a centipehde acuarry ha a hunrad an un legs?” (Trans: Well, do you know that a centipede actually has one hundred and one legs?). I stopped flossing and grinned at the three waiting for a response but they just stood quietly eyes cast downwards at the bathroom floor. “What?” I asked.
Without looking at me Mary pointed at her mouth. I turned around and looked in the mirror. My teeth were smeared red; evidently I didn’t floss often enough (i.e. never) and had cut my gums. I panicked, leaned over and spat into the basin then turned the tap on to wash it down but the bloody saliva was too far from the plughole and the swirling water only skirted it creating a Venn diagram of embarrassment.
I glanced over my shoulder, the others watched looking uncomfortable. I smiled nervously then turned back to the porcelain-framed disaster and desperately began using my hands to try and push the spit into the water. “Come on, come on,” I muttered. Eventually I managed to cleanse the sink of the bloody residue. I turned around wiping my hand on my pajama pants looked at them all, laughed nervously then hurried out the door and back into my bedroom, I got into bed and pulled the blanket over my head.
I lay there listening to the amorphous murmurs coming through the bathroom door across the hall. Then I distinctly heard one of them say, “So, anybody for a floss?”