By Elizabeth Clapton Brown

The hairbrush had appeared one day. It was silver but tarnished where it had been used so many times before. The youngest daughter of the house had longed for a hairbrush just like her mother’s but this one just didn’t feel right.

The brush was put away – locked in a drawer in the playroom. It wasn’t valuable so the need for a lock made no sense but to the family it did. They could have just thrown it away but that just didn’t feel right.

The house in the forest had always been a lonely place to live – surrounded as it was by trees. However, the children that lived there loved it. The forest was a place to play and had always offered comfort and safety to the group of four siblings. They had many adventures in the forest: playing hide and seek, searching out small animals to try and keep as pets, designing imaginary games where the trees became people and places in their fun world. Their childhood was a magical one.

Until that one day.

The children had been climbing trees – a favourite past time – when the accident happened. The youngest girl had not realised the tree was dead, not realised the branch she clung to was so fragile. A snap, a scream and silence.

The forest was not a comfort anymore.

The family stayed. They had no choice, but the joy of the house was there no longer. The children grew up, moved away – moved away from the house and each other.

A funeral brought them back together. Their parents, who they had not seen for years, had died in an accident – a fire, started in the play room – possibly a candle left lit by mistake. 

The youngest son arrived first. The playroom was a blackened shell – nothing remained of what had been there before. But there was a tiny glint in the sunlight, something hidden beneath the ashy remains of a desk. The boy walked over, picked it up: a hairbrush. The brush had appeared one day. He had a vague recollection of his younger sister playing with it. The memory brought a tightness to his chest. The guilt he’d kept hidden that he hadn’t warned her of the danger of the tree all those years ago. He knew the tree had been dead. He knew the branches would be weak but she’d annoyed him calling him a coward and so he let her climb it anyway.

He threw the brush down. He didn’t need these memories or these feelings; he was a successful lawyer now. He turned as he heard a noise behind him. His older sister had arrived.

The woman walked into the room. She glanced at her brother before turning her eyes to the devastation that had been left. Silently, she went towards the hairbrush and picked it up. Both siblings looked at one another – a faint echo of something between them and then it was gone. The brush had appeared one day the woman remembered. Her youngest sister had wanted it but then for some reason it had been locked away.

Her youngest sister. She had been the one her parents had loved the most. She was always the cleverest, the most outgoing, the most beautiful. No one had thought she’d be the one to die. That day had been a strange one, the woman – a girl then – had felt something unusual in the air but she’d not said anything. She’d seen her sister in the tree, saw the branch snapping. She’d maybe been close enough to catch her but her jealousy had held her back. 

She threw the brush down. She didn’t need these memories or these feelings; she had her own profitable cleaning company now. People depended on her. She was suddenly aware of her brother behind her and again they glanced meaningfully at each other – something unsaid between them. Footsteps disrupted their thoughts. Their older brother had arrived.

The man scorned at his younger siblings – they had always been so carefree, so lacking in responsibility. He’d been the one who’d had to keep the family going and here they were – again just standing, doing nothing. He went to speak when he noticed the hairbrush. The brush had appeared one day but the man remembered no one knew where from. His youngest sister had been the first to find it and had insisted it be hers. Until it had been locked away. Strange that it had been, as it wasn’t valuable.

His youngest sister. He was the oldest – the responsible one. He had ran off that day – annoyed that yet again his younger siblings were ignoring his warnings and his advice and just doing what they wanted. If only he’d stayed, insisted they listen. Stop – he had to stop these thoughts. His therapist had told him this obsessive thinking wasn’t healthy.

He threw the brush down. He didn’t need these memories or these feelings. He was a husband, a father – he had enough responsibilities in the present. He certainly didn’t need any from the past.

The three siblings stood looking at the room. There had once been such joy here. Now there was only sadness and regret.

After the funeral the siblings went their separate ways – no-one spoke of the tragedy that had so affected their lives. The hairbrush remained where it had been dropped.

One by one, the siblings met their fate. The youngest son, disbarred after a particularly nasty case, had lost everything – his career, his house, his family. The oldest daughter, caught stealing from one of her clients, ended up in jail. The oldest son, therapy failing, spent his life in a mental asylum. None of them understood why their lives had ended up this way.

A new family moved into the forest house. Joy returned to the woods again. One day the oldest son was playing and saw a glint in the sunlight. A brush had appeared.