My father was forever awake and forever seeking betrayal. This perpetual state was difficult to live with while under his roof and impossible to deal with after he died.
He died in his bedroom, which he had cultivated into a makeshift bathroom. We had all argued about whether or not, we should toss out the 2-liter bottle filled with his clouded, brown urine before the ambulance came to take away the body. They didn’t have their lights on. I remember someone telling me about a stabbing in which the ambulance didn’t have their lights on.
I ended up snatching the bottle as my mother when to open the door for the paramedics. As I returned to my mother’s side, I realized that the house smelt like urine. It didn’t matter that I got rid of the bottle. They had difficulty getting him out of his room. He had somehow managed to get a massive oak desk into his makeshift bathroom/bedroom and arranged it so he could sit at the desk while sitting on his bed. He’d also taken to keeping everything. There were mountains of unopened and wholly forgotten letters. Odd trinkets from his childhood peered down from shelves and windowsills and tucked into the corner, towered over forty books on the occult, stacked in no particular order.
One of the paramedics gave an embarrassed look at us as he stepped on my father’s bed and took my father under the armpits. Once my father was freed from under the desk, the other paramedic took him by the feet and managed to disturb one of the letter piles and apologized again and again. At the same time, I was apologizing and diving down to collect the letters, so they could get by. The paramedic who stepped on the bed told me, I could pick them up afterward. I let them walk over my father’s unopened mail. I cleaned up the mail that had fell and the mail that hadn’t fallen into six hefty bags and dropped them out of the curb. I didn’t bother figuring out which letters were important and which should have been thrown. I figured there would be some amnesty concerning unpaid bills, considering my payer had died. I didn’t like being in the room, not because the burning stink of spilt and dried urine and not because he voided his bowels when he died. As I worked, my father’s trinkets glared down at me. A variety of glassy eyed cartoon faces watched me, accusingly.
Once the letters were out, I uncovered a desktop planner covered in cramped bible passages. The variety of inks and change in handwriting suggested that he’d been writing on it for years. I had never seen it before. I decided not to play with the planner, so I returned to the rest of the family, who’d elected to sit in silence in the family room.
My sister had tears stained on her cheeks, though she wasn’t crying now and my young brother had taken to pacing back and forth. My older brother had my mother in his arms as she made soft sobbing sounds into his shoulder. I took a seat by my sister and tucked my hands between my knees.
We stayed in that fashion for a long time and I started to feel antsy. I stood up and asked to use my sister’s car. She looked up to me with a confused gaze and I asked again. She produced her keys with a shaky hand and I walked out as my older brother asked where I was going.
I clicked on the radio as I pulled out of the driveway. I merged onto the highway and drove aimlessly into the night. The smell of urine crept into my nostrils as my sister’s car pushed to sixty miles an hour. I figured that I had picked the smell up as I cleaned out my father’s room. I stopped at a rest stop and scrubbed at my hands and forearms. I sniffed my fingers and plunged my hands back into the sink. My skin prickled and itched when I was finally satisfied and crossed the street to the Burger King.
A child cried openly as I waited in line and my spine itched because of it. I ordered a cheeseburger and a small Sprite. I only ate half the burger and ignored the small Sprite altogether. The burger tasted off, salty and the Sprite smelt off as well. I thought to complain about it, but decided to just toss both into the trash and wash my hands in the bathroom. I drove onto the freeway and followed random cars for miles. The needle fell on E, but I passed up gas stations. I felt sickened by the giant neon signs that shifted through their patterns. The engine started to knock and I pulled over before the car gave up altogether. I made myself vomit on the side of the road, figuring that the burger had made me sick. I summoned the half-cheeseburger and then forced myself to purge more. I sat on the trunk of the car and stared at the cars as they whipped by. I stole one of my sister’s cigarettes, but only puffed on it once. I tasted old, it probably was. I couldn’t see it, but I knew I was near a trailer park. I could smell the backed-up septic system in the air.
My phone purred in my pocket and I pulled it out. It was my sister. She wanted to know where I, and her car, was. She said I should come back, that the coroner had examined my father already. I told her that her car as out of gas and I didn’t know where I was. She wanted me to wave down a car and ask. She didn’t want me to hang up. I did anyway and I didn’t wave down a car. She called me again and I turned the phone off. I decided that I would test the fumes in the tank and kept driving.
The car stank of urine and I thought it might have been the backed-up septic tank or it might have been my clothes. I didn’t know which. It could have been my sister’s kids and I just hadn’t noticed it. The car gave out half a mile down the road and I was glad to get out. I vomited again, this time summoning only thick, clear bile. I started walking once I cleaned the vomit from my face. The smell was all around me. There might have another backed-up septic system or there might have been some body of water at low tide, but whatever it was it made me vomit again. Cars honked as I shuttered and purged, but none of them stopped to help me. I decided that I was too sick to walk or walk back to the car, even. I sat on the side of the road with my head between my knees and spitting onto the asphalt. I had the notion that someone was sitting beside me, but I didn’t look up to see. A police car pulled up on the side of the road before me and I leaned over to get my knees under me. I laid down on my belly and put my hands on my head.
The police officer said my name and I confessed that it was. He told me to get up and I was terribly confused. I kept my mouth shut and he led me into the back of the car. He didn’t put his handcuffs on me.
He didn’t take me to the police station, he took me to the hospital. A doctor looked over me as I shivered in my underwear. The doctor was an older man and I couldn’t bring myself to complain that he smelt like urine. He let me dress myself in a hospital gown as he explained that I was going to be admitted. He assured me that there wasn’t anything to be concerned about, but he wanted to watch me overnight. A nurse had me put me clothes into a clear plastic bag that stank of feet. My clothes stank of urine, so this discovery didn’t bother me as much as it would have otherwise.
Once I was alone, I decided that I couldn’t stay in the hospital. I slipped out in my hospital gown and was intercepted by my sister and older brother. They questioned me as I backed away into a corner. The both of them smelt of urine and I vomited on their shoes. They scattered away once the damage was done and I slipped past them and out past the nurse’s station. A short woman followed me, calling my name. I ignored her, but she was joined by a large man who gripped me by the arm and I couldn’t get away. He the took me across the chest, so as not to hurt me. He stank like sweat and urine and I purged and purged again. My stomach must have been empty, but acrid, clear fluid came forth. The man let down and called for something I could vomit into. I was dazed and sticky with vomit as doctors rushed to me and shooed my siblings away. There was nothing they could do for me, except give me something else to vomit it and slip an IV into my vein, so I wouldn’t died from dehydration. I stayed in a hospital bed for weeks. My cheeks were raw and thinning from my own stomach acid. When my mouth wasn’t occupied with purging, I complained of the horrible smell of urine which the nurse denied smelling.
The coroner had submitted a report on my father. It said that my father had ingested Clorox bleach. The police came to my room and were tried away, being told that I was too weak for questioning and that I didn’t have long, anyway. It might have been delusion, but in the final days of my life I was sure that I saw my father in the corner of my hospital room. I couldn’t see him, but I could feel his ever-wakeful eyes on me and I could smell his stink of urine.
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