The smell of my father’s urine fills my childhood. A green wool rag—the only wool rag—lies in the kitchen. It is used to wrap a piss-soaked cotton cloth around your neck. A compress, he calls it—remedy for all that ails you, except revulsion to the smell of urine. A dark yellow splatter surrounds the toilet seat from when he’d spent hours in the bathroom ushering a bladder stone out through his urethra. He smirks as he shows it to me, proud, exhausted, a jagged calcified lump the size of half a pea, and says, “Look, I’ve given birth. It’s a boy.” A dirty pair of briefs hangs in the shower, white but for a few droplets where he dribbled his malodorous liquid.
Before that, my father is naked in the shower with me as a toddler—making sure I don’t fall, making sure I scrub the key areas (crotch, armpits, behind the knees). His heavy hands propel my body, his long coke nail traces lines on my skin. His gruff grip on the scruff of my neck directs me hither and thither. That same putrid vapor wafts up from the bottom of the bathtub, mingling with the steam that lingers in the air like cigarette smoke. When I am seven years old and just beginning to learn shame, he tears away my towel in the swimming pool change room, demanding of me, “What are you hiding? Is your dick made of gold?”
Before I was born, my father meets my mother. He is carrying my half-brother, who is a toddler, in his hands. My half-brother, Michael, has already endured the urinary gauntlet; he is already forged in my father’s image, the edges frayed and yellowed. He is formed in the Soviet Union—a place whose relationship with urine is intimate. Even members of the highest societies in Russia—the ballet, the opera, the local Communist party headquarters—carry the sodium-potassium composition in their bones. Even the very sheet of paper on which my birth certificate is printed is yellow and smells faintly of a clerk’s urine. I, on the other hand, was borne of a place scrubbed clean, flushed often, where waste is disposed of and forgotten. Canadian streets run clear.
My mother sensed the acrid aroma on my father’s pant leg and opened her door anyway. The wall outside the avtazavod in Gorky, where workers of the car factory shuffle through the mush-brown snow and soak their toes to the hilt, is latrine colored. It is hard to tell a good man from a bad when your choices are limited. She must have chalked it up to my brother’s diaper. She knows better now, though it is too late.
Before that, my father wandered the streets of Moscow, alone and homeless, curling up with a rough wool blanket, a book of Pushkin’s poetry, and a sheaf of papers upon which he writes, preparing for his dissertation. He is in an empty train station, after all the engines have tucked themselves under awnings and released the pneumatic pressure in their joints, like men sighing at the urinal. A flurry of snow comes barging in through a hole in the ceiling. He is lying on a bench, making himself as small as possible, cowering, and steeling himself from the cold. A small, sputtered puddle of his piss riddles the white snow on one side of the bench. An old woman walks by, unperturbed.
Before that, six children, my father and his siblings, shuffle around the cobblestone streets of Baku on scuffed knees, over and under my grandmother’s long wool skirts. Pipelines of piss jet over the cracks, through the sewers, and into the Caspian Sea, which is now too polluted for Sturgeon to spawn. Large, cylindrically shaped men walk past the six children with freshly slaughtered sheep slung over their shoulders; the sheep leave a trail of emptied bladder behind them. There is a twirling of mustaches, a rolling of rugs, and feral cats dart between alleys, leaving a spritz here and there from their glands. The single outhouse shared between ten humans in the courtyard mixes with the scent of simmering pilaf in the tiny kitchen.
Alex Simand is has an MFA and makes his living as an engineer. He lives in San Francisco, hails from Toronto, and probably talks about poutine too much. Alex has worked on Lunch Ticket for the past two issues in various roles, including copyeditor, CNF editor, and, most recently, blog editor. His work has appeared or is set to appear in Angel City Review, Ash & Bones, Ultraviolet Tribe, Drunk Monkeys, Silver Birch Press, Mudseason Review, and Red Fez. He has been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes and a Best of the Net Award. Alex writes good essays, bad poems, and vice-versa.