During my grammar school days, the morning routine was always the same. Mom was first out of bed. She went downstairs, turned on the radio to the Carl DeSuze show, and listened to pop songs while making breakfast. She knew all the lyrics: Oh, My Papa, Love and Marriage, The Naughty Lady of Shady Lane.
Every other day she woke me to go to the basement and carry up a dozen oranges. Every three weeks, a Florida company shipped us a crate of oranges which Dad stored in the root cellar: a small, cold room behind the basement wall. I opened a warped door two feet up the wall and climbed into the room. The low ceiling prevented me from standing up straight.
The room smelled of earth and oranges, and decay. I imagined spiders dangling from the ceiling waiting to cling to my hair. Opening the crate, I took out a dozen oranges to carry upstairs. Sometimes an orange went bad and my fingers pierced the black and moldy skin. I then had to inspect the surrounding oranges to ensure the rot hadn’t spread. I hated the stench on my fingers that took half a day to go away.
On Sundays and non-orange days, Mom reminded me to take a bath. Our house had only one bathroom. Most of the time, Dad was already shaving, wearing his boxers, a T-shirt with straps over his shoulders, and a hand towel around his neck. I ran water into the tub, but wouldn’t undress until he left, and I could take my bath in private.
Sometimes Dad stayed longer in bed and I rushed to take my bath before he got up. Sometimes I was still in the bathtub. He’d stride into the bathroom straight from bed, stand at the toilet and pee with a thunderous sound. I’d sneak a look, fascinated by the size of his penis. His pee usually smelled the same as mine, only stronger because of the volume. But on those mornings after he stayed longer in bed, his urine had a different smell. The odor was distinct and pungent. Unknown to me, my brain captured this odor, ready to retrieve it in the future.
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