the orange cup
The orange plastic cup into which my father used to piss sat in the windowed recess in the kitchen of the house that was the first place I ever called home. In that same kitchen: a second orange plastic cup, one used for drinking from. The drinking cup hung from the limb of a pine mug tree. The piss cup sat in its alcove. Each cup defined for use by its station. Twin vessels: one to piss into, one to drink from. One to be filled for use, one to be emptied. Functioning and malfunctioning, the kitchen was but one broken room connected to another broken room, the one in which my father laid, broken. Broken.
That first orange cup, and that window recess, that alcove with its shattered plaster edges, wet, swollen and cracked and like so much else in that kitchen, like almost everything else in that house, a place that five people had stopped and perhaps not ever started caring about. A shelf surface ringed by the undersides of several thousand cups and bottles, ghosts of activity all confined to this one small area, yet at the same time confirming the cup’s travels to so many others. The cup, neighboured on one side by a block of Fairy household soap and its ooze of green ejaculate; and on the other by a bar of Imperial Leather soap, no soap dish to elevate its pearl, alkaline carcass. That kitchen: half-finished plaster walls; white tiles claiming small holdings of the wall space, but those too wearing the neglect of care due their upkeep. Those grimy ceramic squares and the kind-of-order they brought to the cooker and sink areas. Or perhaps it was just to one or the other, I’m not sure. Like those tiles, memories now seem patchy; there are details that just stop being seen. Tiled or un-tiled, flanked by cooker on one side and sink on the other, on its plaster shelf, in that broken, fucked room, via bruised and faded memory, sat my father’s orange cup.
Not always there, though, on that shelf. Not always there. But sometimes beneath the withered organ that my father would evacuate his bladder with, and also beneath the smaller organs of the three siblings who followed their father’s lead. What was used out of necessity by one was recorded and then seized upon by smaller hands – quite simply that facsimile that plays out between young and old, between father and child, between doer and copier across myriad routine patterns of a day and parts of a life. Young fingers merely copying the rooty configuration of older fingers. Not always that shelf, but also next to the settee, pushed into the corner where valance, hearth stone and wall created a corner of discreet clutter and shade. Not always to hold urine, either, but a vessel also for catching phlegm, more often than not its purpose when stationed next to the settee. Still, now, I can see his cheeks puffed, balling expectorant and firing it into the cup, tailed by beads of spit which gripped his bristled chin, fighting their extradition. When the cup travelled to my father, rather than my father travelling to the cup, it would often fall to one of us to empty its contents once full. The orange cup carried carefully through to the kitchen to be emptied at the sink: a journey both perilous and stomach-turning. Contents of hot and sloshing piss or wobbling pellets of mucus. To the sink, and the piss would find the plug hole with ease; the phlegm would require hosing underneath the tap; the walls of the sink sluiced clean after that. To the sink which was also toilet then, leaving the house by pipe which connected to pipe after pipe – what did we care as to which pipe, that one pipe should carry this waste and not another? And then the cup would be swilled, rinsed, washed and swilled again and turned upside down onto the corner of the sink’s enamel ledge. There it would dry, and as it dried it would fade: wet, glossy orange back to its cracked, clouded hue. Scratched, empty, almost dry – ready for use and returned to its home once more, to sit on plaster once more, in the recess once more, ghosting circles, mapping travels once more. Or perhaps not back to the shelf, but back to the side of the settee, within reach of my recumbent father. Yes, perhaps back there. Back to wherever the need or our ignorance of that need dictated.
In reissuing scenes from the past it’s too easy to glorify detail and engorge fact; present awfulness, when it is truth and the pursuit of something beautiful (two things which actually amount to the same thing) that I am after. These words are put down like photographs. Bits of paper that show only a few insignificant things in focus, when so much else remains not in the least bit sharp. These are fragments; pieces amongst pieces so numerous. The orange cup is the most vividly sharp fragment of life still, almost thirty years after the shutter first opened and closed and the print was recorded. On that shelf, where I see it sitting, it’s a form that seems so very bright and perfect. Truth: something beautiful.