Back at his box my Dad pulled out all the stops and hoped the baked beans he’d eaten at lunch would come out in time. He looked upset and when I asked, he told me what happened. I was all for going straight to the judge, but we had no proof and everything would end up as his word vs ours.
When the judge came to my Dad’s box he took a good whiff. Then he took a second deep whiff. He wrote something down on his clipboard and shook his head. Dad squeezed out one small “toot” as Mom calls them, but the judge only wrinkled his nose at the third and final whiff.
The judge stepped up to Mike’s box and opened the stench hole. He took his first whiff and wrinkled his nose. He took his second whiff and his eyes started to water. On his third deep whiff his face turned a sickly shade of yellow. Apparently Mike had found his skunk. The judge didn’t need to write anything down. He proclaimed Mike the winner then ran off to the bathroom.
Mike lifted his hands high and celebrated his victory. This was his highest achievement in thirty-seven years on this earth and he planned to revel in it.
He left his box and ran in triumph into the cheering crowd of people flown in to clean up and de-stink the stinkiest man in the world. Once clean, he would spend a year crisscrossing the globe and professing the wonders of whatever deodorant, cologne or perfume he was told to.
My Dad left his box as the second stinkiest man in the world. As I met him a tear rolled down his cheek.
“C’mon, son,” he said. “Time to hit the showers.”
Back at our room he took a long hot shower. The water ran brown and black and yellow and back to brown. He washed off weeks of sweat and dirt and stench. He scrubbed his arm pits, his feet, and his face. It took him nearly an hour, but he scrubbed himself to a ruddy shine.
He pulled out a sealed gallon bag that Mom had forced him to take, containing a clean set of clothes. He dressed himself and threw his old clothes in the trash.
As we walked out we passed where the beauticians were hosing Mike down with a fire hose. We stopped for a minute to watch the process. They finished hosing him off and brought him to a second group who had prepared a baking soda and hydrogen peroxide wash to remove the skunk smell. Dad stepped forward to Mike and held his hand out for a shake.
“Best of luck,” Dad said.
Mike looked surprised. He took Dad’s hand limply and shook. Dad nodded at him, then turned and walked off toward me.
“Why did you do that?” I asked when he came near. “He cheated.”
My Dad stopped. He looked down at his feet, then over at Mike and the beauticians scrubbing him before looking back at me. “He needed it more than I did,” he said.
“But he cheated,” I said.
“True,” my Dad replied. “But all he’s got is his stench and his lies. Soon he won’t have either. When his year is over, I hope he has something.”
I didn’t understand, but Dad wouldn’t say more and couldn’t be brought out of his silence all the way back home.
When we got off the plane and walked into the airport. Mom saw us coming and ran and jumped into Dad’s arms and kissed him. She hugged me too. She didn’t care how Dad smelled or that he hadn’t won. She loved and missed him. She did hope that he wouldn’t compete in any more stench competitions, but she said that whether he did or not, from now on she’d be there to support him.
That was something.
My Dad never entered another stench competition, but he did sign every one of my birthday cards, “Love, The World’s Stinkiest Dad.”