Author’s Note: This is the final installment of a multi-part tale. Readers wishing to begin at the beginning should click here:
She began asking questions and filling out forms. He gave her the basic information. It was very normal, very routine, except it really wasn’t. It wasn’t, because, despite the fact that they were going through a familiar administrative dance, one they both had performed multitudes of times, this dance was different. They were doing this routine around a small jar of sperm sitting on her desk, and they both knew it.
She focused her eyes determinedly on the computer screen. Schwimmer stared off into space, his gaze fixed at a neutral point on the wall. The sperm sat serenely next to her framed photo, neither dared look at it. A passerby who glanced into the room would see nothing out of the ordinary, save a certain stiffness of posture on her part and a noticable disspirited slump in Schwimmer’s. Outwardly all was calm, but inside, emotions churned and bubbled.
At any point Schwimmer could have relented, removed the jar from her desk and put it back in his pocket. But he chose not to. Even shielded behind an extra layer of cloth it would still be there, still between them. And to hide it would be to tacitly acknowlege that there was something furtive or shameful about this procedure. Undoubtedly many patients had sat in this chair, dripping blood or wracked with agony. None of them had any reason to be ashamed – most were probably too shocked by the failure of their bodies to even give a hoot what she thought. And this freed her in a sense from caring in return. But not this time. Schwimmer would not let her off the hook – it had not been his idea to fill a jar with his seed and bring it into the hospital, he had been made to do it by women, so women were going to have to deal with it.
Her key tapping assumed an air of finality. She made a few crisp strokes and sat back. Her eyes reluctantly met his, then glanced down at the bag. “All right, Mr. Schwimmer. One last question.” Her voice faltered, the professional quality changed, became hesitant. “Um.”
“The…” She searched for a word. Schwimmer repressed his impulse to jump in and supply her with one. He let her twist. “The…sample.”
She flushed scarlet. “Ah. How long?”
She gulped a few times. “How…long has it been since you…”
“Since I what?”
“…since you, uh…donated it?”
“Oh.” Schwimmer ran through a few mental calculations, glanced at the clock on her wall. He was at about the limit. How to phrase that? The air in the room tensed, became pregnant and ominous; like a still, hot summer afternoon the moment before the first thundercrack peals out of a lowering sky.
He smiled. “Not to worry. It was FRESH SQUEEZED thirty minutes ago!”
He laughed, pleased at his witticism, but she didn’t. Her face froze. His smile faltered. He’d thought to defuse the tension with a joke, but instead he realized he’d stripped away her final layer of defense: professional detachment. She thought he had mocked her and in that horrid moment he realized that he had.
“The lab is to the left after the registration desk.” She handed him a slip. “Take this with you and give it to the technician. Good luck.”
He grabbed the slip and his sperm and got the hell out of there. He exited her door trailing a cloud of emotional brimstone and fled down the hall to the lab. Almost done. Almost there. He thought. Please, God, just get me the hell through this. He took the left by the reception desk and saw the “Lab” sign above a door at the end of the hall. He forged towards it like marathoner three paces from the finish line. A couple of windows went by, then the doorknob met his hand. He looked into the room.
Women and Children! The goddamn room was stuffed full of WOMEN and LITTLE KIDS!
“Ahhhh…CHRIST…” he moaned.
He stepped through the door into the room and stood there in all his rough, stubbled maleness. Everyone looked up. Everyone registered his presence in that certain way only women and children can, at a visceral level.
A man. A really big man. A man has come among us.
They smiled. Schwimmer clutched his bag. They looked at it.
“Um” he said.
A pretty technician in the pajama-like top and pants that hospital staff had taken to wearing sometime in the previous decade walked over to him. Her hair was pulled back in a ponytail and shone silky under the fluorescent lights. Her face was clean and bright. She had little ears pierced twice in each lobe and adorned with tiny silver stars. “Hello, can I help you?” she said in a pleasant, mezzo voice.
The three children on the floor, none older than six, paused from their blocks and looked up at him. Their mother, chatting with another technician, also quieted and waited. The question hung in the air like a piñata awaiting the first swipe of the bat. If the room had been full of men, they would have glanced at him and then ignored him, allowing him to complete his business in a little cocoon of faux privacy. Of course they would have listened in, but they would have given him the dignity of pretense. But not these women. They wanted to know what he was here for and they waited to be told.
Schwimmer forged ahead. He held up the bag.
“I come bearing sperm.” he said.
Eight days later the call came. His wife was a wreck by then – the wait had been very hard. She’d even tried calling the lab but no matter how much she bullied the techs, they refused to tell her anything but “Your doctor will call when the results are in, ma’am.” Schwimmer had spent the time trying to forget the whole mess and his resolute lack of curiosity infuriated her. “You don’t even give a shit, do you?” she snapped.
“When it comes, it comes.” he said. “Worrying about it won’t change anything.”
The call came at work, just after lunch. “You’re normal” his wife said. “Completely normal. That’s what the doctor just told me.”
I’m normal. He thought. This is probably the first time anybody has ever said that to me.
His wife barked a tiny sob. “They want to check me next. It’s probably me.”
Oh. Not good. Schwimmer had been so sure of his infertility for most of his adult life that he had been able to make peace with it long ago. He had even been a little proud of it. He was prepared to take all the blame. It would have been so much simpler.
“I’m sorry my love.” He said. “We’ll get through this somehow.”
He commiserated with her for a few minutes then hung up.