portion of the artwork for Nadine Darling's flash fiction

36
Nadine Darling

At 36, she found a man she liked and asked him for his sperm; she did not care how it got inside of her. He was a man with whom she worked, married and older, with children. He handled the inquiry with great kindness—one of the qualities which had made her ask in the first place—and he had responded in a way that was both flattered and confused. He seemed at first to think it was a joke.

He’d kind of walked into it, in a way. After work on a Monday evening he stopped by her desk and stood there with forced casualness, his sports coat hooked over his elbow, and said, “Ann, have you been flirting with me?”

He explained that his wife suspected as much from the number of winky-faced emoji in Ann’s texts, from the pitch in Ann’s voice when she said his name in voicemails. In asking, there was a kind of embarrassment but also a dread, as though knowing that already, whatever the answer, everything had changed.

Ann thought about the lie she could tell, and all the ways she could be offended for herself and for all women in the workplace, but then she decided against it and turned round in her chair to face him and asked him for his sperm.

He flushed and blustered, for which she had no time. She’d long admired the framed pictures of his children on his desk. They were robust, smiling children, children who could sell products.

He said, finally, “What do you want with it?”

Ann told him her age; he didn’t understand. She didn’t tell him that during the previous month she’d noticed only ten appraising looks, and that only three men had asked for her number in a bar or restaurant—an all-time low. She thought about telling him these things, but she didn’t.

What she said was, “Things are happening very quickly in my life, yet somehow not quickly enough.”

She watched the surrealness of it play out on his face. There was no outrage. There was something very shrugging in his demeanor. He looked off sort of wistfully in the direction of the vending machines.

“It’s no different than if you blew your nose and left the tissue on the edge of the sink and I just … came along and picked it up,” said Ann, and this was met with some stern incredulousness, which she understood immediately. She’d somehow found a way to insult both of them.

She said, “I’m going downstairs to buy gum, and when I get back you don’t have to be here, not completely. Things can be very different between us. We don’t need to know each other, but we will understand each other.”

Ann collected her sweater and rode the elevator downstairs to the convenience store, where she did not buy gum, which was hard on her veneers, but an In Touch and a Red Bull, and when she got back to the office it was quiet and empty. The door to the bathroom, however, was ajar.

* * *

He’d used a paper cup from the water cooler, but that wouldn’t do for the bus ride home, so she transported the semen into the carrier she had, an empty travel-sized bottle of VO5 shampoo. It was clean, or mostly clean. It smelled still of jojoba and balsam. She slipped the bottle into her bag and left.

* * *

Once seated on the bus, Ann felt a great wash of serenity. She barely noticed the two men, one of whom was the driver, who’d barely noticed her. She clutched her bag and then her belly, and imagined a time after the baby was born when she might find and make friends with her coworker’s wife. They would do the things that women of a certain age with small children do; they would spend long hours on park benches, checking their phones and being encouraging, and Ann would ask the wife things, important things. If one was not being looked at, for instance, how could one be sure that they existed at all? If there was no reaction to one, did one become a ghost of sorts? Did one haunt the parks and party supply stores? Did one lose the ability to say one’s own name, and was one’s own name replaced by keener, more pertinent information, such as where one bought organic hot dog buns and how many peanut-free cupcakes one had to make to accommodate an entire preschool class, a teacher and two teacher’s aides?

Perhaps Ann and the coworker’s wife would become very close, bound by their similar, pink-cheeked babies and ghostly usefulness. There was so much, really, for one to learn.

Ann flinched. She adjusted her bag and noticed against one thigh a wet spot, sudsing faintly. She stared at this spot for a while and then a while longer, its shape amoeba-like, shifting and growing. How did one see oneself, if not in the reaction of others? She sat and stared at the spot until the bus driver knelt beside her, his voice gentle and breath foul, saying, “Ma’am?”


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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 43 | Spring 2014