portion of artwork for Richey Piiparinen's stories

Four Stories
Richey Piiparinen

Things as they were never intended

They buried their hearts in order and left, and the gaps have since grown into canyons no less devoid than urged. Now we sit around the rim holding hands with an inverse relationship between our love for a person and their nearness. Call it a paradox of motive.

* * *

I am driving to give semen to a woman I have never met. In layman’s circles, this would be improper. But in the context of high reason, it is procedural.

I haven’t beaten off in days, doctor’s orders. But, whatever. In fact I’m kind of getting used to this machining of my desire, or of being told when and what to cum into. And I must admit, it’s much less sophomoric this way—instead of just lotion and moans, and of that reluctance to realize how stupid you look with fallen down pants and buckle rubbing the floor, there enters in masturbation a certain suitability I didn’t have as a boy.

Still, it’s pretty weird-ass too, because in essence—I am fucking my wife when I am nowhere near her body. Take the last time for instance: I was at work and the phone rings. “Well, I was just inseminated,” my wife said. “Cool,” I replied, totally unaware of anything but the strange sensation that had just entered. It was a sense that my space-time was all fucked up, and it was kind of like déjà vu, but without being in either of the places at neither of the times.

Which is to say something is missing. As it’s a fuck only in so far as you can shake hands without the hands—a fuck, then, not unlike the prosthetics of two strangers gripping. And though I hate to admit it, it’s a fuck that is not even as weird as much as it is cheerless, because the rub with peculiarities like phantom pains and phantom fucks is not that they happen, but that that reality of what’s missing soon hits us smack dab in the pit of wanting what everyone else has.

So can you blame me if I get sour about needing middlemen to do something so natural, something that is meant to be done in pairs while in the black of a tiny bedroom—or amidst breezes pushing their way through sun-cut drapes. Yet we have laid down such loveliness; our sex, rather, made into this: me leaving and emptying a piece of me into a cup into a baggy into a drop box, and then across dozens of latex hands. And then I go away and she arrives wherein that soulless piece is put in her as she looks up to wonder about the opposite of stars …

And I guess, then, that’s the thing about fertility treatment, as it has a way of taunting you while under the guise of pure help. Because there are promises and there are chances and in between there is truth, and the truth is there regardless of whether or not you fail or the doctors succeed.

* * *

Driving, I look out the window at the 6-in-the-morning light, to notice that the seasons have been changing, as it was warm, summery last week—the sky constantly diluted into a vast blue even. But then a system came in a few days ago, and the sky has been layered with grays and boldness since.

Up ahead there are brake lights piled in long fashion between the dashes. It’s a mess of metal boxes and I’m in a hurry so it sucks. You know, there’s a conception out there that the Rust Belt is dying, but here we are: amid our rudiments and smokestacks, knowing that there is nowhere to go that doesn’t have what’s weakening here.

Maybe we are resigned, bitter even, and it has clouded our potential to see space instead of vacancy. But I’m not sure the deference is that as much as a method to fall no further than what had picked up and left before scraping us meager—because when a city like Cleveland is carved toward its bone, there are few pretensions left, the aesthetics force-feeding us on what otherwise would be easier to make up. For example, I remember visiting South Beach once and every day was Easter. And the people had not a clue it wasn’t. Here there are fewer illusions. Because our eye candy is not eye candy at all—but factories that don’t whistle and men that cough too much.

Still, you wouldn’t be wrong to say we could use more hope—or that we should just bury these factories’ colossal bodies behind some generic trust in progress pulling us along like tied cans. But I for one can’t help it, because as much as I want to look forward there’s an organicity in me that is completely repellant to the idea. And perhaps it’s no wonder, then, that I doubt having kids medicinally will solve anything, which only makes my antipathy toward it all worse.

Because really, I hate this shit: fighting traffic so early just to masturbate when I have far less of a want than a need to. No doubt, as a Catholic kid I would’ve taken it, yet that was before I accepted fault as a matter of recourse, since as a man it’s like losing the young fun of summer days and dirt because now it’s for necessity and besides: the foreman pointed to the hole and told you so. And so here I am driving along I-270 through the ungainliness of the industrial valley, feeling dispirited, vulnerable. Like a cow getting its teats all beefed on.

The last and only time I did this, mind you, it wasn’t as bad. I wouldn’t say I was exactly looking forward to it, but was intrigued, especially at the prospects of seeing how man handled such bedfellows as reason and sin. And so there I was, walking into the waiting room and seeing a couple of other guys like me, and then all of us reading shit we didn't want to while waiting to punch our laps (gently), attempting it all nonchalantly, much like a pickpocket would while moving through a crowd with pleasant gestures, grace. One guy was called up and was in and out in less than three minutes. He yawned big while leaving and I wasn’t sure if he was still pretending or simply sick and tired of this shit. Regardless, he seemed like a pro, cool, whatever his motive. But I, on the other hand, was not: I was a virgin, totally unsure of what to expect, not only in my ability to perform, but even more so in what the setting would be like. But I had faith. Sure, they were professionals, high-reasoned no doubt, but they were also blood-filled with spittle and a gender. So I knew they’d make it easier by making it fucking real. In fact, there’s nothing harder on our hearts than the upkeep in pretending—not only in our actions but also in the way we set the intentions of our environment up. And as for the latter, I expected, perhaps hoped, at least somewhat of an accord between the reality of our bodies and the milieu of the whack-off room: envisioning a chair, a TV/VCR combo, titles involving descriptive indecency of sometimes natural acts, perhaps dry, clean rags …

But nope, and so the last time I was here I didn’t know what to expect. This time I do. And it hurts. Because now it felt dirtier the cleaner they tried to make it.

* * *

The fertility clinic is in a mid-rise, and I go up to the third. I walk in the waiting room and it’s empty and bright. I go up to the secretary. I talk: “Name’s Bawn Pipes. Here for a 6.” “You live on Whitman?” “Yep.” She licks the tip of her pen, makes a check: “Have a seat, Bawn. They’ll be with you shortly.”

I sit. Grab a Boys’ Life, and begin reading something about Kodiak Kids who encounter lots of challenges during a kayaking-and-ice-climbing adventure. It’s not exactly putting me in the mood though, considering. So I throw it down, grab a Cosmo—see a picture of Bo Derek with a collie and a horse. And then throw that down too.

Minutes later I’m called up and begin toward the nurse. She is younger, a brunette, either nerdy or just disheveled but paler nonetheless. “Follow me,” she then says while turning. I do. At which point I look down, start staring at her ass (it is usually about now I begin trying) to notice it’s looser yet tucked like an overgrown muffin into the panties behind her scrubs. And I watch it wiggle, eyeing it like I am watching apes fuck: slight-hearted, disdained—and I feel this way not only because I am the one so obviously needing here, but because the office nurses know this and yet still give off vibes like: whatever, I got shit to do and a non-malfeasance pact I rolls with. And they are all like that, every last drop of them. Like the skinny black with a tail I just passed. And the older ghost-like blonde to my right. And then of course the Nord coming toward me with eyes like coal being crushed. And yes, I get it: their pickle. I understand that not only are there the restrictive qualities that must ensue when dealing with human bodies failing on a daily basis, but also the bloodletting that these nurses (in particular) deal with given the fact they’re collecting a just-fresh consequence of a piece of one’s id. Still. They can’t give me a grin, hi, or a wink? A touch of humanity?

* * *

We are here. “Label everything,” the nurse says before evaporating to the lab across the hall. I am then left at the door of the masturbating room, knowing the other side of it bears the inconsistency that is borne from the hope of everything I’m afraid of …

The room is unnatural: made of the same intentions that make us make-believe. There’s a twin bed in crisp sheets in the corner. It is folded in white. Flat. And reminds me of the sky when there is absolutely nothing in it—no moon, no stars, just one pallid flow. Down below, the floor is tile, cold, and verifiably clean. Off to the right is a bathroom that looks like you would do anything in there that has nothing to do with waste. There’s no TV/VCR combo. No tapes. Just one unopened Playboy on a nightstand. Besides the Playboy is a box of Kleenex. Above that: a brightly lit lamp. I walk over. Look down. See several packets I didn’t notice before. I pick one up. It reads:
“Surgilube provides instant, continuous lubricating action for easy, comfortable insertion of catheters, endoscopes, surgical instruments, magic bullet suppositories and gloves into body orifices. Surgilube—your assurance of safety, reliability and convenience.”
Fucking monsters, I think. I then toss the packet onto the nightstand, suddenly filled with a wish to look out a window—but in here there are no windows. In fact no acknowledgement, really, of what is out there and how it could be such a god-fucking mess. So I am left to feel it in, or to know that sin and reason are not mutually exclusive, just as a mouth is not made just to lecture but to scream and to suck. And also: that love will live with loneliness, if only because I’m not there as she prepares her body just as she’s not here as I’m tearing a piece of mine out.

And with that I leave the room, heading to the toilet instead. Because their motives to make it as purposed as possible only drives me to give them something that is not exactly out of my love as it is of my knowledge of what animals we can be.1

1(And with this kind of start will the kids ever stand a chance?)

Unsaid, and not quite formed, either

We were at the fertility clinic for our latest visit but a baby wasn’t on my mind. I was thinking about the blood tests. You see, the FDA mandates STD screens to all couples that can’t make babies. And that day blood was to be drawn—and so the only thing I could think about was whether or not I had something in me I wasn’t aware of.

My wife, though, was more focused, hearing eye-pinned about the buffet of fertilization shots that’d be needed to plump her ovaries into the size of avocado. So she watched closely as the nurse demonstrated on a fat pad how to self-put the needle into her stomach. The nurse would pinch the rubber, hardly (as there was little give), before confirming the irreality of the demonstration with a pierce and squirt way too unforced. See, the nurse said, now you try. So my wife grabbed the syringe, filled it, pinched the pad, and gave it juice. Good, the nurse said.

Next, she brought out the Drug Pen©, showing us how when you popped off the cap it had a needle in place of a tip, and then when you twisted it open, how it had drugs instead of ink. But I didn’t get it, thinking: Why is this pen just a syringe? Granted, when she first whipped it out and called it a medication pen I admit to being intrigued, wondering if you just wrote the drug into your body, like say with an “easy does it” on the forearm, or perhaps, when feeling impish: a “here you go, stinky” on the cheek of the ass. But no. The pen was just a needle. And it forced its way in brutally just like any old spike did …

* * *

After giving blood and urine and talking to the office manager about financing a baby on zero-interest credit cards, we left. Outside, a snow began falling and the sky was white, and so the only way you knew it was coming down was when you saw the flakes land before melting.

We got in our cars. We drove separately because we were both planning on going to work. But the appointment was tiring, long, and so I called off, and she did too.

Heading home, I curved along a highway that wound through the factories of the industrial valley, and it was just me in my car—the radio off—with the surround of black globs made of squares and black columns that either billowed up, or else sat thick and blackly still. But it wasn’t always like this, though: so half-hearted. As the area used to be so ugly and predominant not long ago. Now it’s just as dominating in eyeshot but even grosser because it accomplishes far less for far more people. And it is perhaps these kinds of aesthetics that remind us how we are dumped so fresh and tiny from something that had made such horrible headway.

Upon exiting the valley, the sky thickened—appeared squeezing—and its uptake came out into a burst of snow hastening. And it piled up quickly, disabling the angles of the city into the rounded forms of half-gone, hand-held erasers.

Moments later I got home. And was hungry, and so made turkey sausage and eggs and fried potatoes and toast. I then ate on the living room floor. And though she wasn’t yet home (instead off getting an oil change), combined with the fact it was a lonely day—given the weather and the blood test and all—I didn’t much feel all that alone, just all by myself really, which is—in itself—different than loneliness, since I didn’t much need anything at the moment, except a nap maybe, my toast. So lying there I was just fine listening to nothing but the sound of chewing going out of my ears—and less often, then, to that sound I made of a spoon hitting mashed potatoes as I swallowed down anything.

Soon full, I got up, heading to the sink to scrape off my plate. As I walked into the kitchen she did too, coming in from the back door, snow-covered, with a fat flake sitting on her eyelash as if a small world sat on her face. She then took off her coat: head cocked, hair tucked, while wearing an expression that was not as loud as it was speaking quietly by how its vague features were formed. We then passed each other—me to the sink, her to the stove—where I proceeded to shove crust into the garbage disposal just as she plated helpings of cold eggs, bacon filming. I then put my plate down, came up behind her, saying: I am going to take a nap. She turned to look at me: What you want to do? About what? I replied. She didn’t answer, instead saying nothing that was not already being said by the thick affinity developing in the space between our faces. And it was a sense of both needing each other and not needing anything from each other at all.

An apple a day

The whole thing was an awkward twilight-zone moment laced with disgustingness and disbelief and deflation. For one, we didn’t even know her. Which made it worse when she told her, abruptly: I expect more from you. And when she said it and I saw how it hurt her, I exploded back into pieces—or into that mistrust I directed at that hope of needing to rely on something that I couldn’t even touch to feel how it operated.

And it is hard to make do when there is nothing to make do with. Hard to understand the loneliness in feeling excruciatingly lonely, lost, untouched, and awfully close to godless, especially when there is few in the immediacy that can be relied on to communicate effectively, discerningly—humanly. And so as she stood there, back turned, showing only the faded dye of a blonde back-head above a white coat hung stiff like a curtain frozen, she spoke using the sounds of pop cans crushing, saying: I am unhappy with these numbers—there are five at best when ten is average—and if you were part of the bell curve then your output would be toward the lower quartile. And while listening I could only be alarmed and given to thorns as I watched, sadly, the sweat of pain well up in those parts of her face that lay open to this.

Up to that point things had been going as planned, so we were told—and that optimism, or the regularity amidst a process made to intervene in pairs ill-affording regularity, it was nice. Welcome. Needed given the circumstances. And then combine that with the fact it was a Saturday morning and the sun was out splashing, we had hope. Sitting there that morning we had hope. So imagine our surprise when this lady—who we thought was just there to take blood (as we were not in an office but in the blood-taking room)—was telling us things like we were below average, and that she was not happy. And while I tried to convince her, saying: But things were going so well, we were told, she wasn’t swayed, soon explaining to us as she sat down to extend my wife’s arm to rub it with alcohol and pat at her vein that: Well, two are too big. We want them around eighteen and these will be too big then. And then some are too small. And while it is not horrible—I mean if you were forty-two I’d be thrilled, but you are not, you are young—it is still not ideal. I just expect more from you.

And it was that last line said again which made my ears hurt—soon then looking at my wife to see her face hurt as well. So I grabbed her fingers as the crimson of blood packed the tube running from an arm not far away from the pulse of her eyes filling wet. Yet there was no escaping it. She was at it, still. Still with that pour from her thoughtless morning mouth. And so by the time she released my wife’s vein with the uncurl of the rubber rope, she had effectively pushed us to the inside—as that’s where it usually happens when you are not at all up to feeling painless, expectant.

And of course lest we forget shameless. And why she was shaming us who knew. I mean people do all kinds of things outward: behaviors, words, faces that are simply shadows of whatever’s happening in. Like maybe she woke up that morning and touched a flab she’d hated on. And maybe the flab reminded her of ugliness and being unworthy. And perhaps she just shut it off then, those feelings. To instead put on her dye before coming to work where she sees us and shames us. If only because in her eyes we failed to turn ourselves into whatever dream a great cache of nearby dreamers expect from us—the expectations, of course, arising from the pot marks that dreamers carry like skeletons quietly.

To make everybody’s failures a rock in a slingshot cocked to be slung.

* * *

It was later that day and we sat amongst the thickness of potato skin stink. We were at a TGI Friday’s because we needed lightness, and because I had a gift card. The place was packed, the décor stupid, the air of the mood aided by the servers in red shirts and suspenders and buttons. We were at a booth partaking in the endless soup and salad special that came with any entrée over eleven bucks. (I got the ribs. She got the fajitas.) To our left and out the window the early evening sky was still crystal and crisp—with the wind whistling through the leafless trees and out of the spaces between the branches swaying.

I really appreciate you today, she’d go on to say, eating her second salad. She then picked up the phallic breadstick they gave you with each bowl, saying: Here, want my peen stick. She laughed. I did too. All the while grabbing it to playfully smack it against my cheek to leave a garlic-stain mark. More smiles then. Followed by more silence. Reminding us that in between the times we tried the truth still hung like steel from a car smashed in angles.

It was just so weird, she continued. And I was so broken and shocked by what was going on that I couldn’t think of anything to say—

Well, I interrupted, telling her three times over and over that she was being negative, you know, the bursting out at her that: you are being negative. Negative! Negative! And then that look on her face …

Because she was. Alls it takes is one egg, you know. That’s it. And so she was like the ultimate hope-deflator—a fun-sucker—

A smile-smasher, I said.

She laughed: Yeah, a smile-smasher.

It again got quiet, the lull, perhaps, a cue for her to drop her fork, touch my knuckles, and to turn her look from a coy looseness to the tightness of recognition that for every bit of emptiness so goes the fact of various presences as well. Gravitas still, she continued: But no, really, I do appreciate you sticking up for me, especially when you were all like: Miss, there is no doubt a better way to express this to her than to say I expect more from you … I mean, I just don’t think she is used to that from patients—

Probably not,
I replied.

Just then the food came, snapping us back into the lightness we sought. After all, the evening was needed after the day, so we dug in, smiling and playing, making the breadsticks do childish shit. As it was all about being patched up before the morning, before another appointment where more severity wait. But for now, just a collection of things to make us feel better: the food, the décor, the regularity of a Saturday evening at Thank God Its Friday’s with its endless salads and pops—and then not in the least: this reminder that in the heart of shit and weirdness we were there for each other—that in the midst of absurdity we cut through the falling pieces so as to build even a shred of something recognizable to run to and hide from. And though it helped, it still only covered the harm that sat as we chewed while glancing periodically at the wind growing less seen as the sunset fell deeper into itself.

Suns and moons and space over water

These things, they are circles, divided and divided again. These things that are circles sit in a picture—a black and white—surrounded by the white of the fridge, and also by the photos of kids we know from the families and friends we have. In the middle, though, like I said, are the circles. Dividing like bubbles intent. And it is amazing to me that circles can grow into such an extraordinary compilation of strings and bones and collars and teeth—and that in this unknowing yet sophisticated engine of capabilities and possibilities grows such things as dreams and poems and bridges to cross over water, cresting.

“Maybe we can send out the embryos in our Christmas cards this year,” I tell her while looking at them, my voice ironic and hopeful, reserved. “Like maybe us standing beside the little guys wearing red sweaters, smiling, regardless if it works or not—”

“Ooh, you are bad,” she interrupts, laughing.

Staring still (since we got them from the fertility clinic I’ve been having a hard time turning away), I am in awe of the circles, at how they look despite the fact that at the time of their taking they were three days old. “Damn,” I go on, “you know, I am not a big pro-choicer or pro-lifer either way. I mean, whatever, but still, this whole process, how difficult it’s been, and then looking at these little guys—I mean, I already want to take them to the park …”

“I know,” she says. “I was on the computer yesterday and was completely amazed at how shapely the things get at two weeks. It’s completely amazing, really.” She stops talking, looks down at her belly where the things sat, implanting, dividing. Or so we hoped. Yet there’s always the possibility that they could’ve been washed up like tiny starfish into the absorbent sea that is a woman’s inside-universe. But she goes on, rooting anyway: “C’mon, guys.”

Her fist pumps the air.

I smile. Soon, then, turning my attention back to the fridge. Amazed, regardless. And perhaps my faith is not what it should be. But still, right now, I am amazed, regardless. Amazed that circles of all things can come in and out of us to enable us to ponder the wonderful inside the alarm of the space incorporating.

A week later and a wind blows in hard over the lake, its force setting the caps of waves to crash lazily into the wear of the thin city beach. I am on the rocks of the shoreline facing out. And that black-awe inspired by gaps over great bodies of water, it is with me—and tied to some extremely natural and dense part inside.

She is at home. On the couch or a chair or on the bed looking up. But I could no longer sit there. Because the weeks of this shit, no, the months, (years even), it’d begun to ruin my view. To constrict and plod and plant me square into percentages. I mean for fuck’s sake: fifty-fifty is all they kept and keep saying. Which is fine. Really. Except we never had a chance to call it in the air …

Suddenly I stand to get up, soon pacing along the chops of gray that make up the city’s northern edge. And I do so slowly, moving unhurried—as I am not yet ready to go home given that our house reeks through the temporarily looks from our eyes. For now, then, it is much better to see the space around me—and to smell the lake on my breath. Which I do: I taste the lake as I yawn big, and I stare at all the room of pre-spring. For instance looking at the sky between the twigs yet busted, and also at the patchiness of the grass. I then pan out to the park in general, noticing its space left intact by the scarcity of the people. In fact nobody is here. No bodies grilling, or beaching, or hocking their shit. And then neither sweating nor fingering each other’s anti-potential …

I jump off the rocks, soon walking through a patch of weeds toward a meadow with benches facing the lake’s width. I go and sit just as a gust picks up. I then look over to my left to see a great chunk of deep gray bearing down from the west. And the clouds: they are one and they are big so that it appears what’s arriving is just a charcoal sky and not the signification of a storm heading in. Slouched, I then turn back toward the water before finally looking down, all the while fighting to forget and to never not remember anything that’ll never leave voluntarily, besides.

Because the shit from the night prior keeps running through my mind. And the sequences, the events, they pound heavy: locomotive-style. And so I see me run up the stairs and into the bathroom to find her eyes squinting like she was squeezing out stars. But really, she was just squeezing out piss. And though at first it wasn’t coming, there finally came a trickle, and a tinkle, and a little bit of a flow: the piss-stick thus getting pissed on with piss. And as its indicator made love to the chemicals in urine, we waited, waiting …

But then suddenly she couldn’t wait anymore. Or maybe she just didn’t want to know. Or then again, perhaps she knew, and she just didn’t want to find out. Whatever it was, her face collapsed, was jagged, and her voice turned sharp: “No … no. I don’t want to look. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to—just take it outside. Ditch it, please—take this fucking thing outside … please—”

“We can’t. We did it. You took it and pissed on it. Just give it to me.”

But she wouldn’t hand it over. So I began reaching for it, trying to grab it, which caused her to hunch before tucking the piss-stick into the crush between her thighs and belly. But as I persisted, she relented, soon handing it to me. I then took the piss-stick, turned my back. And as I looked at it her voice was a vessel holding promises never granted despite how broken they felt: “Just take it outside … please … just throw it outside …”

* * *

I lift my head and look back out over the water, and the distance lays itself in me again. And though it feels like failure—the feeling heavy and coming and donning its greatness so dominantly over the lack of whatever is we wanted—I got to keep reminding myself that at least we tried. I got to keep telling myself that it all boils down to our trying—or to the fact that we sit in places between animals and gods in wonder at the space before our arriving.

We all struggle alone, and we often struggle between us: as couples, in familes, between friends. The source of our struggles mostly center on the things we don’t have, or the things we want that are impossible to have if only because everyone’s story is different. Everyone is not the same. And if we can celebrate the differences that are borne from what is missing in some but not in others, then the world could be more empty of fear.

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