The vial of semen in the breast pocket of David’s denim jacket bounced against his chest as he walked down Harley Street. The heat pack next to it warmed his heart.
Everywhere rich people faded from hospital buildings that looked like grand houses into glistening cars and black cabs. A group of nurses huddled together for an illicit cigarette break.
David thought of the baby-photo profile picture of the man whose sperm he had bought online – donor 5288. Dark hair, brown eyes, grinning gap-toothed, all drool and dimples. He wondered what the man looked like now, who he had grown up to be. One of the rich men, perhaps. Or one of the taxi drivers. Or maybe they’d danced together in a nightclub; or he’d developed David’s photographs, cut his hair, fired him from one of the many jobs he’d lost.
A fat drop of water landed on David’s head. He stopped, looked up, surprised; the hot sun shone in an empty sky. Above him carnations hung in a wire pot that looked to be filled with dark straw rather than soil. It dripped again.
For most of the walk from Oxford Circus he’d had his head down against the sun’s glare but shading his eyes with his hand he now surveyed the heights of the street. Although at first it appeared to be all iron and stone, there was life everywhere. Flowers bloomed from troughs lining windowsills. Baskets hung from balconies, from lampposts and from the facades of buildings. Small trees stood in huge pots on either side of stone steps leading to glossy doors. Grasses and miniature hedges lined banisters. Succulents peeked from inside windows.
Someone bashed into him, then swore at him. He forgot that people didn’t appreciate dawdlers this far into the city. Flustered, he got confused by the one-way system when he tried to cross the road. A van beeped at him. His instinct was to swear at the driver, but by the time he’d gathered the nerve, the van was gone.
There were as many vans as there were plants, scattered around the street. White transits, big box vans, small caddies, a Royal Mail van pulled up on the curb with its hazard lights blinking. Their drivers dipped in and out of buildings like bees whirring from flower to flower.
Then there were chauffeurs, shop assistants, builders, hospital cleaners hauling sheets from cars, and the gardeners, perched on baffling ladders angling strange hoses and tools at the plants on windowsills.
The door of the sperm clinic was navy. He rang the buzzer, and after a few moments, the door was unlocked to let him in. The receptionist didn’t look him in the eye, just gave him some forms on a clipboard and asked him to take a seat.
He’d never been inside a private hospital before. The chairs were the same tacky vinyl and metal as in his GP’s waiting room, but there were real lilies in a vase on a table and a wrought iron fireplace. On the mantlepiece a lone orchid was dying. Its blossoms drooped as if in mourning, the green stick holding them up was livelier than the flowers.
He turned to the forms, which asked for much of the same information as the application he had filled out online a few weeks before.
David is Caucasian. His mother is English. His father was Russian. His eyes are brown. His skin is tanned. He is agnostic. He has a degree in photography. (True).
He has two children. A fiancée. He is a professional photographer. There’s no history of heart conditions, cancer, mental health problems or cognitive or hereditary disability in his family. (False).
He is five foot ten. (A slight exaggeration).
He gave the receptionist the forms and waited, thinking of the photograph of donor 5288. It was a good photograph, the baby on a sunny sofa, half closed curtains creating a natural vignette. He wished he’d been the one to take it.
The doctor was thick-set and middle-aged, with heavy black eyebrows and light brown skin. He wore a white lab coat and expensive, gold-rimmed glasses.
“David? I’m Dr Demir.” He had the trace of an accent David couldn’t place. Middle eastern maybe. He shook David’s hand. “If you’d follow me.” They climbed broad, curving, cream carpeted stairs. The bannister was soft and cool under his hand.
At the top of the stairs a heavily freckled man wearing a Spurs FC polo shirt tucked into jeans, a huge ring of keys attached to his belt, straightened a framed print of a sunflower. “This is Greg, our maintenance man. Most important man in the building is Greg,” said Dr Demir.
“I wish they’d bloody pay me like I was,” said Greg in an Irish accent without a trace of humor. Dr Demir laughed gaily as if he was not included in ‘they’.
In the doctor’s office heavy curtains blocked the heat and noise of outside. It gave the room the same quality as David’s mother’s house, where words never lingered, being sucked instead into the soft acoustics of the building.
On the doctor’s desk a pink orchid thrived beside stiff pictures of his wife and four children. “What brings you here today, David? Why would you like to be a donor?” asked Dr Demir.
“I’d like to help people, you know, people who want to have children but can’t. The money is a bonus of course, I’m saving for a wedding,” he smiled, “but mainly I want people to have what I do.”
Dr Demir glanced at the form. “You have children yourself?”
“Yes, boys, two and four,” he rolled his eyes, “they can be a bit wild but they’re lovely lads.” David pulled out his phone and showed the doctor a picture of him with his two young cousins.
“They look just like you,” said Dr Demir. “Do boys run in your family?”
“I suppose they do.”
Dr Demir made a note. “And what does your partner think of this?”
“Sarah. She’s supportive. Her sister struggled with getting pregnant.”
Dr Demir asked David many of the questions that he had already filled out, on the website and downstairs. David almost believed the answers himself by now.
“It seems all is in order. I’m going to take you downstairs for a basic physical examination, height, weight and so on. Then we need urine and sperm samples. If you’re successful we’ll have you back for blood work and next steps including a psychological examination. I don’t know if you saw on our website but only 5-10% of men meet donor requirements, so don’t be disappointed if we can’t take you forward. It’s nothing to worry about, you already have children, but we need particularly high sperm counts and sample sizes. Any questions?”
“When will I know by?”
“You’ll get results in around two weeks. Is email OK?”
They went back down the stairs, then down again, into the basement. Quite unlike the upstairs it was a hard place. Air conditioning blew in full force. David shivered. Glass walls and doors, some clear, some opaque, some clear at the top and opaque at the bottom, segmented the space into a multitude of rooms. The black and white chequered tiles of the floor, matt steel counters, glass walls, and silver door handles created a house of mirrors effect.
The doctor lead David into a room with clouded glass walls. Inside it was like any doctor’s room; a bed, a desk, a computer, and various cabinets and files. Dr Demir measured his height, weight and blood pressure, then gave him two sample pots, one labeled urine, the other sperm, with his patient number, 87890, printed underneath. Did this mean nearly 90,000 men had been here before him? For all he knew donor 5288 could have been one of them. Sharp envy bloomed in his stomach.
“The toilets are the second door on the left. The sample room the third door on the right. When you’re done leave the samples at reception and we’ll take them from there. Any questions?”
No questions, only hopes, fears. “No, it was nice to meet you.”
“You too David. You too.”
Dr Demir shook his hand as they left the room then walked towards a scowling Greg who began complaining loudly about the state of the carnations in the hanging baskets outside.
Metal and porcelain glowed under the fluorescent lights in the bathroom. As David stood by a urinal Greg came in. “Don’t mind me,” said Greg and began to urinate indulgently.
David wore a packer that allowed him to pee standing up, so without much adjustment his urine flowed from his urethra through it and into the cup. He slipped it back into his boxers, zipped up his black jeans, screwed the lid onto the cup and placed it by one of the three sinks on the opposite wall to wash his hands.
Greg washed his big, calloused hands at the far sink and nodded. “Good luck.”
Urine in one hand, empty cup in the other, David opened several dark offices before finding the sample room. Some effort had been made to make the room homely. A vase of red roses sat on a coffee table in front of a leather sofa – a romantic gesture. The wall opposite the door was painted forest green, a Henri Rousseau print of a tiger stalking through a jungle at its centre. A bowl of potpourri rested on a cabinet, just like the bowl that sat on the chest of drawers in his childhood bedroom in Milton Keynes, where he was once again living.
He was grateful for his mother’s easy welcome, that she hadn’t fussed as he carried his few belongings up the stairs to his bedroom, but the room had long since shed any trace of him. The bowl of potpourri, the smell of it mixed with that of damp clothes, was his mother’s. As were the lilac tartan sheets she’d put on his single bed. The shelf that ran across the top of the room, packed with black ring binders stored her recipes, notes, sheets of music, pictures of David as an infant covered in porridge, pictures of him as a teenage girl, scowling. He didn’t begrudge his mother her memories of having a daughter, but they were her memories, not his. The condensation that ran down the single paned window in the morning was hers. The view over the allotment behind the house, framing the people cultivating, digging, watering, resting – it all belonged to her.
The only things of his were his laptop, camera, phone, the clothes in the chest of drawers, and the dicks in the suitcase under the bed.
Somewhere along the line he had lost count of his dicks. He had royal purple dicks, pearly pink dicks, even a burgundy one that looked like a tentacle. He had thick veiny dicks, smooth dicks, nine inch dicks and five inch dicks, both small and big flopper packers, some that hardened when he inserted a metal rod, and an ultra expensive, ultra realistic one that showered water out when he squeezed the tip.
But none of them carried him, carried life. Perhaps if they did, he would be happy and he wouldn’t be stuck in his mother’s house hiding dicks under the bed.
A small television was mounted on the wall of the sample room, a few DVD’s beside it. David put one on, and the room was filled with fake moans and cheesy electronic music. A trailer flashed outdated porno; a woman with huge tits and long blonde hair in a Bay Watch costume kissed an anonymous penis. An overly muscled man handcuffed a woman to a bed frame. A woman wearing empty framed glasses and a tie was bent over a desk. David turned down the volume and looked at the magazines sitting next to the potpourri. Similarly white, hetero porn filled the pages.
He sat down on the edge of the sofa and retrieved the vial of sperm from his jacket. It looked like the thin icing that formed a shell over the birthday cakes his mum made when he was a child. He unscrewed the lid and poured it into the cup marked sperm and waited for a few minutes, watching the Bay Watch woman run, slow motion, down the beach and into a shack, where a surfer was waiting for her. Before they got started David switched off the TV and left the room, both cups in hand, one opaque white, one pale yellow.
As he turned into the hallway Greg bumped into him and he nearly dropped them. “Careful lad,” said Greg, “important stuff in there.”
The reception was empty apart from a small plastic box on the counter with a printed sign that read: Leave samples here. He hesitated for a moment, then smiled, what did he think would happen? Someone would steal them? Swap them? They were barely his anyway. He placed them carefully in the box then left.
He saw a woman emerge from the egg bank opposite smiling. Her hair and eyes shone with hope. David felt hopeless. She caught his eye and smiled at him, as if they were colluding on a great plan. Everywhere flowers wilted in the heat.
When he got home, he found his mother absent mindedly frying onions, cigarette smoke hovering around her before being sucked up by the extractor fan.
“You shouldn’t smoke mum,” he said, kissing her on the cheek.
“I’m fine love.” She waved away smoke but not his annihilating fear of losing her. “How’d the interview go?”
“Alright, I’m not sure I want it much. It’s just taking pictures of places for an estate agent. Anyway I probably won’t get it.”
“A job’s a job. When d’you hear?”
“Not for a while.”
“I’m sure you’ll get it; you always took such nice pictures.”
Two weeks later he received an email from the clinic. “We regret to inform that you have not been successful at this time…” His sperm count wasn’t high enough. He could call back for more details.
He looked out of the window at the allotment. A man struggled to dig the dry, hard soil.
Sian Bride is a Jewish non-binary person from South West London. They got their PhD in English Literature in 2017, left academia, and became a post-person. The kind that delivers mail, not the kind that isn’t a person any more. When not putting things through people’s doors around Croydon they can be found writing, playing punk music, and coveting dogs.
Photo is by Deon Black at Let’s Talk Sex