Your partner liked to put on her kimono afterwards.
It was your habit, developed back when you had roommates, to put on pants and a tank top, your most basic uniform, and go downstairs. Sometimes you cuddled your partner first. Since you’d started insemination, you had made a point of staying wrapped up with her for a count of 120. A silent count.
You washed the syringe out before throwing it away because the first time you guys had used the donor sperm, you hadn’t washed out the syringe and your kitchen garbage smelled funky the next morning. The vials, you were rinsing and keeping at the back of a cupboard shelf too high for your partner to see, even when standing on the kitchen stool. You had labels sitting around in a desk drawer and you’d been writing little notes to attach to each one. Date. Weather. Smell (of semen). Feeling (before, during, or afterward). Today you wrote, “Oct. 7. Raining. Damp earth and steamed broccoli. Fine, nearly lonely.” You thought about crossing out nearly. Then you thought about crossing out lonely.
The fridge was empty and no amount of standing with the door open changed that. You called up the stairs, “I’m going to the store. You want anything?”
She was probably asleep.
Outside, wind was blowing the rain around. You closed the front door and went upstairs to grab a sweater and some warm socks. Your partner was rolled over, her chest rising and falling with the rhythm of gentle waves. You were hungry. The socks you chose had holes and the sweater was pungent with body odour.
Downstairs again, you grabbed a toque, your heavy rubber raincoat and your Blundstones.
You dropped your keys on the front step. Their metallic clatter complimented the sound of the blowing trees and the rain’s wash.
You walked quickly, with your shoulders up. There was a booty on the sidewalk, fallen from a passing stroller, you guessed. It seemed like over the past eleven months, there’d been a serious increase in strollers in this neighbourhood. You picked the soaked booty up and put it on the lowest of a pair of nearby concrete steps.
The Seven Eleven sign shined white, green, orange and red light through the rain drops as they streaked past. The raised concrete walkway under the convenience store’s overhang welcomed your wet soles. A pigeon pecked at a patch of trampled bubble gum.
Sandeep was working the night shift and he greeted you happily. Your response prompted him to ask, “What is wrong? Everything is okay with Mary, I hope?”
“She’s fine, yeah. Sorry. The weather.” You tried on a smile.
“It’s a fine night, friend.”
“Yes, of course.”
The Slurpee machine’s motor churned and groaned. You caught a reflection of yourself in the ATM’s burned out sign. The skin around your mouth was less smooth than you remembered it. Your aunt in Charlotte had cherub sculptures around the outside of her old stone home, their faces pocked by acid rain. It wasn’t that bad, you knew. The skin was not wrinkled or scarred, certainly, but visibly aged. Transitioning to old.
You were standing by the chips, holding a bag of Doritos in one hand and a bag of Ketchup chips in the other, when this guy came in. Through a row of Pringles, you watched him pull a Slurpee into an extra-large cup and tried to sort out what it was about him that recalled Dad’s old friend, Jeremy Taylor, who’d had a perm through the eighties and thought men wearing pink was a gateway to a world of catastrophic queerness.
“Jake,” a woman called. She was leaning against the doorframe, her pregnant belly pressing against its brown metal. “Get me some chips, too. Dill pickle or something.” She made a face. “You left this awful taste in my mouth.”
“Nice,” Jake said. He held a hand out towards you then Sandeep. “Like they needed to hear that.”
The woman looked at you. “Sorry,” she mouthed. Or maybe whispered. She waved at Sandeep, then went back outside.
You smelled him before you saw Jake standing there. “Excuse me,” he said, leaning past you and grabbing a large, green and blue chip bag. You turned your head to try and get clear of the wafting semen. “Thanks,” he said. You nodded and pressed your lips together to smile. “Have a good night,” he said, laughing.
When you got to the counter, Sandeep commented on how unusual it was for you to buy regular ruffled chips.
“Something different, I guess,” you said.
“Variety is the spice, isn’t that how it goes?”
The rain had gotten worse. You took off your outdoor things and your pants in the front hall and walked slowly up the stairs, grabbing handfuls of chips from the bag and holding them to your mouth. You picked each chip up with your tongue and turned it over to find its saltiest side.
It always took the shower a minute of running to warm up. A towel folded on your knee, you sat naked beside your piled clothes and remembered the sound of your parents bathing in the minutes before they would wake you for school, the dawn light glowing through the Venetian blinds on your bedroom windows.
When your partner woke you, you were curled up on the bathmat, the towel pulled over you, the shower running cold, all hot water long since fallen. Outside, the sun was penetrating the blue, cloudless sky. The rain was inside now, fighting to get out through your eyes. Your partner’s kimono was sleep wrinkled. The half-eaten bag of chips reminded you of last night.
You asked your partner to tell you again about the donor. She sat down on the toilet, ran her fingers through your hair and explained who he was like she was describing you, like she was describing the person you wanted your child, possibly now conceived, to be.
Toronto, ON, September 2015
Emoji sequence: Leah Vine
Story: Lee Sheppard