‘Brian’ (An excerpt from ‘A Time for Grace’)
I sit on a couch, alone in a room. I can hear muttering close by. Then I hear laughter. I look around, but Suse is nowhere to be seen. The room is empty.
From the left, an older lady with a straight grey bob enters the room. She perches on the edge of the couch, holding a sheet of paper and peering at me over the top of her glasses. A little smirk plays at the edge of her lips. She places a consolatory hand on my knee.
“Mr Nethercote,” she begins, “there seems to be a problem with your sample.”
I look at her, trying to force a response. Nothing comes.
“You see,” she continues, now barely suppressing a grin, “your sperm have no heads. Every single one of your sperm is just a tail. Your sperm are retarded. The problem is you.”
I gasp as I wake. Or I wake to the gasp, I’m not sure. I look around the room, disorientated. The clock says 2.33am. My arms and torso are bathed in sweat, as is my groin, where my headless sperm remain, locked away. As my eyes adjust, I make out Suse in the bed beside me, sleeping quietly.
I get up to change my long-sleeved shirt for a T-shirt. I walk to the kitchen for a drink, empty my bladder, and return to the darkness of the bedroom. The image of the woman appears in my head again, still leering. I didn’t think it was possible, but the act of masturbating into a cup is playing on my mind. It’s a curious day when my most important job is to jerk off.
I startle as a few synapses fire and make another connection: it is our due date. Today is the day our baby would have been born.
I don’t really want to be in a room where men masturbate all day either, honey…
Suse and I enter the hospital’s familiar back entrance, ride the familiar lifts, round the familiar corridor, and walk past the familiar seats. We approach the front desk.
“How can we help?” she asks.
“I need to give a sample this morning.”
“Next door in Andrology.”
Ten metres down the hall is a counter with a bell, and down a short, tight corridor are two more doors featuring the universal male toilet symbol: Room One and Room Two. Directly opposite the counter are seated two men, one of whom is wearing a trench coat. I shit you not.
I look at the two men, flicking through women’s magazines from last decade. And then I see her: sitting behind the counter is an older woman, purple gloves on her hands, her grey hair cut into a bob. She smiles slightly. A shiver runs down my spine.
“May I help you?”
“I’m here for a semen analysis,” I say, trying to pitch my voice somewhere between embarrassed whisper and soulful declaration.
“Join the club,” she says, without looking up. “Path slip?”
“Oh shit.” I look at Suse.
“Where is it?” she asks.
“On the floor of the study,” I answer.
“I’ll be back in 15 minutes. I’ll be waiting out here.”
That solves that one. Ten minutes before, I’d suggested to Suse that she might like to be in the room with me, should I need… support. I’d even suggested that we could have sex and attempt withdrawal method to solve my lubricant dilemma.
She’d looked at me, wide-eyed: “You can’t be serious. You’re landing this one on me in the car on the way to the hospital?”
“I just thought that ––”
“–– I don’t want be in a room where men masturbate all day.”
“Well, I don’t really want to be in a room where men masturbate all day either, honey.”
The discussion stopped dead. Sharing, as we were, a lift with a one-legged man in a wheelchair, it just didn’t seem appropriate to press the point.
Back in Andrology, Suse kisses me quickly on the lips.
“Good luck, honey,” she says, leaving the room quicker than I’ve ever seen her move.
I look back at the woman behind the counter. She hands me a clipboard. “Fill out the paperwork, Mr Nethercote, and tell me when you’re done.”
With that, a door flies open. A man emerges from Room Two, swaggering like a cowboy. He slams his yellow-topped container on the counter with a thunk, as you would an empty glass when you’ve just sculled a pint.
“Thanks, Cheryl,” he says, without even breaking stride.
“See you next time, Brian,” she says.
‘A Time for Grace’, which will be released on March 13, 2017, is a heart-warming and uplifting story of love, loss and the miracle of IVF, from a man’s-eye-view, written by Dr Mark Nethercote, a paediatrician who couldn’t have kids (and now has two). Pre-order signed copies of the book here.