The Equation

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The Equation by Victoria Redel

I have waited for you on the unclean floors of strange bathrooms with my legs lifted, thrown back in the air. I have kept my legs raised for twenty minutes while semen traveled — passing through blocks and canals, the waving strands of cilia — in their upward search. On the other side of a shut door, a man, perhaps this one is the architect selected for the intelligent set of his brown eyes, dozes satisfied on a bed.

I have left the rooms of a Tom and a Peter, a Hans and a Flavio, men with names I could not even pronounce and men whose names I never learned. Architect, painter, roofer, botanist. They were my ready, sharpened tools. Careful to choose only men whose genetic flowering showed something splendid, I still had rather sufficient choice and each embodied a perfection — a gymnast’s muscular back, a pianist’s great reaching hands, a logician’s classifying mind, a tongue that rolled through the dark hills of Catalonia.

Walking through streets, museums, restaurants, libraries, I was like the great jewelers of the Byzantine sorting through full sacks of stones, saying, “No, not this one, too dull, without texture. I need to choose from more,” and culling only a small collection of the extraordinary, the luminous, the ultimate.

That was how it was for me selecting the fathers.

I was the shrewd jeweler with the sharp eye and I was the rattlesnake who stores seven years of her mating to produce offspring. My body with its honed cycle of preparation and expulsion of the ovum. The ovum, the largest cell in the body, its hazardous journey toward the waiting nest of blood.

At first it surprised me that once the selection was made, the pickup was always swift. I had no clever technique. It was that simple. There was no need to primp or stain my lips to draw men to me. I stunned them. I was made stunning by my desire for you.

However, I have jumped ahead. Initially, I contacted a company, a donor bank. They sent lists, pages of pure information. The clean facts. Height and eye color. Medical history. Fair Danish skin. Blue-eyed Israeli, black-eyed Portuguese. It seemed clean. So purely mine. I could stay in my own room. I sifted through the facts. Selected donor 126. A check was sent to the donor bank and then I waited, wondering how they would deliver the frozen seed.

But when it arrived, I grew uneasy. What arrived was a large corrugated box from which I pulled a heavy metal canister filled with dry ice. From a center shaft hung the five vials of number 126’s donated semen. I felt squeamish. What exactly was I getting? How could I be certain? What if they had mixed things up, so that the small vials that I pulled from dry ice were not the donor sperm I had selected?

Alone in my room, I went through with the five inseminations. There was no disappointment, given my dubious purchase, when conception did not occur. Rather, it was a relief.

The next month I sent away for nothing.

What I wanted was only you, the ropey muscles from this runner, the precise hands of the violinist, the builder’s vision, the historian’s crooked smile, all the men that I brought into me to make this child that I would cherish.

I was determined to be swift, discriminating and reckless.

I am not being entirely coy or contemptuous but it was easy to secure the contributions. Decidedly none for these men would have been a man with whom I might have carried on a sustained union.

What is natural is only the bond between a mother and a child. I was not a brooder, sitting on a nest needing a helpful husband to bring anything home.

I never wanted a house and I never wanted a husband.

He said, “I’ll see you again, right? What about Saturday? There’s a performance of Mozart’s Requiem.” He spoke through the shut bathroom door. I was on his tile floor, my legs lifted and crossed in the air, the floor tiles sticky against my back, and I closed my eyes so that I could avoid the cluttered shelves, the mold-spotted ceiling. Clearly he had not been chosen for his cleanliness or his organization. I spotted him during intermission at the symphony. He was a dancer the way he glided through the crowd.

I check my watch. Ten more minutes.

With a tentative knock on the door, the dancer said, “Are you still in there or what?”

“Sure,” I said hoping it might pass for an answer to anything asked. Eight minutes. My hands slid deeper under my elevated buttocks, propping up the tilted pelvis.

This was his chance to join in as a father. I was not the first woman to do this, I reminded myself. The traditional South American lowland societies functioned with partible paternity. Aside from the tribe’s belief that more than one possible biological father might ensure a child’s survival — a tribal philosophy of I-better-feed-this-kid-it-might-be-mine — there was also the belief that multiple ejaculations from different sources produced a sturdier child. My child would be made not of one man, but of the best of each of the men. I imagined on my child the long, sure legs of this man, the strange way he moved on land as if he belonged in water. I fancied that I could almost feel the working glide of his sperm, lean-legged swimmers racing through thick waters.

“I will be right out,” I said pulling myself onto my knees, though it was sooner than I wanted to get up. But standing up off of his dirty bathroom floor felt good, and it felt good, too, the water on my eyes, and in my mouth, and the splash of water on my neck and water on my breasts. I would have wanted to keep going, cleaning myself, rinsing myself free of him or of what of him I could not use. But I needed to walk out there, into his room, say whatever I needed to say, in order to vanish.





My not knowing

No charting basal temperature. No attempt to calculate ovulation. No checking under the microscope to see if the vaginal mucus was ferning. That was my decision after I gave up the donor bank. Just men. Selecting men without regard to possible danger. I wanted at least enough men so that there could be no calculating backwards to recall a single face wrenched in the lost pleasure of his ejaculation. There would be no one face made loveliest to me as I proclaimed him father. Always more than one, two or better still, a blur of chosen male faces in the months I made a child.


And, just as I suppose that a hunter crouched at dawn, waiting to see the pricked-up antlers, the flicked white tail, must come to love the beast, I loved every one. The slant of a forehead, the bone structure of a face, a train of thought, the line of a man’s calf. I was in the woods just outside the grazing herd. I was out there with hunger like a thrill through my body.


Nights, back in my empty rooms, I read about spiders and snakes, the mating practices of animals that were seldom tender. Even the lovely butterfly had less courtship than attack. I imagined the bright monarch in its pinned night-long copulation. And then there were nights, a man’s hand pressed against the small of my back, I was not the orange-vested hunter, but the beast, who too had killed, like every predator, with appetite and need.


The slope of shoulders. The open laugh and tilt of a chin. I saw the men for the boys they had been. I saw them for the way their faces might shift, becoming the face of a girl.

The roofer told me as he entered me that he wanted a wife. He had kept one wife a little while. “Now,” he whispered, his mouth damp against ear, “I want a wife forever.”


We were on a makeshift bed in his rambley, unfinished house. He had a face so beautiful I had made my selection seeing him walk up the aisle of the hardware store. He moved slowly trying to establish a rhythm with me.


I moved quickly.


“Slow down or you’ll lose me,” he whispered. “I want this to last. Let me give you more.” His body was steady, easy, domestic.


He touched my hair, saying, “I’ll take care of you,” and “Yes, that’s my baby.” His hands slipped under to hold my ass. He pulled close so that I was forced to move with him. Slower, until we were not moving at all. “Yes,” he said, “yes.”


I said, “No. Let me show you something.” Anything to get above him. First he held me below him, his hands snugging me up tightly against him. Then he let me turn him so that I sat on him. I posted up and down. The danger buzzer rang: fast, fast, get it and get away from this man fast.


“Slow it down, baby. You’re going to lose me,” he said.


“I need you in me,” I whispered. “Please, let yourself be in me.” I watched his eyes flicker shut, just little slits of white at the bottom. I watched his face as I lifted then lowered myself. His features each so exact they seemed to have a precise drawn outline.


He had been a wonderful choice.


After, he drifted, surfacing to whisper into my neck, “Baby, you took everything.”


Fast. Fast. Get away fast.

From Loverboy by Victoria Redel, published by Graywolf Press. Copyright © 2001 by Victoria Redel. By permission of Victoria Redel and the Charlotte Sheedy Literary Agency.



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