Matthew Licht

The Essence

The doctor said, “Cancer.”

Silence fell. 

“Where is it, Doc?” 

“Where’s what?” Maybe he thought I meant, the Truth, the Meaning of Life, the gold. Even if he knew, he wouldn’t tell me.

“The cancer.”

“It’d be simpler to tell you where it’s not: the reproductive system.”

High school biology was a long time ago. “Could you please be more specific?”

“The gonads. Genitalia. Your cock and balls.”

He didn’t say how much time was left, but the implication was: not much.

Every human being wants to leave some trace of his existence behind. I should’ve painted a picture, or written a book, or welded some car-wrecks together. Too late now.

Life occasionally shows a sign. This is the Meaning. This is the Truth. This is where the gold is hidden. The sign next to The Sign said WE BUY GOLD$$$, but I had none to sell. I entered the Sperm Bank. 

The reception desk nurse didn’t even look up. She was reading a supermarket tabloid with UFOs on the cover. 

I cleared my throat a few times. 

She looked up, eyes glazed with wonder at the existence of heavenly beings who visit the Earth in sparkling streamlined spaceships. She could tell I wasn’t one of them. “What do you want?”

“This is a sperm bank, right? I want to donate.”

She had a good laugh. “You?”

“Payment in cash, please.”

Oh man I slew her. “We pay some donors.” She opened a drawer in the reception desk, scrounged around for petty cash. “How ‘bout uh, two bucks and 73 cents?”

“Hand it over,” I said. “I’ll go get a burger first. For energy.”

“We only pay on delivery, sir.”

“Where’s the delivery room?”

She jerked a thumb at a hospital-green curtain. “Take some fantasy material,” she said, and shoved a worn magazine across the desk.

“Listen,” I whispered. “We could do this together.”

“Huh?”

“Look, I don’t need dirty pictures. I want you.”

“What?”

“You’re a nurse. You’re supposed to help sick people. I have cancer.”

Her look said, I bought this nurse outfit at the Salvation Army. “I’ll bring you a hamburger when we’re done,” I said.

“Got yourself a deal, mister.”

Satan swung his scythe at my colon.

The donation chamber stank of sweat and embalming fluid. She shoved me in first, to prevent escape, and flicked on the light.

“Pull down your pants,” she said.

She sniggered. “Oh man I’ve seen cock-a-roaches in here bigger than that.”

“Gets bigger,” I said. “Open up your labcoat.”

“You lay a finger on me, I’ll put you in the emergency room.”

She could’ve KO’ed Sonny Liston. I got busy. Nothing doing.

“Turn around,” I said. “Hike your skirt and shake it.”

She laughed, but she did it. 

It was warm in the donation chamber. I unbuttoned my shirt.

“Oh sweet Jesus,” she said. “Have you ever even thought about taking a shower?”

“Hot water lowers the sperm count,” I said. “Didn’t they teach you that at Nurse College?”

“Hurry it up,” she said. “Somebody else might come in.”

“You want a rush job? Help me out.”

She reached for my thing like it was a foaming rat. She grunted and tried to get it hard, or tear it off. Sonny Liston would’ve begged for mercy. 

“Quit whining,” she said.

“It’s not gonna happen if you do it that way. Lube me.”

She hawked and spat. 

“Hey! That’s not what I…” Her lunger was magic. “Oh baby.”

“Yeah I know that’s why they hired me,” she said.

“You’re a goddess,” I said. “Wish we coulda…”

“Shut up and concentrate. My wrist gets tired easy.”

“Could I, like, touch you?”

“You wanna wind up in the morgue, go right ahead.”

The lightbulb frazzed and went out. 

“Hurry it up, fool,” she said. 

Holding back was never my strong suit. She slammed something hard onto my penis and unclenched. 

“Oooh-gah!”

The stuff of life squirted into an inanimate plastic tube.

“I love you” I whispered. 

“Sure. Now go get me that hamburger. I’m hungry.”

She didn’t think that what happened between us was love. But I fixed her. I ate both burgers. 

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