Interior Design

Interior Design

 by Nick Milligan

Lily stirred her cappuccino, looking at the small piece of cutlery in her hand. Walter watched her. His long black needed little attention. He didn’t take sugar. Nor did he believe that stirring a coffee cooled it any faster than just letting it stand.

“So, there’s something I need to talk to you about,” she said, brushing a portion of her short blonde hair away from her face, still stirring with the other hand. She tucked the lock of hair behind her ear, though it wouldn’t stay long. She had her hair cut a week ago. Rather than hang down her back, now it barely went past her chin. She seemed hesitant. Unrelaxed.

“Alright,” smiled Walter. “What is it?”

“I have…” said Lily, still looking down. “I’ve decided that I’d like to have a baby.”

As Lily uttered the four-letter word, she glanced up. A fleeting assessment of Walter’s reaction.

Their Friday lunches together were usually a casual affair, designed to unwind rather than burden each other. Walter realised that this wouldn’t be one of those lunches. The general rule was that they couldn’t talk business. But this was business of a very different kind.

“Serious?” he asked. It’s all he could think to say. But then he followed it with, “That’s a big decision.”

Walter pondered how Lily might go about his, because she was single. His work-mate was attractive and very intelligent. He had no doubt that equally intelligent men were quite intimidated by her. Men of a lesser intelligence, blessed with ignorance, did not understand her diverse prowess. They approached her in bars as they would any woman, seeing only the flesh on her bones.

“It is,” said Lily, nodding and putting the spoon down. She lifted the cappuccino to her lips.

“So what brought this on?” asked Walter.

“You know how my sister and her partner had a baby a few months back?” asked Lily, returning her cup to its saucer.

Walter nodded. “Yeah, they had a little girl, didn’t they?”

“Daphne,” nodded Lily. “She looks like a Daphne too. So little and cute. Big blue eyes. I’ve been visiting her a bit lately. I’ve also babysitted her a few times. I had to look after her the other day for an hour or so while Tess and Bill went for some meeting with their bank.”

Walter picked up his long black and sensing it was still very hot, took only a quick taste. “And while you’ve been looking after the baby… you’ve started to feel clucky?”

“Ha, yeah, I guess so,” smiled Lily. “I don’t know. Daphne is just the most gorgeous thing I’ve ever seen. When I was looking after her, the thought just popped into my head. I haven’t been able to shake it. It’s so weird. It’s almost overwhelming.”

“Right,” said Walter, pondering on two thoughts.

On one hand he was quite flattered that Lily would confide this in him. They were good friends and their relationship was a healthily platonic one, despite the fact that they had kissed at a staff Christmas party two years ago. It was a drunken exchange and when work resumed a few days later they acted normally. There was a silent acknowledgement when they saw each other in the morning, some faint glimmer of guilt, but they never discussed it and life went on.

On the other hand, as chuffed as he was that Lily was sharing her desire for motherhood, he also felt very out of his depth. Walter wasn’t sure that he could offer anything other than a kind ear, because he assumed that a woman’s maternal instincts were as untameable as a man’s sexual proclivities. Neither was borne of calm logic.

“What do you think?” asked Lily. “Am I being crazy?”

“No, definitely not,” said Walter. “I don’t think it’s crazy.”

“I’m thirty-two. Nearly thirty-three. I know people are having babies later in life. Or not at all. But I don’t want to be thirty-five years older than my kids. I’ll be dead when they’re middle-aged.”

“I can understand that,” said Walter. “But I guess you have to make sure you’re totally ready. It would mean taking a long break from work.”

“I could definitely kiss that promotion goodbye.”

“Maybe, but you’ve got your whole life to get promotions. Don’t let that sway your decision.”

Lily smiled. She then took another sip of her coffee.

“What is it?” asked Walter. “I’m serious.”

“I know you’re serious. I just… I was certain you would talk me out of this.”

Walter sipped his own coffee again, which was now drinkable. “I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t want to convince you one way or the other. It’s a massive, life-changing decision. I’m not qualified to be advising you on this.”

A young male waiter, built like a beanpole, appeared next to them and asked if they were ready to order any food.

“I’ll have the chicken panini,” said Walter, “and could you please hold the bacon?”

“Absolutely,” smiled the waiter, taking his menu. “And for you?” he asked Lily.

“Um,” she said, scanning the menu. “I think I might just stick with my coffee for the moment.” She closed the menu and handed it to him.

“Not a problem,” smiled the waiter and left.

“You’re not eating?” asked Walter.

“I’m not too hungry,” said Lily. “I had a big breakfast.”

“Right,” said Walter. There was a brief pause then he asked, “Let’s say, hypothetically, you decide to have a baby. You lock it in to the agenda. How exactly would you go about doing it?”

“I’ve thought about it,” said Lily. “And I think I’d have to get a donor.”

Lily had dated a few guys over the two years Walter had known her. The longest relationship lasted eight months. One had been a painter. Not the artistic kind. Another had been an interior decorator. He designed some furniture too. They were the sort of suitors a lady architect came across in her line of work. Walter’s opinion of them wasn’t glowing. Both had a similar dry arrogance, which was what Lily was clearly attracted to. Walter was a little dry. He liked to think he was more confident than arrogant, but he knew the two were often mistaken for the other. Lily had dated another man for a few months, but Walter had never met him. They split before he had the honour.

“A donor, right,” said Walter. “Well, you know, in today’s modern world there’s no reason why a woman can’t be a single mother.”

Lily smiled at him with the look she used when his level of sarcasm was being determined. Then she said something that Walter was not expecting.

“I’d like you to be the donor.”

Walter emitted a sound somewhere between a laugh and a scoff. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t mean to freak you out. It’s a totally weird thing to ask. But… when I was thinking about it, it occurred to me that you have the qualities that I’d be looking for.”

“Me? No, you don’t want me. I mean… are you being serious?”

Lily just shrugged, blushing a little. “I’m sorry. It’s crazy. Pretend I didn’t say anything.”

“Not sure I can do that,” said Walter.

“Well, don’t then. Just think about it. You should be flattered.”

“I am, don’t get me wrong. It’s just not something I’ve ever had to process.”

“That’s fine, I obviously wasn’t expecting an immediate answer.”

“But why me? What qualities do I have?”

“Walter, you’re like…” said Lily, hesitating. “In a strange kind of way … you’re the perfect guy.”

“I’m a perfect guy?”

“Yeah. You’re intelligent, good-looking and creative. You’re not a serial killer either.”

“As far as you’re aware.”

“You’re sometimes witty.”

“If I’m so perfect than why haven’t you asked me out?”

“Firstly, we’re friends. That’s important. Secondly, I don’t want to date a perfect guy. I want imperfections in a boyfriend and perfection in the genetics of my child.”

Walter felt like Lily’s “perfect” summation of him was a backhanded compliment. He didn’t feel anywhere near as chuffed as he should. He was, however, being asked to donate DNA. This was an unexpected honour.

“So how would this work exactly?” asked Walter.

“You mean how would you donate?”

Walter nodded, taking another sip on his coffee.

“Well there’s lots of ways, but you’d probably have to go into the sperm bank I guess.”

“I don’t know if I like that idea.”

“Why not?”

“Because … some nurse shows you to a room of pornography. Then you hand her a jar of semen. That… that just doesn’t feel like a normal situation.”

“It’s not a big deal.”

“I don’t want someone being aware of the fact that I’ve masturbated.”

Lily gave Walter a bemused look and then let out a slight laugh. “Walter, doesn’t every guy masturbate? I don’t think women, especially sperm bank nurses, are under any illusion.”

“Women can assume what they like but until I hand one a screw-top jar of cum, they can never know for sure.”

“Alright, Walter, that as it may be, this would be different because you would be doing it for honourable reasons. The nurse would know that on this particular occasion you were doing a noble thing and helping a friend potentially conceive the future prime minister of our country.”

Walter considered this for a moment and then voiced the real reason why he didn’t like the sperm bank idea.

“It just feels like a very … impersonal way to get you pregnant,” said Walter.

Lily studied him for a moment, her expression unreadable. Then she said, “Well, it’s the only way.”

“Really?”

“Yes!” said Lily. “What other way would there be?”

“Well, I don’t know. If you value my DNA so much that you want it to contribute fifty per cent to the genetic make-up of your baby, then perhaps we should do this in a more traditional way.”

“Traditional?” asked Lily, eyebrows raised. “You mean you want me to have sex with you.”

“What’s not traditional about that?”

Lily shook her head. “Unbelievable.”

“What?” asked Walter, trying not to grin. “What’s unbelievable about that?”

“I honestly thought that your response, even if you said no, would be more mature.”

“Mature?” asked Walter. He glanced around the other tables, where business people chattered and bargained, making sure that no one was listening. Then he leant closer and said in a softer voice, “Firstly, I didn’t offer you my semen. You’ve asked for it. Secondly, even if it’s a one night stand, most mothers find the fathers of their children attractive enough to have sex with them at least once.”

Walter knew how Lily looked when she was annoyed. This was one of those instances. She sipped her coffee again, looking away.

“Alright,” said Walter. “Forget I said anything. I’m just being a jerk. Give me some time to think about it.”

“Take your time,” said Lily. “And don’t tell anyone either.”

“You want me to keep a lid on it?” asked Walter.

“Funny,” replied Lily, with a generous helping of sarcasm.

They sat there in silence, their thoughts heavy in the air, and watched the people around them. Walter’s panini arrived. The bacon was still on it but he started eating it anyway.

It occurred to Walter that no matter what he did in his life, whatever his achievements, a child would at least see him continue in some capacity. That a child, raised by him or not, would be like cheating death. Like storing part of his soul in a time capsule. Preserving it.

“So how would it work?” he asked. “You would obviously have full custody and it would be your kid. But would he or she know who I am?”

“I wouldn’t have a problem with them knowing who you are. I think that would be important,” replied Lily. “But you wouldn’t have any of the financial burden or parental responsibility.”

Walter mulled over this for a second. “You definitely don’t want to wait to find a … partner or a husband?”

“I might never find that person,” said Lily. “I’m not going to wait any longer.”

“Sounds like you’ve made up your mind.”

“I can’t ignore it.”

Walter sighed. “Okay, I’ll do it. I’m in. So to speak.”

“Think about it properly,” said Lily. “There are a lot of things to consider.”

“Not really. It’s a flattering offer. So I’ll do it.”

“Serious?”

“Yes.”

Lily smiled. “I’m going to chat to my lawyer friend in a week, so there is time to change your mind.”

“Alright,” said Walter, deciding to take the rest of his lunch to work. He then pulled his wallet from his pocket. “We should pay and get back to the office. They’re waiting on the draft of that blueprint.”

N. Milligan. Copyright 2012.

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