Content warning: mentions of sex
A pair of disembodied genitals were frantically copulating on the wing of the plane. In the cabin, my fellow passengers were in hysterics. Mothers were shielding their children’s eyes. Perverts were enjoying the aeronautical erotica; filming it with their phones. An incensed mother, sitting in front of me, buzzed the flight attendant. ‘How could you be so irresponsible?’ She asked. ‘You allowed at least two passengers without Securi-pants onboard. Check for anyone who is sleeping and wake them up!’
The flight attendant dashed behind a blue curtain and rallied her colleagues. The cabin crew feverishly checked every row for sleeping passengers, but everyone was awake. Those who were asleep had been nudged awake, so they wouldn’t miss the freak show outside. Some called it a miracle of nature; some called it an abomination. But it was really happening. Now there was no denying it.
‘Madam, everyone on this flight was scanned and verified at the terminal. These genitals likely belong to someone who isn’t onboard,' the flight attendant said.
The mother kept her hands over her child’s eyes. ‘Have you checked the bathrooms? Do it now!’
The flight attendant knocked on the lavatory door; when no one answered, she took out an emergency key and unlocked it. An unconscious man flopped onto the aisle with his trousers around his ankles. He was a narcoleptic who’d forgotten to take his amphetamines and fallen asleep in the toilet whilst trying to join the mile-high club with his partner—also a narcoleptic. When the couple simultaneously drifted off, their exhibitionist genitalia continued copulating on the wing of the plane—albeit in a more daring, acrobatic fashion.
So it was true; everything I had been told by the lunatic CEO of Securi-pants when he visited me in the remote Caribbean mere days ago. Welcome back to civilisation, I thought.
Touching down in Manchester, I rented a car and drove to Oldham; to the house that Sam and I once shared. Seeing her was the real reason I was here, not to gawp at the strange spectacle that was happening. It had been six months since I left her without offering an explanation, so the welcome I received was about as warm as the inclement weather. She opened the door in her dressing gown and slippers. 'Terry? Oh for God’s sake,’ she said.
‘I’ve come to apologise for being an idiot,’ I said. The small porch roof was useless and I was getting wet through. ‘I’m trying to be a better person.’
Her incredulous brows gained altitude. 'Well, you’d better come in,’ she said. ‘Shake yourself off first.’
Unimpressed by my unannounced pop-in, Sam defaulted to flicking the kettle on. She haphazardly emptied a packet of custard creams onto a plate and shoved them towards me on the kitchen table, barely making eye contact with me.
‘Can’t beat a good custard cream,’ I said, dunking one into my scalding tea for a bit too long. It crumbled and sank.
Samantha stood by the kitchen counter, heaping sugar on her tea. Her open dressing gown framed her heavy stomach like curtains. She was well into her second trimester by now, and her healthy glow was conspicuous.
‘So, I met your boyfriend,’ I said. ‘He paid me a visit in the Caribbean. He never told me his name, though.’
Sam showed no intention of joining me at the table and continued staring out of the kitchen window. ‘Darren,’ she said.
‘Delightful chap,’ I said.
’I’m surprised you’re still here,’ I said. ‘Why hasn’t Darren whisked you off to his mansion yet?’
‘Look, if you’re gonna be like that, you can leave.’
‘I’m sorry,’ I said, cursing my reflexive sarcasm. ‘I came to apologise.’
Sam absent-mindedly heaped more sugar into her tea. She took a slurp and grimaced before pouring it down the sink.
‘You know, despite his smarminess, Darren taught me something valuable. He made me realise what a mistake I’d made in leaving you.’
‘God, that’s a bit cheesy.’
Although she was insulting me, I still found Sam's Welsh lilt irresistible. I could have listened to her say ‘cheesy’ all day.
‘Save it,’ she said. ‘Darren’ll be here soon. You can thank him in person.'
Hmmm. No chance. I wasn’t going to stick around and greet that insufferable lunatic; I made my excuses and left to find a cheap hotel.
At the Oldham travel lodge, I began piecing together my strategy for winning back Sam's affections. Things hadn’t gotten off to a flying start because I hadn’t the courage to explain why I’d left her. Even I didn’t fully know. But I have a hunch that it was mostly self-loathing from being unable to give her a child.
When I flicked the TV on, it happened to land on the news channel. A pro-genital-freedom rally was taking place outside Securi-pants headquarters in Salford--that was Darren’s stomping ground. There was a real uproar; people on the picket line were wielding placards and chanting slogans that would have sounded totally comical mere months ago. The sect was made up of Catholics who believed that genital autonomy was God’s will and that it should not be interfered with.
A reporter clutching her microphone ran for the factory entrance, hoping to get a comment from Darren as he was leaving. He was shrouded by guards, and slipped into his town car like a ghost—evading the reporter like any experienced CEO would.
‘That slimy worm,’ I said to myself.
I still had major jet-lag and felt like flicking over to Countdown and falling asleep, but there was a major opportunity staring me in the face.
I hopped in my 1 litre rental car and drove to Securi-pants HQ. By the time I arrived, most of the protestors had dispersed, and the TV crew were packing their equipment away. Then I launched my first stratagem; making Darren look as bad as possible. I approached the news crew with a sensational story.
‘Excuse me—news lady?' The reporter in the pencil skirt turned to face me. 'The CEO of Securi-pants is a war criminal,’ I said. ‘He tortured me and threatened to vasectomise me without anaesthesia!’
It was true. He had. Without questioning the veracity of my statement, the reporter ordered the news crew to prepare. It took a moment to squeeze some silvery beads of emotion out of my tear ducts by thinking of what a bad fiancé I’d been to Sam, but I managed to cry, giving my story more weight. Through watery eyes, I could see that the reporter had selected her best faux-empathetic expression and felt the foam cover of the microphone jutting into my chin.
‘Darren Gouda,’ I said, stifling a sob, ‘made a personal attack on me. He blindfolded me and staged a forced vasectomy.’
‘And are you fertile, sir?’
‘I am not,’ I said. ‘This was a power flex. A sick game. There was absolutely no need for it.’
‘Indeed,' the reporter said, knitting her brows tighter. 'Vasectomies are mandatory for all fertile males, but this procedure was clearly erroneous.’
‘Heinously so. You call it a procedure, but I call it torture.’
‘Will you be bringing a case against him?’ The reporter asked.
Shoot. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. I’d done enough to sell Darren as a monster, though, so I decided to leg it because I’d ran out of intelligent things to say.
'Wait, what's your name?' The reporter shouted after me.
The camera followed me as I got back into my car and sped out of the factory car park. As I drove, I was crossing my fingers that Sam had been watching the broadcast, and that my story would catch on.
When I landed back in 2-star travel lodge heaven, my jet lag finally caught up with me and I fell asleep for a few hours. It was 9 p.m. when vibrations on the nightstand woke me up. It was a text from Samantha.
-Where r u?
-Oldham Travel Lodge
-I’ll b there in 15
-Need a lift?
When Sam arrived, I called room service and ordered some grub. She seemed a bit hangry; I would be if I was eating for two. She sat on the edge of the bed wolfing soggy chips and watching Eastenders as I admired her healthy glow. Thankfully, she didn’t notice me staring; she was too engrossed in Barbara Windsor's shouting at the people she was kicking out of The Queen Vic pub. Sam always admired Barbara’s plucky spirit; it was much like her own. I wanted to flatter her with that compliment, but she wasn’t fond of me being overly unctuous.
‘I saw the protest on the news,’ she said. ‘Is everything you said true?’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘All true. Everything about Darren. 100% undeniably true.’
She wiped a blotch of tomato sauce from the corner of her mouth. ‘I had no idea he was like that.’
‘Oh yeah, big time,’ I said.
Sam’s eyes didn’t leave the TV; her hands and mouth were still occupied with the chips. ‘I haven’t done a paternity test yet. There’s a chance you could be the father.’
‘Crikey,’ I said. ‘A slim chance, you mean? My swim-team are renowned for being one of the worst.’
‘God. You’re still doing that self-deprecation thing?’ she asked disappointedly.
‘Not if you don’t want me to,’ I said, laughing nervously.
‘I need you and Darren to go to the clinic for a test,’ she said.
‘Ok. What's the result you're hoping for?’
Sam finally made eye contact with me, as if to say, It’s a child; I will raise it regardless of who the father is. Then she went back to stoically munching away and watching her soaps.
‘I don’t see how his being in the picture is going to help. He’s a lunatic, Sam.’
Badmouthing Darren might have been a juvenile tactic, or a low blow, or whatever, but every hit I could land was a mini-victory. Sam put her empty plate on the bedside table. ‘Well, I can’t go home in case he barges in on me. Can I stay here?’
‘Sure, you can. Take the bed. That floor looks comfy enough for me.’
My body-clock was all out of whack, so I stayed up and read while Sam slept. When she got up to pee, I pretended to be snoozing just so she wouldn’t think I was watching her sleep. But I did watch her—just a little bit. Is that such a crime? I’d missed her.
The next morning, there were piles of flowers on Sam’s porch; rain pelted the bouquets as we pulled up outside her house. She grunted as she struggled out of the car.
‘Pick you up at 2:30?’ I asked.
‘Yep,' she said. 'Know where the clinic is?’
‘Indeed,’ I said.
As she stepped over the mountain of lilies, she smiled. I hoped it was because of me, but it could have easily been her reward circuitry lighting up at the shower of gifts from Darren. He might have been the king of capitalism, but I was the one who had the privilege of driving Sam to the clinic.
I swabbed the inside of my cheek, narrowing my eyes at Darren, who was q-tipping his own oral cavity. I blew on the end of my swab for good luck before handing it to the nurse. She made me do it all over again, claiming that I’d contaminated the sample with throat particles or something.
‘If you can’t even swab yourself properly, how are you going to raise a child?’ Darren asked smugly.
‘It’s my child? Goodness, gracious! Woohoo!’
Darren shook his head and slipped out of the room with his characteristic, ghostly elan.
I requested that a copy of the results be forwarded to the travel lodge. I holed up there for three days, waiting for the letter to arrive. Because Sam didn't want to see either of us until the results were in, I was like a dog missing its owner.
Ruminating on the outcome of the tests was torturous. Startling my body with powerful jets of ice-cold water in the shower worked as a distraction for a while, but my sperm-esteem was at an all-time low. Given my history of firing blanks, it seemed more likely that Darren was the father. I ate soggy chips and watched Eastenders re-runs for those few agonising days, just because it reminded me of Sam. Then, on the fourth day, I awoke to a letter that had been slid under my door.
Darren Gouda: Negative
Terry Riley: Negative
It is not possible to confirm the identity of the father at this stage. The foetal DNA suggests that he may be of Algerian descent.
My heart sank; downtrodden was an understatement. The only silver lining was the fact that the child wasn’t Darren’s. So it was a ghost baby; the result of a tropospheric tryst with a lucky Algerian.
At Sam’s instruction, the three of us met at her house, to discuss the bizarre love triangle we found ourselves in. It was both awkward and humiliating; Darren and I had been outdone by a virile Algerian. But as impotent as I felt, I still had to offer my full support to Sam.
‘It’s not fair,’ she said dejectedly. ’I’ll never know the father.’
‘Who needs him?’ Darren said. ‘There’s a perfectly good candidate sitting right in front of you.’
‘Thanks, Darren,' I said. 'That’s very big of you. I am a good candidate.’
Before, it had been a competition between Darren and I to be the one who got Sam pregnant. Now it was a mad scramble to see who could swoop in and be step-father material.
‘Sam, even if you found out who this Algerian fellow was,' Darren said, 'would you want him to be in the child’s life?’
‘I would, if I were her,’ I said to Darren. ‘There're no decent men around here. You need to be able to make perfect couscous if you're going to raise an Algerian baby. I just happen to be a wizard with couscous.’
Sam smiled at me for the first time in ages; she was becoming more receptive to my wise-cracks. I could feel her unmooring from Darren’s dock of deceit and floating towards me; it was satisfying to say the least.
Two days later, as I was brushing my teeth, an unexpected letter appeared under my hotel room door. It was the lab again. I neatly opened the envelope and nearly spat my toothpaste out all over it.
Terry Riley: Positive
Darren Gouda: Negative
I felt a powerful rush, more intense and warm than anything I’d ever experienced. It surged through my brain and filled me with purpose.
Thanks to an administrative error by the lab apprentice, we’d previously received another woman’s results. Both Sam and the other woman’s full names were identical except for one letter.
I was promoted from sad hotel dweller to pull-out-sofa-bed resident in Sam’s house and we slowly began to build our relationship up again. Not only had I become a proud father, but I was proud to have played a large part in completely dismantling Darren and Sam’s relationship. He could now peddle his peculiar brand of smugness elsewhere and attempt to spawn an heir to his empire with some poor, undeserving wench in the hopes of continuing his legacy of capitalism.
With Darren out of the picture, Sam and I had a great time. We ate crispy chips cooked in the air-fryer and watched the news on her big flatscreen. The headline was that Darren Gouda had resigned as CEO of Securi-pants. Now that the genital situation had begun to stabilise, he’d handed daily operations over to a trusted colleague, choosing instead to turn his savant-like-inventing-talent to designing and constructing a hot-tub-theme-park. Talk about a mid-life crisis. Credit where credit is due, though—it did sound relaxing and thrilling.
If the park ever gets built, Sam and I could visit with our child. We could ride the relaxing jacuzzi rollercoaster through the tropical greenhouse; brushing the palm fronds aside and shielding our toddler’s eyes from the obscene aeronautical copulation happening outside. That's if Darren hasn't found a cure for it by then. I wouldn't put it past him. We would point to Darren's face in all of the billboards and say to our little butter bean, ‘This man was almost your father, but thankfully, he wasn’t.’