Attorney Meredith Browning’s husband of five years, Drew Baxter, an emerging star in stand-up and sketch comedy, now on the second season of the eponymous sitcom based on his life—both their lives—walked naked into the kitchen. He sat down adjacent to her at the square island in their Greenwich Village apartment and stared.
“Morning,” she said, reading the New York Times on her laptop and chewing a spoonful of yogurt mixed with sliced strawberries and slivered almonds. She glanced up. “What the fuck?”
With a thick green marker, he’d drawn branches stemming wide from the dark red scar down the center of his chest, left from emergency open heart surgery six months earlier. He’d sketched a tree. “I’ve made a nicer home for my heart.”
He was always so droll—she usually found that attractive—but it was difficult to laugh. The sight of the scar still conjured flashes of memory from when she’d almost lost him, and the time she’d taken off from work to nurse him back to health.
“Get it?” he asked.
“Are you high?” On mornings he had no responsibilities he liked to wake-and-bake. The previous night he’d been snoring, so he’d slept in the spare room they planned to someday be a child’s. They’d already discussed what color to paint an accent wall, when they were ready—which meant when he was ready, because she’d been ready for two years. A week ago, at the Cellar, he’d tried out a bit about the accent wall and his parental indecision. He refused to talk about his act before performances, so she never had a say in what he said. Their life was on display, an unauthorized biography written by him.
“Merry Christmas, Meredith,” he said, holding out a yellow marker. “I’ll let you put up the star.”
He coughed for a moment, and she flinched, worried the cough might become something more. Since the surgery, sometimes when he coughed, it hurt, and he would wheeze and curl up around his chest like a pill bug. While vacationing upstate he’d once picked a pill bug from beneath a rock, wiped it off, and ate it, to provoke her. He smiled as he did it, as if he was fulfilling a dare, at the expense of something helpless.
He recovered from the coughing. “Your loss, Rebel Wilson. You know she studied to be a lawyer? Had a bit about it. You could open a practice with her.” He slid the cap from the yellow marker and drew a ragged star above the tree on his chest, then hurried to their bedroom, presumably to look in the mirror. “It’s a mess,” he said from bedroom. “Like me.” He walked back into the kitchen. “Messy star. You could say it’s a self-portrait.”
“Now rise, counsel. And pull up your shirt.”
“I’m not in the mood.”
“I don’t want to have sex. I want to draw on you.”
She turned back to the laptop. “You’re high.”
“Okay, I’ll be serious. Meredith, this is serious. Trust me.”
He looked sincere. He only got this way occasionally, and it was always for something important. Usually he’d just play sincere, to goad her into becoming the role in one of his jokes. She was one of his characters—the snide, killjoy wife. Since he’d become famous, sometimes she worried she was becoming more and more like her role in his act, if only because that’s how people assumed she was. When someone relates to you as if you’re acerbic and uptight, you either have to go along with it or make the effort to prove their assumptions wrong. Tiring.
“It’s not a joke,” he said. “Trust me. You’ll like it.”
“You have to promise me. I’m not playful right now. Like, not at all. This meeting at ten for the civil case isn’t casual.”
“Trust me. You can trust me.”
“Fine.” She stood and lifted her shirt.
“Hold still.” He leaned over and began drawing a large square around her belly button in purple. The pen felt cool on her skin, and she shivered. The sound was humiliating. It was like he was writing a joke. She imagined her belly swelling from pregnancy and the ink soaking through her skin to what curled inside her womb, and it struck her that though she loved this broken man, she no longer wanted to have his baby. She could handle being a source of material for him, a recurring bit in his act. But she couldn’t allow her child to grow up as one. This very moment might end up on Netflix.
Before he could finish his sketch, she pulled down her shirt.
“Wait! I need to add the bow. Trust me, you’ll love it.”
“Is that marker permanent?”
He glanced down at it. “I hope so.”
He stepped back and set the marker on a stack of magazines. “No, no, I get it. That was too much. I should explain myself.”
“It doesn’t matter. I have to get ready for this meeting. But we need to talk. Tonight.”
“Trust me. I’ll be quick. So I was drawing a present on your belly. A gift. And it’s March, like you said. And nine months from now it will be December. Christmas is in December. So if you get pregnant in March, we’ll have a baby in December. So I’m the tree and you hold the present.”
She sat back down.
“This heart thing changed me, Meredith. I’m asking you to make a baby with me.”
Permanent markers eventually wore off. “I know.”