Then Anna hired Svana, from Iceland, who drew Floyd a bath that was too hot and scalded him the color of a lobster, necessitating a trip to urgent care. Good-bye, Svana. At that point, Baker was looking for a job in private equity, but he kept getting to final interviews and not getting hired—he suspected that Houston firms tended to hire Texas boys, especially those who had played high school football—and since Anna’s career provided plenty of money, Baker thought, why didn’t he stay home and care for Floyd? He could day-trade while Floyd napped. Day-trading encapsulated everything he loved about his field—it was a game, a gamble, a risk, a thrill—and he was good at it. He was also good at parenting. The love and joy and wonder he felt when he looked at tiny baby Floyd—a person, another person, he had helped create—was nearly overwhelming. Why would he pay someone else to care for their child when he could do it himself?

Anna had put up the predictable arguments: Staying home with Floyd wouldn’t provide Baker with any intellectual stimulation. You’ll be bored stiff, she said. He would be like the unfulfilled housewives of the 1950s. He would choose something inappropriate to fill his time—internet porn or marijuana, or an affair with one of the mothers he met at the playground. He would get so far behind in his career that he would never catch up. What would Baker do when Floyd was eighteen and headed to college? Even three years hence, when Floyd went to preschool, too much time would have passed for Baker to seamlessly reenter the world of high finance. He would become depressed, smoke more weed than he already did, get addicted to pills.

Baker had assured Anna at the time that she was being melodramatic. But now Floyd is four years old, and while he is a very bright, curious, and well-adjusted kid, it’s true that Baker’s decision to stay home has created issues. First of all, Anna has grown so comfortable with their new roles that she has nearly checked out of family life altogether. Secondly, whereas Baker has not become addicted to internet porn or had an affair, he does smoke a fair amount of dope, and he has developed very close friendships with a group of mothers, all of whom have sons and daughters at the Children’s Cottage. His clique includes Wendy, Becky, Debbie, and Ellen. They are all single mothers—three divorced and one single by choice—which is how they became friends in the first place. They have more or less adopted Baker as their “school husband.” He covers their kids when they have work emergencies, he fixes things around their houses, and he gives them free investment advice. He suspects that the other mothers—the married mothers—are critical of the relationship between Baker and his school wives, but it wasn’t until the Holiday Sing that he realized just how jealous and vile women could be. One of them cornered Anna in the bathroom and told her she was very “evolved” for letting Baker have a “harem.”

Anna had not been amused. Baker assured her the friendships were just that and not one thing more. He informed Anna that if she wanted to put an end to the vicious gossip, she should show her face around school more often. She should make some friends of her own, which was how she arrived at Resolution Number Two.

“Why can’t someone else cover your rounds?” Baker asks now. “Why can’t Louisa do it?” Louisa is another surgeon in the practice, Anna’s closest friend. It feels like Anna is forever going in to cover Louisa’s patients; surely Anna is due a return favor?

“Louisa is busy,” Anna snaps. “We’re all busy.”

“I won’t make you do gouache,” Baker says. It’s a very cool painting technique that Wendy taught him; she makes her own greeting cards and wrapping paper. “Or watch Despicable Me 3. I thought we could go to the park. It’s beautiful out…”

“I’m sure Floyd will love it,” Anna says. She grabs her bag and smiles. Smiles are what pass for kisses these days. “I’ll be home by six. We can get pizza!” She says this, apparently not recalling that Baker has bought a roast he’d planned to serve with Boursin potatoes and sautéed asparagus. Anna isn’t impressed by Baker’s efforts in the kitchen. In her world, each dawning day is merely another chance to eat pizza.

“Okay,” Baker says. He watches Anna’s back disappear through the door—and at that moment, he knows he has no choice. He has to ask for a divorce.

Divorce, he thinks as he waits at the bottom of the big slide for Floyd. It’s such a dark, ugly, complicated word.

Floyd comes whooshing down, his bangs flying. He’s such a good kid, so cute and perfect in his boyness. “That was my tenth time down,” Floyd says. “Let’s go to the swings.”

Always ten times down the slide, no more, no less, and slide always precedes swings, where Baker is allowed to push Floyd seven times—then Floyd takes over under the power of his own pumping legs. Baker senses some OCD tendencies in the rules Floyd sticks to at the park, although the jungle gym is a free-for-all and Floyd is very sociable and can make friends with other children in an instant, as he does today. When he’s finished on the swings, he joins a game of tag, leaving Baker to lie back in the grass and let the mellow January sunshine warm his face.


Divorce Anna.

Will she even notice? She’ll move out and rent one of the condos across the street from the hospital. She’ll have no problem paying for the house and for Baker and for Floyd. Baker has a tidy sum in the bank as well; his luck this past year playing the market has been tremendous. All will be well. Baker’s only concern is that Anna will never see Floyd if they don’t live in the same house. And yet isn’t that exactly why Baker should get out? What kind of mother doesn’t love her own child? That may be too harsh. Certainly Anna loves Floyd. But does she like him? Does she enjoy one single thing about being a parent?

Baker sits up on his elbows and watches Floyd, running and laughing, right in the thick of it with a bunch of kids he just met. He’s so happy and carefree. Can Baker really be considering putting the kid through the emotional trauma of a divorce? Anna’s parents are divorced. Her father has been divorced twice. And so that is her idea of normal. But Baker’s parents have been happily married for thirty-five years. Baker knows that Irene and Russ will see his divorce as a failure. He will see it as a failure.

It’s a new year, Baker thinks. And Anna did make the resolutions, which is a promising start.

He’ll give it more time, he decides. Maybe she’ll surprise him.

Anna doesn’t make it home by six, although she does call. “I’m going to be another hour,” she says. “Just order the pizza without me.”

Does she ever get tired of disappointing people? Baker wonders.

“Will do,” he says. He won’t order pizza, but neither will he go to the trouble of making the roast. Floyd has asked for pancakes for dinner, and pancakes he will get. Baker makes bacon and squeezes some fresh juice. Why not?

“Would you mind staying awake until I get home?” Anna asks. She sounds almost nervous, and Baker gets a flutter of excitement in his stomach.

“Absolutely,” he says.

That simple question changes the whole tenor of the evening. Anna wants him to stay awake. She wants to spend time with him. She wants to… connect, maybe. He’ll give her a massage, he’ll draw her a bath, he’ll wash her hair, he’ll do anything she wants. He loves her so much. At times, it’s like loving a shadow or a hologram. But not tonight.

Baker makes big, fluffy buttermilk pancakes and crispy bacon, and he gives Floyd two cups of juice, even though that’s a lot of sugar before bed. He cleans the kitchen, does the dishes, sends Floyd down the hall to brush his teeth. He helps Floyd get into his pajamas and starts reading him The Dirty Cowboy. It’s a long book, and Floyd falls asleep on page six, as he always does. Baker eases himself off the bed, turns on the night-light, and slips out of the room.

This is the time of night when he usually takes a few hits off his bong, but he won’t tonight. He needs to stay awake!

He cracks open a beer, gets himself a bowl of Ben & Jerry’s Red Velvet Cake ice cream—which his single-by-choice mom-friend Ellen turned him onto (she eats “like a long-haul trucker,” in her own words)—and switches on the TV to get a recap of the bowl games. He’s… just drifting off when he hears Anna coming through the door. He sits bolt upright. He’s awake!

“Hey, babe,” he says. “I’m in here.”

He hears Anna in the kitchen, rummaging through the fridge, opening the cabinets. He hears a cork being pulled from wine. A few seconds later, Anna comes into the den. She lets her hair free of her elastic, takes a sip of wine, and regards him with an expression he can’t read. Interest? Curiosity? What does she see when she looks at him? he wonders. Well, he’s slouched on the sofa with an open beer and half a bowl of melted ice cream on the table next to him, so she can hardly view him as a sexy world conqueror.

He sits up straight, moves over, pats the sofa next to him. He is soft with forgiveness. It’s as easy for him to fall into his chubby-hubby stoner-dad role as it is for Anna to default to her super-busy achieving spouse. He’s guilty of smoking a joint and falling asleep on the sofa most nights. He’s as much to blame for their disconnect as she is.


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