Joint Custody - Lauren Baratz-Logsted

Chapter One

It all started with the chocolates.

Ah, who am I kidding?

It all nearly ended with the chocolates too.

It was the best idea I ever had. It was the worst idea I ever had. It was an idea that could save them. It was an idea that could kill me. Did you see that? I just riffed on Dickens there. Not as good, I know, but bear with me.

The day was cold and brisk. I knew, because I’d been out already once for my morning walk, up and down the tree-lined sidewalk of the street outside our Brooklyn brownstone. But it was also bright and sunny, the golden rays acting like a beacon as they shone across the dining room table, spotlighting the heart-shaped box wrapped in red cellophane. I’d seen boxes like that before and knew what they contained.

I needed to get to that box.

First, I hopped up onto the wooden chair. And from there, I hopped up onto the round table, shoving a marked-up manuscript out of the way to get closer to my goal. The Man is a writer, and there are books everywhere in this place—controlled chaos.

Now I was face-to-face with the box. If I had to guess, I’d say it weighed a pound. Also, it said it right there on the front: lb looks like el-bee, but it means one pound, right?

OK, I know what you’re thinking right around now. You’re thinking, The dog can read? Which is soon naturally followed by, Preposterous!

Well, think on this: consider the infinite monkey theorem. Come on, you know what that is, right? It’s the theorem that states that “a monkey hitting keys at random on a typewriter keyboard for an infinite amount of time will almost surely type a given text, such as the complete works of William Shakespeare.”

Of course, that’s just a metaphor. But the way people bandy it around, you’d think chimps were pumping out five-act plays in iambic pentameter on a regular basis. If people will believe such a positive thing about chimps, when everyone knows that if you try to make a pet out of a chimp it might one day kill you, then it’s really not such a great leap to think that a dog could learn how to read. Particularly a smart dog who’s grown up in a home crammed full of great books.

And hey, it’s not like I claimed I could write a book.

I’m no chimp.

But I might have been a chump. Because as I stared at that sealed red cellophane, contemplating my suicide mission, I had to ask the question: Could I really bring myself to do this?

Well, I thought, at the very least, I could remove the cellophane. And then, you know, make my decision once the box was open. I’d no doubt get in trouble merely for marring the packaging, but it was a risk I was willing to take.

And honestly, just getting that wrapping off presented its own joys—the crinkling noises; the mere act of rebellion itself—as well as its inherent risks. At one point, I heard sounds coming from the bedroom. Immediately, I stopped what I was doing, ears going straight up. These days, The Man often goes back to bed after our morning walk—he suffers from a mild, sometimes more than mild, depression—which is why I’d timed this the way I had. If he was awake, I could never get away with this. But soon the noise from the bedroom ceased, and after waiting one long minute more just to be sure, I resumed my efforts.

Not so easy, given I’d just had my nails clipped the night before. How I hate it when my nails have just been clipped. Nothing feels right, I tell you.

But eventually, the heart-shaped box was free of its cellophane wrapping. The box itself was also red, and now I eyed it warily.

Again, the question arose in me: Could I really bring myself to do this?

Well, I thought, at least I could take the lid off. Then I’d worry about it.

The lid wasn’t nearly as challenging as the cellophane had been. Just a firm nudge of my snout and I’d popped that baby right off.

And then, the question one final time, as I faced the array of chocolates:

Could I really bring myself to do this?

Of course I could.

I’d brought them together once. I would bring them together again, no matter what it took, even if it killed me.

Doing something that could bring about your own death when you don’t really want to die—it’s