Husband and I decided to trade places for a day, like a set of mischievous twins trying to fool their parents and teachers. I would analyze his clients downtown, and he would sit at my laptop and wait for a germ of brilliance to sprout into the written word. We donned disguises so no one would know. He wore my dangle earrings and neck scarf. I wore his owl-rim glasses and corduroy trousers. On the way out the door, I pulled the glasses down and winked at our dog, Henry, to let him know it was me. Husband shooed me out with his briefcase and a kiss on the cheek. “You’ll do great,” he said.
At the office, I greeted the secretary, who hung my coat (his coat) on the door. I sat in Husband’s chair and rifled through his notes. I drank the tepid coffee. The clients shuffled in and out all day, a tangled knot of anxieties and fears and childhoods. I “mmhmmed’ and “that must be terrible’d!” and handed tissues and scribbled more notes.
I did all the right things, but something was off. The clients didn’t take me seriously. Despite the disguise (foolproof), they could sense that I didn’t belong. That I was filled with too much apprehension. Too much self doubt. That I ought to be paid 24 cents less for my time.
At home, I dropped the briefcase in the foyer. I groaned as I slipped off my shoes and flopped onto the couch. Husband appeared, beaming. His day had been wonderful. After I had left, he had made a heart-healthy breakfast and brushed his teeth and then sat down with a steaming cup of coffee to start writing his novel. Some hours later, a draft emerged.
“It’s easy, isn’t it?” he asked. “I simply started and kept going. That’s all it is really.”
A lump formed in my throat.
I asked to read his work, expecting an error-riddled first draft. But the novel was wonderful: lyrical and moving, with well-rendered characters— the type of characters who made you, the reader, feel a deep connection to all of humanity (but most of all yourself)— who raced through a breathtaking plot culminating in a scene that exposed formerly-unknowable truths about the human condition. I poured wine.
At night, under the covers, Husband asked— tentatively, like a child asking for a puppy— if I really wanted to switch back tomorrow. Oh no, I protested. I was having a wonderful time.
So we kept up the charade. A week later, Husband’s novel was finished. A week after that, an agent was lined up. Soon, a publisher, a deal, a book tour. Early reviews. Accolades.
Then, “Oprah’s on the phone!”
“I want to have a baby!” I announced.
To hide the pregnancy, I wore baggy suits and hid behind large plants. Husband stuffed a balloon under his shirt. We agreed that he would be the primary caretaker. It was one of those rational, level-headed conversations we sometimes had. Like the one where we decided that I’d quit my job in publishing so we could move to Cleveland for his new practice. Or when we decided to name the dog, “Henry,” and not “Keanu Reeves,” because “Henry” was more dignified.
Bundle of Joy (“Joy” for short) was here before we knew it. Husband glowed. I swelled with pride leaving the house for work, shutting the door behind me on Husband and baby, knowing that I was economically providing for my family. The clients congratulated me and gifted cigars. They treated their sessions reverently now; I had earned their respect as a breadwinner. I began to enjoy their company, too. People were really a mess, and it felt good to help.
Husband was tired most days when I returned home. The baby was a bad sleeper. The baby was always crying, eating, and shitting. Some days, Husband didn’t even have a chance to shower. I asked him how the writing was going.
“I tried earlier, but time got away,” he confessed. “I had the laundry and the dishes. Before I knew it, it was time to feed again.”
“It was time to feed again,” I said, practicing the active listening skills I’d learned off YouTube, “so you couldn’t write.”
“Right. And then more dishes. But I thought about things I might write.”
He sniffled. I contorted my face into the “I’m listening and I care about you” expression. I told him we could switch back any time, if it was too much. Oh no, he said. He was having a wonderful time. He just needed a nap.
“Or a spa day!” I suggested.
I booked him a trip to the Tranquil Waters Spa & Resort in Hillshire, Ohio as an early Valentine’s Day gift. Husband was so grateful he cried. He crafted a special Valentine out of cardboard paper and macaroni, and said it was from Joy, but I knew it was really from him. Sometimes it’s easier to express your love through actions.
He came back refreshed, for a time. We kept on with our disguises until we forgot that he had been him and I had been me. I died earlier, of course. The usual culprits: Heart disease, too much red meat, too much stress. But I had no complaints. It was a good life. We were just so happy.
Megan Carlson is a writer and nonprofit communications professional living in Chicago. She is a fiction reader for X-R-A-Y Magazine, and her short stories have appeared in Bluestem, Hypertext Magazine, Tiny Molecules, and others. Find her on Twitter at @MegsCarlson.