“Elise,” he softly whispered as he held the newborn in his arms for the first time. She was wrapped in white blankets with only her arms sticking out. Her head was covered with a stocking hat which with earflaps which could reach her chin. She reached out in attempt to grab her father’s nose. Her tiny little fingers could barely grasp onto it and instead lingered down to his lips. Her father supported her arm and lightly kissed her fingertips and then her forehead.
“Let me look at her,” a weak voice spoke from the hospital bed. She laid with her eyes barely open and lips slightly apart. The father bent down and brought baby Elise close to show her.
“She’s beautiful,” the mother said as she weakly smiled.
“Honey you’re tired, go to sleep. The nurse wants to take Elise for some testing but it’s just protocol. When you wake up, we’ll both be right here,” the husband said as he looked down at his baby girl, “I promise.” Reassured, she drifted off into a peaceful sleep. He turned around to find the nurse waiting. Carefully, he led with his elbow and transferred the infant into the nurse’s arms.
“Thank you Mr. Daniels, I’ll bring her right back,” she said and headed for the door.
Not long after, Mr. Daniels heard a knock on the door. “Come in,” he answered. The doctor opened the door and stepped in followed by the nurse with baby Elise. The nurse closed the door behind her and shut out the unwanted scent of medicine and illness.
The doctor extended his hand and greeted, “Nice to see you again.”
Mr. Daniels replied, “Please call me Frank.”
The doctor nodded and began flipping through the papers attached to the clipboard he held. “Elise is a little underweight,” the doctor started. “Typically the average weight is about 7 pounds whereas she weighs 5.1 pounds. But not to worry Frank, she’ll be just fine.”
“Maybe it runs in the family,” Frank said as he ran his hand down the side of his face. He had a slender long face with high cheekbones that popped out. He was what you would describe as all skin and bones.
“Do you drink Frank?” the doctor asked.
“Pardon?” he answered, confused.
“Do you drink alcohol? You know,” the doctor gestured, pretending to hold a bottle and chugging it.
“No,” Frank sternly answered.
“Does your wife?”
“She said she would stop…”
Two Years Later
Mr. and Mrs. Daniels sat patiently in the doctor’s office. Their little girl was crawling on the ground tugging at her father’s loose dress pants from the side. He ignored her and continued to anxiously tap his index finger on the doctor’s solid wooden desk in front of him. Looking at her nervous husband, Nicole grasped his left hand and gave it a light squeeze.
The doorknob turned and the Daniels immediately looked behind them. The doctor weakly smiled back and dimmed the lights in the room. However, the family was too concentrated on the oversized envelope he held in his hands. As the doctor paced towards his illuminated board, he opened the envelope and pulled out the MRI scan. He clipped it to the illuminated board and took a deep breath. “There were some abnormalities in Elise’s MRI scan. Her frontal lobe is significantly less developed than the average 2 year old,” the doctor explained while pointing to the image.
“What does that mean?” Nicole asked.
“Generally it will affect one’s ability to reason, problem solve and speak.”
“Do you know what caused this?”
The doctor sat down across from the Daniels and pulled out the remaining of the papers from the envelope. He adjusted his glasses and began flipping through the papers. “From the psychiatrist’s analysis and the MRI scans, we suspect Elise may be suffering from fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. The only cause for such a disorder is if the mother was exposed to alcohol during her pregnancy,” the doctor paused. “Were you drinking Mrs. Daniels while you were pregnant with Elise?”
The family of three drove home in silence. Frank parked the car in the apartment parking lot and unbuckled Elise out of the carriage in the backseat. He snatched her and walked directly to the apartment building leaving Nicole trailing behind.
Frank stormed down the hallway to apartment three-eleven. He unlocked the door with his free hand and left the keys dangling then kicked the door half-shut behind him. Elise was fast asleep on her father’s shoulder. Frank gently settled her down on the couch with his hands supporting the back of her head. He covered her in the blankets that were hanging on the arm of the couch.
The door creaked behind him as Nicole had just stepped into the apartment. He turned around and whispered, “Shhh, she’s sleeping.”
“Sorry,” Nicole answered, keeping her head down. She turned around, pulled the keys out of the door and slowly closed it. “I’m really sorry,” she continued, her eyes turning red.
Frank sighed, “Sorry doesn’t change anything.” His voice was full of disappointment.
Nicole limped over and threw herself down across from Frank. She planted her face in her palms with her elbows propped on her knees. “It only happened a few times. I was celebrating, I didn’t want this to happen,” she sobbed.
Frank walked over and sat down beside her. He lightly patted her back and reached over to put his arm around her shoulder. Halfway, he retracted his arm and brought it back to his lap. He clenched his hands together and stated, “You promised.”
Nicole tilted her head and looked at Frank with sorrow filled eyes, but kept quiet. Frank placed his hand over hers and gave it a light squeeze. He smiled faintly and brought her shoulder to rest on his shoulder. “We’ll get through this together,” he assured her with a blank stare.
At nearly three a.m., there was a loud banging at the apartment door. “Open up,” a woman slurred as she continued banging at the door. Frank woke up from the noise outside his apartment. He forced himself out of bed and headed to the front door. Looking out the peek hole he realized it was Nicole. He quickly unlocked the door and opened it. As the door opened, Nicole clumsily fell onto Frank. Frank looked at her in disgust. Nicole’s hair was a mess, her clothes were dirty, and she reeked of alcohol.
Frank moved the limp body across the room and laid her on the couch. “Hey honey, did you miss me?” Nicole laughed while reaching out to Frank’s face.
“You’re drunk, go to sleep,” Frank replied sternly. He removed her hands from his cheeks and put them down at her sides. Not taking no for an answer, the drunken woman sat up and placed both arms around her husband.
“Not until you tell me you missed me,” she grinned.
Frank sighed, “I missed you, happy? Now go to sleep.” It’s been a while since Frank has seen Nicole like this. When they were both young and carefree, Nicole would go out drinking a lot and come home wasted. He was okay with the idea of the girl liking to party and drink, but it went beyond being a simple ‘social thing’ as she described it. She had a drinking problem.
“I’ll be happier after you drink with me!” Nicole reached into her back pocket and pulled out a silver pocket hip flask. “I saved you some of the good stuff,” she toned down her volume into a loud whisper. “Don’t tell anyone,” she continued as she reached out and grabbed Frank’s lips to seal them shut. She began to twist open the cap and brought the bottle up to Frank’s mouth. Seeing as he wouldn’t budge, she forced the bottle on his lips. Frank leaned back and lightly pushed her arm away. “Fine, suit yourself. More for me then.” Nicole leaned back and began to chug the liquor inside the flask.
“What the hell are you doing?!” Frank angrily grabbed the bottle out of her hand and flung it aside. The bottle hit the ground and liquor slowly began to bleed out. Instinctively, she jumped over and took the liquor bottle in an attempt to save the last few drops. “Stop it!” he yelled.
“And let all that good liquor go to waste?” she laughed, scanning around the room for the bottle. Her stance was unsteady.
Frank grabbed her by the shoulders to steady her, “You promised you’d stop drinking years ago. Do you remember?”
“Promises are meant to be broken, love.” She had a smug look on her face.
“How long ago did you break this promise then? One year? Maybe two?”
Nicole stopped for a second to think, “I can’t remember.” Her voice was filled with innocence.
“Three years ago then? When you pregnant with Elise.” Nicole stayed silent but let out a small smirk. “So you admit to drinking while pregnant with Elise then?” his voice rose.
“Every night I said I was going out with friends,” she laughed. “And you were foolish enough to believe me.” Her loud laugh echoed through the small apartment.
Frank clenched his jaw. “Why would you risk our child’s health like that? Because of your damn habit, Elise is going to suffer for the rest of her life! Is that what you wanted?”
Frank was shaking in frustration.
“She didn’t have a bright future ahead of her anyways,” she snickered. “Look at this crummy little dump we live in, where would we get the money to give her a bright future?”
“This dump is our home!” snapped Frank.
“Yeah? Well I wish it wasn’t.”
Frank stopped shaking, and put on a blank face.
“You’re not the Nicole I first met and fell in love with,” he spoke softly. Nicole froze in her place. Her drunkenness seemed to disappear instantly.
There was a jingling noise from the corridor which connected the living room to the bedrooms. Frank turned around and realized that Elise was on the ground playing with the liquor bottle. She put it close to her mouth and started suckling on the opening. Franked rushed over as soon as he noticed and pulled the bottle out of her mouth. “No,” he told her shaking his head.
“She’s the reason isn’t she!” Nicole screamed. “She’s the reason you’re leaving me isn’t she?” Baby Elise was frightened by the piercing scream and began crying.
Frank picked up her daughter and covered her ears. “You’re helpless…” he said as he began walking away while caressing the baby’s back to stop her tears.
Seeing her husband walk away, she dug her face into the arm of the couch. The fabric material soon became damp with her tears. But not long after, she sat up, wiped her tears and took one last sniffle. Her breath was unsteady as she spun around the room as if she was in search for something. With dilated pupils and fists clenched, she mumbled, “I can fix this.”
Frank woke up the next morning with Elise by his side, soundly asleep. He leaned over and kissed her on the forehead, “good morning.” The infant stretched out her limbs and went back to her fetal position. Frank snuck out of bed and headed to the living room. A sizzling sound grew louder as he approached the living room. He tensed his eyebrows at the confusion.
Nicole was in the kitchen cooking. Her hair was pinned back and even had an apron on. “What are you doing?” Frank asked sternly.
Nicole giggled with her voice as cheerful as ever, “What does it look like I’m doing silly? Making breakfast of course!” She used the spatula and served scrambled eggs onto a plastic pink plate.
Frank reached over and tried pick a piece of egg off the pink plate. He retreated his hand after being tapped by a hot spatula. “That one’s special, it’s for your baby.”
“Oh, okay,” Frank said as he took a seat at the table. He watched as Nicole added oil to the pan and stirred in the beaten eggs to make his portion. She made two plates, each served with a side of toast and breakfast sausages. She grabbed two sets of utensils and brought them to the table.
“Here,” she smiled, brightly placing the plate onto the table.
“Thank you.” Only a few bites into his meal, Frank heard crying from the bedroom. “I’ll be right back,” he said.
Elise had just woken up. Frank brought her into his arms and carried her to the washroom to get washed up. Not long after, they were back at the table. Nicole had already pulled out a plastic spoon and placed it on the table along with Elise’s special scrambled eggs. “Are you hungry?” Nicole asked, smiling at Elise, who was in Frank’s arms.
The baby shook her head. Frank sat down with Elise in his laps. “But you should still eat. I made these for you,” Nicole said, forcing a wide smile with her eyes propped open. She sat down and filled the spoon with eggs and placed it to Elise’s mouth. “Open wide now.” Elise wouldn’t budge and turned her face the other way. Nicole tried again. She pressed the spoon against Elise’s mouth more forcefully this time.
“I don’t think she’s hungry. Here, I’ll eat it for her,” Frank suggested reaching out for the spoon.
“No!” Nicole flinched, “She has to eat it.” Nicole grabbed the baby’s cheeks with one hand propping her mouth open and began forcing the eggs down Elise’s throat.
Frank slapped her arms away and stood up. “What are you doing?!” He questioned angrily, “She said she doesn’t want to eat it!”
“Do you know how hard I worked to make these?” She screamed back at him. “Give me the baby!” Nicole demanded as she tried to get up. Halfway, she realized her apron was caught on a nail that stuck out from the leg of the chair she sat on. She grunted as she tried to pull the apron loose from the nail.
With one hard pull, the apron was freed from the nail and flung up. From the pocket flew out a small jar. As the jar hit the ground, a dozen small, white pills scattered on the floor. The jar rolled beneath Frank and he bent down to pick it up. He read the label that was marked on the pill bottle, “Hydrocodone.” And in the small fine print beneath it, “Caution, keep away from children. May result in serious illness or death.”
“What is this?” Frank asked, hold up the pill bottle with his hands shaking.
“Umm…it’s nothing!” said Nicole. Frightened, she tried to grab the bottle out of his hands.
Frank staggered. He looked at the pills, then at the eggs.
“WHAT IS THIS?!”
“Why do you have them in your pocket?” Frank continued to interrogate.
Nicole remained silent.
“Is it that painful to care for your own child that you need painkillers? Or did you intend to permanently relieve yourself of this pain by killing your own daughter?” Frank felt his heartbeat quicken and his anger rise, “What the hell were you thinking?”
“I thought,” she stumbled. “I thought maybe if she was gone then you wouldn’t leave me. We could start off fresh and…and start a whole new life together without having this burden.”
Frank widened his eyes in disbelief. “You’re crazy!”
“She’s the reason you’re leaving me, isn’t she? Because she’s a burden!”
“It has nothing to do with Elise! It was your fault! You continued to go behind my back and drink! What good has it ever done for you? Your addiction ruined Elise’s life and our marriage!”
“It was me?” Nicole asked softly with lifeless eyes, and found her own answer falling to her knees. “It was me.”
Elise, still in daddy’s arms, was dumbstruck by the seen in front of her. Though too young to understand, she knew to keep quiet. She looked up at the man who held her with those innocent eyes, “How could anyone even think of hurting you?” Frank said softly, looking back at Elise.
Frank started walking away with baby Elise in his arms. “I’ll come back to get my stuff another day. For now, you can live here. I’ll have a lawyer send over the papers soon.”
And once again, Nicole was left alone. At least this crummy dump didn’t seem so little anymore.
“I tried to fix this.”