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Room for Two

Two

I expected the maternity wing of the hospital to be bustling with proud, bleary-eyed fathers and grandparents carrying stuffed animals for the newborns and flowers for the mothers. But when the elevator doors opened, the hallway was empty. As I followed the police officer down the hall, every room we passed was dark and vacant.

There were six nurses clustered in a tight circle at the nurses’ station. Their conversation abruptly stopped as we approached. All six turned and looked at me. Their faces showed something between sadness and rage. It was then I realized they had been talking about me, or, at the very least, about Krista and the baby. The police officer said something to a nurse in purple scrubs. The nurse opened the door of a postpartum room and motioned for me to enter. I could feel the gazes of the rest of the nurses as I walked past.

The room contained a bed, a couch, and a few plastic chairs. A television was mounted on the wall opposite the bed. There were three framed photographs hanging on the walls. One showed a green field with bright yellow flowers. The others were of a river winding slowly through a valley and the peaks of snowcapped mountains.

I sat on the couch where I could see into the hallway. The police officer was talking to a woman in jeans and a white blouse. She wore small-framed glasses and in one hand carried a spiral bound notebook. They spoke for several minutes, and both would occasionally glance in my direction. Then the woman said a final word to the police officer and walked into my room.

"Are you Abel?" she asked.

I nodded.

The woman introduced herself as a social worker at the hospital. She asked if she could sit next to me. I moved over to make room for her on the couch.

"I hear you’ve been through a horrible experience this afternoon," she said. Her voice had a loving quality to it. It was reassuring to be with someone who sounded like she cared.

"Are you cold?" she said.

"No," I said, a little confused by the question.

"Do you know why your body’s shaking?"

I looked at my hands and then at my torso and legs. My body was trembling — something I hadn’t noticed until she pointed it out. I didn’t feel cold.

"I don’t know why I’m shaking," I said.

"Would you like a blanket?"

"Yes."

The social worker walked to the door and said something to someone I couldn’t see. A moment later the nurse in purple scrubs handed her a blanket. The social worker returned to the couch and draped the blanket over my shoulders and legs. It was one of those hospital blankets they keep heated, and I pulled it tight around me, wishing it could shield me from the horror of the day. The social worker took my hand in hers. Her hand was warm and smooth. We sat in silence for several minutes. Slowly the shaking subsided.

"Do you know if your family’s been contacted?" she said.

"I don’t think so."

"Is there a family member close by we can call?"

My mom lived fifteen minutes up I-15 in Ogden. My father, however, was in Casper, Wyoming — over four hundred miles away. My parents had been living like this since August. My mom had moved to Ogden to take care of her mother while my father taught photography at a community college. He’d come down during school breaks. The separation was supposed to be temporary, but it would drag on for years.

I didn’t want my mom to come to the hospital alone. Knowing how she handled bad news, I worried she would cause an accident on the drive over. My dad should be the first to know. He could arrange everything else. I tried to think of his phone number, but for some reason I couldn’t remember it. I couldn’t even remember the area code for Wyoming. I tried to think of the phone numbers of Krista’s grandmother, friends, or neighbors — someone who could drive my mom to the hospital. My mind was blank.

I looked at my black and blue sneakers and said, "I can’t think of anyone to call."

There was a knock on the door, and a middle-aged man in green scrubs entered. He introduced himself as the doctor who delivered my daughter. He offered me his hand. I didn’t shake it. I waited for him to tell me that my baby was dead.

"Your daughter is in critical condition," he said.

"Is she going to die?" I asked.

The doctor looked at the floor for a moment as if he was trying to come up with the best way to break bad news to me. "I don’t know," he finally said. He quoted some statistics about the chances of survival for premature babies her age. I tried to listen to what he was saying, but he was talking fast and the numbers he was throwing out only confused me. When he was done speaking, he asked if I had any further questions.

"Can I see her now?" I said.

"She’ll be ready soon. A nurse will come by shortly and take you to see her." He paused and then said, "I’m sorry. I wish I could tell you more."

He left without shutting the door. I watched the police officer chat with one of the nurses in the hall.

"Why is he still here?" I asked.

"Who?" the social worker said.

"The police officer. Why is he still here?"

"I don’t know." But there was something in the social worker’s voice that indicated she wasn’t telling the truth. I wanted to ask her another question, but I couldn’t concentrate long enough to form one. My thoughts shifted rapidly from Krista, to my baby who was somewhere in the hospital, to my family. Out of the rapid succession of thoughts, the name of a family friend popped into my head. I gave his name to the social worker and said his phone number should be listed in the phone book. He would contact my mom and bring her to the hospital. The social worker wrote down his name and handed it to the police officer. Someone I couldn’t see handed the social worker a Styrofoam cup with a straw.

The social worker returned to the room. "Here’s some water," she said.

The cup was heavy. There was a lot of ice in it. I took a sip of the water, then set it on the floor next to my feet. I wasn’t thirsty.

The social worked asked me more questions about what happened. I tried to answer them the best I could, but my mind was still having difficulty focusing. I wanted to take my hands and reach into my brain to find the words, the ability to speak I’d apparently lost, but I wasn’t sure how to use my hands either. We sat on the couch in silence.

A nurse entered the room. She was older and had gray streaks in her hair. She reminded me of someone’s happy grandmother who always had a treat to give her grandchildren. "Would you like to see your daughter?" she asked.

I followed her past the nurses’ station. The other nurses made a point not to make eye contact with me.

We came to two large wooden doors. The nurse swiped her badge, and with a metallic click they opened. She led me to a stainless steel sink.

"You need to wash your hands before you can see her," she said. I lathered my hands and arms with antibacterial soap and rinsed them in warm water. Then I followed the nurse to the far corner of the room where my daughter lay. My heart broke as soon as I saw her. The only premature babies I’d ever seen were on TV. I didn’t realize how tiny and helpless they really were.

IVs and electrodes were attached to every part of her body. A respirator pushed air in and out of her lungs. There was a tiny pink bow on her head of thick chocolate-colored hair. The amount of hair on her head surprised me. I counted her fingers and toes, ten of each.

"How much does she weigh?" I asked.

The nurse looked at a chart. "Two pounds, six ounces."

"She’s so small."

"She’s about the right size for her age."

I put my hand out to touch my daughter, then yanked it back. I worried that touching her would add to her trauma.

As if reading my thoughts the nurse said, "Go ahead, you can touch her."

With my index finger I stoked her arm. Her skin was warm and soft. I touched the bottom of her foot and put my face close to hers. I kissed the top of her head. She smelled like new baby. Her hair was soft on my lips.

"Her skin is very pink," I said.

"Pink is good," the nurse said.

"She’s beautiful."

"Do you have a name for her?"

A name. Krista and I had yet to agree on one. I tried to think of all the names I liked but couldn’t remember them. The only name that ran though my mind was the one Krista liked the most: Hope.

"You don’t have to name her now," the nurse said. "You can think about it for a while."

"She has a name," I said. "Hope. Hope Krista."

I wanted to stay, but the nurse told me Hope was scheduled to be flown to Primary Children’s hospital in Salt Lake City and they had to prepare her for the flight. She led me back to my room. As we passed the nurses’ station I noticed the police officer was still chatting with one of the nurses. He said something that made the nurse laugh, and I remembered that some people were still happy that day.

The social worker was sitting on the couch waiting for me. I sat next to her.

"We’ve contacted your family," she said. "They should be here soon."

There was a knock on the door. I looked up expecting to see my mom. Instead, a middle-aged man dressed in a light blue shirt, dark slacks, and a sports jacket entered the room. He carried a yellow legal pad under one arm.

"Are you Abel?" he said.

"Yes," I said. I was confused. I could tell he wasn’t a doctor. Who else would want to see me?

"I’m Detective Smith with the Layton Police department," he said. "I’m investigating your wife’s death." He showed me his identification, a silver badge that flickered under the florescent lights.

I didn’t understand. My wife had shot herself. What could there be to investigate? The detective took one of the plastic chairs on the other side of the room and placed it directly across from me. Opening the legal pad to a blank page, he took a pen out of his shirt pocket, then looked me right in the eye.

"I’m going to be very open with you, Abel," he said. "There’s a dead body. Because of that I have to treat this case as a homicide unless it’s proven otherwise. Do you understand?"

Suddenly, I realized why the police officer had been stationed outside the door, why I had been watched all afternoon: I was the main suspect in my wife’s death. I nodded to the detective that I understood.

"I’m going to ask you some questions," he continued. "Some of them will be very personal in nature. These questions are part of my job, and I have to ask them. Do you understand?"

I nodded again. A queasy feeling arose in my stomach. My only exposure to police interrogations was what I had seen on TV or in the movies. So far this was nothing like them. The detective looked at his watch, then wrote something on the notepad. He asked for Krista’s and my social security numbers and birth dates.

Then the questioning began.

"Tell me what happened this afternoon."

I told the detective about unlocking the door to the apartment, calling for Krista, and hearing the gunshot. I wasn’t sure how much detail he wanted, so I kept my remarks brief.

"When you found your wife’s body, did you touch or move it in any way?"

"No."

"Why not?"

The question left a dark feeling inside me. I had panicked instead of trying to help. I was unable follow the 911 operator’s instructions. Perhaps Krista might have lived if I had only remained calm.

"I didn’t know what I could do to help her," I said.

"How often do you fight with your wife?"

The question seemed out of left field. "I don’t know. A couple times a week." I said. On average, this was probably true. But lately the number of disagreements had grown to one or more a day, and our arguments had become more serious and drawn out. I couldn’t remember the last time we went a day without a harsh word to each other.

"Did you have a fight with her today?"

"We had an argument." I said, emphasizing the last word. To me, a fight was something physical with punches and shoving. An argument was verbal. I wanted the detective to know that nothing physical had taken place that morning — or any other day.

"What was the argument about?"

I paused. I was having a hard time remembering anything that had happened before I arrived at the apartment.

"We spent the night at her grandmother’s house — "

"Why did you spend the night there?" the detective said. His question had interrupted my train of thought. It took me a few moments to think of the answer.

"Krista wanted to spend the night there. She wanted to spend most of today there, too."

"So you spent the night at her grandmother’s house?"

"Yes."

"When was the last time you saw Krista?"

"Early this morning. I needed to run some errands. When I left, Krista was still in bed. I came back later, and she was gone."

 That memory of Krista was etched strongly in my mind. The covers were pulled tightly around her. For some reason the way the sheets were wrapped around her belly made it seem bigger than usual. Her eyes were closed, and she had a peaceful look on her face as if she was having a pleasant dream. It wasn’t until that moment I realized this was the last time I had seen her alive.

 "How long did it take you to run errands?" the detective said.

"I don’t know."

"You don’t know how long you ran errands?" The tone of the detective’s voice was incredulous.

I thought over the errands that morning: a trip to the grocery store, Jiffy Lube, and Home Depot. "It was about two hours," I said. "There was a long wait at the Jiffy Lube."

The detective continued to take notes after I finished. I pictured him writing the word MURDER in big, bold letters on the legal pad. The detective turned to a clean page, then paused as if he was thinking of the next question.

"So when you returned to her grandmother’s house, Krista was gone."

I nodded.

"Why did Krista go to your apartment?"

"I don’t know."

"Did she tell you she was going to the apartment?"

"No."

"Were you concerned when you realized she had returned to the apartment alone?"

"Not really."

"Why not?"

"Because I didn’t think she was suicidal." The words came out loud and angry. The detective stopped writing. He looked at me in the eye for a long moment before he resumed questioning.

"What did you do when you realized Krista was not at her grandmother’s?"

"I called the apartment. Krista answered on the first ring. I asked her what she was doing at the apartment, and she told me she was unpacking. She said she’d be back soon." Her voice had sounded far away, distant. It was as if I was speaking to someone who was hypnotized or daydreaming, as if she wasn’t listening to me.

"And that was all you talked about."

"Yes."

"Did she come back to her grandmother’s?"

I shook my head.

"Were you concerned when she didn’t return?"

"Yes, a little. I called the apartment again, and she told me she was still unpacking but would be done soon."

"What time was this?"

I had to stop and think. "I don’t know. Eleven o’clock. Maybe eleven fifteen."

"What time did you arrive at the apartment?"

"About ten minutes to two."

"What did you do between eleven and the time you returned to the apartment?"

"I talked to Krista once every thirty or forty minutes. Each time she told me she was on her way back to her grandmother’s house." I remembered being frustrated with Krista’s behavior as I paced the TV room downstairs, waiting. She said she had wanted to spend the entire day with me only to leave and spend the morning alone at our apartment. On the TV a movie, Broken Arrow, played. I remembered this because I was so frustrated and worried about Krista’s behavior that I was criticizing the cheesy dialogue and John Travolta’s acting as a way to calm down.

"What made you decide to return to the apartment?"

"I called and she didn’t answer."

"Did you think she was on her way?"

"Yes, but when she didn’t show up, I called again. When she didn’t answer this time, I started to worry and drove out to the apartment."

"What time did you leave?"

"About one thirty."

The detective paused and I could see him calculating the time it would take to drive from Ogden to the apartment.

"Have you ever hit your wife?"

I told myself the detective was just doing his job. "No. Never."

Detective Smith flipped back a few pages and read some notes before asking the next question.

"We recovered a gun at the crime scene. Who is it registered to?"

"Me. It’s my gun."

"How long have you owned it?"

"About two years."

"Did Krista know how to use the gun?"

"Yes."

"When was the last time she used it?"

"A few months ago. We went target shooting." My mind flashed back to that day. Krista, her brother, and I spent an entire Saturday in the mountains shooting at pop cans and gallon milk jugs filled with water. From thirty yards away, Krista was able to hit whatever target we set up for her. She’d always been a good shot.

"Where did you keep the gun?"

"In my top dresser drawer."

"Did she know where you kept it?"

"Yes."

"Did you keep the gun loaded?"

"I kept bullets in one of the gun clips."

"So you kept a loaded gun in your home within easy access of anyone?"

"I kept the gun in a case. It was always locked."

"Who had keys to the case?"

"Just myself."

"How many keys are there?"

"Three."

"Where are they now?"

"I keep one on my key chain. I don’t know where the other two are. I packed them when we were moving."

 "Do you have a key with you?"

I took my key chain out of my pocket and removed the small, silver key. I handed it to the detective. He peered at it intently, and then wrote some more notes in his legal pad.

"Do you mind if I keep this?" he asked.

"You can have it," I said.

"Can you please hold out your hands?"

I held out my hands for the detective to examine. He looked at my palms and touched them with the back of his pen. He asked me to turn them over and when I did, he examined the back of them.

"They asked me to wash my hands when I saw my daughter," I said.

The detective nodded and made another series of notes.

"Did Krista have a life insurance policy?"

"Yes."

"How much was it worth?"

"I don’t know. It was a basic policy through work. Maybe ten thousand dollars. I don’t even know if it covers suicide."

"When you found your wife’s body, did you notice the gun?"

"Yes."

"Where was it?"

I realized the gun had fallen in an odd place. "It was on the corner of a white box next to her head."

"Did you touch or move the gun?"

"No."

Then the detective asked me about the events of the day again. By the time he finished questioning me, I’d related the story of that morning and afternoon three times.

"I need to go back to your apartment and look at the crime scene," the detective said. "To make this easy for everyone, I’d like you to write a note allowing me to take any evidence related to this event from your apartment." He turned to a clean page on the legal pad and handed it to me along with his pen. The silver pen was heavy. I wrote the following note: I give my permission to the police to search the apartment and take whatever evidence they need.

I hoped it was good enough. My mind still wasn’t working, and I was having a difficult time writing a basic sentence. I hesitantly handed him the note and watched his eyes as he read it over. He seemed to read it several times as if making sure it said exactly what he needed it to.

"This is good," he said. "Please sign and date it at the bottom."

I scribbled my name under the note. I had to ask him what the date was.

"November tenth," he said checking his watch.

I dated the note and handed the legal pad back to the detective.

"Thank you," he said. "These are all the questions I have for now. I’ll most likely have some follow-up questions later."

The detective closed the legal pad and returned the chair to the far wall. The social worker told me she’d be right back and followed the detective out of the room. She closed the door behind her. For the first time since the police officer walked into my apartment, I was alone. The room was quiet and sterile. It seemed like hours since I was told my family had been contacted. I wondered where they were.

I held my head in my hands and told myself that everything was going to be all right. I told myself this over and over again until I heard the door open. I glanced up, expecting to see the social worker. It was my mom. Her gray eyes were calm, as if she was relieved to see me.

"Abel, what’s going on?" she said.

Didn’t she know? I thought someone — the police, the social worker, or a nurse — would have told her.

"Krista’s dead," I said. And as the truth sunk in, I started to cry.

Read Chapter 3

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