All the Little Pieces, p.27Jilliane Hoffman
When the nurse handed Margaret Anne Sullivan Saunders over to her in the delivery room, she’d studied every inch of her pink skin, counting fingers and toes and exhaling the breath she’d held for five months when the doctors gave her a seven on her Apgar. But as she grew, and the emotional problems started – the ones that defied a definitive diagnosis – she began to wonder if there was more to normal than perfectly formed digits and a sound heartbeat. A search on Google led her to a host of websites that offered the possibility of a truly frightening diagnosis. She had heard of fetal alcohol syndrome, but that was for alcoholics, was prevalent among Indians, and the kids were born with characteristic facial deformities like wide-set eyes, a thin upper lip and a small head. Maggie didn’t have the physical abnormalities, but all of her developmental delays, cognitive deficits and behavioral problems read like ingredients in a fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) cookbook: hyperactivity, attention deficit, impaired fine motor skills, speech delays, stubbornness, impulsivity, poor socialization skills. She weighed less than six pounds when she was born and had remained in the fortieth percentile for height and weight at every check-up. Of course, the broad gamut of neurological issues, developmental delays, and behavioral problems could be attributed to many other conditions, and certainly not every petite kid who had ADD or ADHD and didn’t like to be hugged had fetal alcohol syndrome. Nor did it mean that their condition fell in the range of fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD). Maggie’s issues could be the random luck of the birth defect/disorder draw, much like what flavored personality or gave someone intellect, or caused spina bifida or muscular dystrophy. Or they could be due to too many wild nights out before Faith knew she was pregnant. There was no blood test or MRI that would offer a definitive answer. No doctor had ever suggested a fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or asked, upon examining Maggie, if Faith drank while she was pregnant. There was no ‘cure’ for any of the fetal alcohol spectrum disorders; the treatment for conditions on the spectrum would be the same as what Maggie had been getting or would be receiving in the future. Her hyperactivity and ADD would be treated the same – eventually, she would likely be medicated with Ritalin or Adderall. She would be given special assistance with classwork as she got older, if she needed it. She would go to the best doctors and therapists and psychologists and have tutors and attend private school so that she could overcome her learning disabilities. There would be no point in attaching a label with a damning stigma to Maggie when the treatment would be the same anyway.
‘More, Mommy,’ Maggie said, tugging Faith’s hair. She put her thumb in her mouth.
They say that I’m feeble with age, Maggie, my steps are much slower than then.
My face is a well-written page, Maggie, and time all alone was the pen.
She had screwed up in the having kids department. Not willfully, but it had happened. Even if Maggie’s issues were luck-of-the-draw developmental problems faced by many parents, she had come from Faith’s body and she felt responsible. Every day Faith had to make decisions that affected both the emotional and physical well-being of another person and she wasn’t doing the best job in either department, no matter how much she wanted to, and no matter how easy the articles made parenting sound. Jarrod talked of having more children, but even before the affair, Faith couldn’t face doing it wrong a second time.
It was rare moments like this that she lived for, though. That every parent lived for. When your child holds you close and you know you’re her whole world and she is yours. And you know you couldn’t possibly love someone more than at that very moment, because they are truly a part of you.
Faith inhaled the scent of Maggie and stroked her head. Tears of both sadness and joy ran down her cheeks. She wished she could fix what was wrong inside it. She wished she could rewire it the way it was supposed to work. Like so many things in her life, she wished she could hit a do-over button. She wished she could do it right the next time.
They say we have outlived our time, Maggie, as dated as the songs we’ve sung.
But to me you’re as fair as you were, Maggie, when you and I were young.
Because she would, she thought, closing her eyes, her face nuzzled in her beautiful daughter’s neck.
She would do everything right next time.
The downpour started as Jarrod pulled into the driveway. It had been threatening rain all day, and Mother Nature finally made good in a big way. He sat in the car for a minute, listening to drops the size of quarters slam against the garage doors.
He hadn’t wanted to leave Faith alone tonight, but there was no getting out of the Governor’s fundraiser – he’d tried. When he’d gotten the tickets last month, she’d agreed to go with him. Even after they found out her arraignment was going to be this morning, she said she still wanted to go – she had bought a new dress and everything. Then Poole had been arrested today and the media had taken off with the story and Faith had retreated to the bedroom.
He was worried about what he might find when he walked inside. Even though he had not seen her drink since the DUI, he knew she probably did. She’d said she’d think about going to AA, but without any real enthusiasm, or even trepidation, so he knew she had no intention. In their nine years together, she’d had a few instances where her alcohol consumption had escalated, in his opinion, from social to problematic and she had managed it on her own somehow, and the conversation just died out because she was OK. There had even been a lengthy period where she stopped drinking altogether. Looking back, there was always a stress factor, though, behind any escalation: She’d lost her job; she couldn’t find a job. They moved. She opened the bakery. Maggie had gotten sick. He’d had an affair. There were too many stress factors happening in her life all at once now, though, for him to believe she could handle them by herself. Outside the death of her father, they were bigger than anything she’d ever had to face. She was one of the strongest people he knew, but right now, also the most vulnerable.
He headed inside. It was after midnight and the house was quiet. All the lights were out downstairs. He checked the garbage – no bottles. That was good. He exhaled. Of course, if she were trying to prove to him that she could control her drinking on her own, she wouldn’t drop a bottle in the garbage or recycle bin. She’d hide it, and it was a big house.
He crept upstairs to check on Maggie first. He hadn’t wanted to leave her home with Faith after the arraignment and Poole’s arrest, but Faith would never agree to a babysitter while she was home. It would be like he’d hired a babysitter for her. Or that he didn’t trust her with their daughter. It was such a thorny issue, and he was walking a delicate tightrope as it was, trying to balance his shaky marriage, his daughter’s welfare, and his wife’s mental state all on the same stick.
Leaning over her Disney princess bed, he went to give her a kiss, and his heart seized. She wasn’t there. He ran down the hall to the master bedroom.
The lights were off, but the TV was on, although there was no sound. He saw a figure lying on the bed. As he drew closer, he saw it was both of them. They faced each other, but Maggie was curled up in a fetal position, up against Faith’s body. Maggie’s face was buried in Faith’s chest, and Faith’s arms were wrapped protectively around her.
He leaned against the wall and breathed a sigh of relief. Maggie never slept with them. She hated to cuddle unless she was scared, and as soon as the afflicting fright was gone, so was she. They looked so peaceful together, so beautiful, that Jarrod suddenly had a horrible, terrible thought. He slowly walked over to Faith’s side of the bed. He leaned his head over and tentatively kissed Maggie’s cheek – it was warm, thank God. Her arm moved as she stirred. Then he kissed Faith on the cheek, and gently brushed her hair off her face. Her cheek, too, was warm. He smiled. Thank God, again. She took a breath and then exhaled it. That’s when he smelled it. Subtly, hidden under mouthwash or toothpaste or behind a soda. He felt his hope and his insides collapse.
He stood up and searched he
Faith was right: He was responsible for this. He had set off the first domino, been the first stress factor on the plate. She might have the genetic propensity to have a drinking problem, but he had done this, this time. Before Sandra, everything was good. It really was. Maggie was difficult, but he and Faith had a solid marriage. And he still couldn’t explain why he had ruined everything. Sandra had stayed late one night to help him with a brief, and then she was just there, her ass on the edge of the desk, her face in his face. She had kissed him and he hadn’t pulled away. And when her hands went to her blouse and undid the buttons he hadn’t told her to stop. He hadn’t moved. Instead of walking out of the room, he’d watched her unhook her bra and slip off her skirt and slide down her panties. Then she had done things to herself and he hadn’t moved. And when those same hands reached for the zipper on his pants, his fingers had helped hers pull it down. He had not initiated, but he hadn’t resisted. They’d had sex that first time, right there in his office, up against the wall, her hands splayed across the painting of San Francisco that Faith had bought him as he took her from behind. The horrible guilt had set in while he was getting dressed and he had vowed it would never, ever happen again. But it did. Many times. He was the one who locked the door after that. He was the one who unbuttoned her blouse and slid off her panties. He didn’t know why it had started, but he knew why it had continued. And even though he still felt guilty for continuing to fuck her, he was secretly looking forward to the next time he had to work late.
It took the implosion of his marriage and Sandra leaving the firm and going back to law school for him to see the damage that he’d done. It was like flying in a helicopter over a large area hit by a devastating storm: He finally saw the full extent of destruction that he had caused.
There was no going back, as he had said to Faith when he had again apologized. There was only moving forward. He had to try to fix the damage, and he had to try and repair the fallout. He owed her that. He had to make her see that she needed help so they could do this together and they could be as good as they once were.
He poured the vodka down the bathroom sink. Then he got undressed and put on his pajama pants and climbed into the bed himself, wrapping his arms around his family and holding on tight.
When Bryan first saw the cluster of news trucks outside the courthouse, he thought there was a hearing on the John Goodman case – the Palm Beach Polo tycoon who, on his way home from a festive night out at the Player’s Club in 2010, had plowed into a college grad with his $200,000-dollar Bentley, sending the kid’s car into a canal and killing him. Drama and cameras followed that man and that case around everywhere. First there was the 2012 DUI Manslaughter Trial Number One, which took too long, but finally resulted in a conviction, which didn’t last too long – a juror went to jail, but the defendant didn’t. Then the guy tried to adopt his girlfriend to save his millions. Then came the circus of a retrial in 2014 and a very recent second conviction, followed by more motions. Every time Goodman or one of his very expensive attorneys whined – which was a lot – there was a news camera around to catch it. That’s what Bryan figured all the hullabaloo was about as he followed the morning crowd into the courthouse.
Then he got off the elevator on ten and realized that unless they had moved the Goodman case to courtroom 10F, or some celebrity was also having an Arthur hearing with Judge Cummins, all those cameras were likely there for the State of Florida vs. Derrick Alan Poole.
With the exception of certain serious and violent felonies, most crimes in Florida had scheduled bond amounts that a defendant could post upon arrest to get out of jail. Non-bondable offenses, however – such as murder, kidnapping, and armed burglary – required what was known as an Arthur hearing, an evidentiary hearing akin to a mini-trial, to determine if ‘proof was evident and presumption was great’ that a crime had been committed and that the defendant was the one who had committed it. If the state met that burden, then the judge could hold the defendant without bond pending trial.
It had been two weeks since Poole had been arrested. In Florida, except for first-degree capitol murder or juveniles being bound over for adult court, most crimes were formally charged by a sworn document called an information. Capitol murder and juvis moving up to the big time, however, were formally charged by grand jury indictment. Elisabetta was set to present Poole’s case on Wednesday to the grand jury, which convened only once a month, but Hartwick had strategically set down the Arthur before then because he knew once his client was formally indicted there was no way any judge in the building was going to grant him a bond. This was his best shot at getting Poole released before trial. Because an Arthur was more than a perfunctory reading of the arrest form to see if there was probable cause, it was also a way for the defense to take a peek at the state’s cards and see exactly what kind of case it had.
The Honorable Judge Delmore Cummins was a Florida native and a no-nonsense courthouse relic who had been sitting on a bench long before Bryan had gotten his badge. He was old even back then. Since Cummins was the only judge who handled Arthurs, and only on Monday and Wednesday afternoons, his calendars were always lengthy, but because he was so old and had no time left to waste, he was expeditious. He was also rather grumpy, and didn’t take kindly to breaking old-style courtroom decorum – he liked to see women in skirts and men in suits and he abhorred any technology that was developed after 1985. As Bryan made his way through a gallery that was normally empty, but today was full of spectators, he wondered if anyone had broken the news yet to Judge Cummins that there were a dozen cameras set up in his courtroom.
He found Elisabetta in the well, chatting with two other prosecutors. The calendar on the clerk’s desk looked thick. ‘Is this for us?’ he asked her quietly, looking around the courtroom.
‘Apparently,’ she answered as she rummaged through a file. ‘We’re on page sixteen.’
Bryan didn’t know why he was so surprised. Ever since he’d found the shack, the press had been calling. After Poole’s arrest, things had exploded like no other case he’d ever handled before. The task force had received requests for interviews and public records requests from every cable news channel there was: CNN, Fox, MSNBC. The PBSO public information officer had fielded calls from the Associated Press and Reuters, and even from London’s Daily Mail and Germany’s Der Spiegel. The media’s hunger for gory and salacious information was ravenous. It was like someone had cut themselves over shark-infested waters. The first couple of drops of blood had aroused a few members of the herd, but the continuous trickle of blood as details of the case were leaked had caused a violent feeding frenzy, which sent sharks from all over to come searching for any scrap of information they could gather. Fact, opinion or rumor – it was all the same to them. If an Arthur hearing – normally uneventful and unattended – was attracting this much attention from the media, Bryan could only imagine what would happen when it came time for trial.
Even though he had predicted it to some extent, it was Faith Saunders who had gotten caught up in the eye of the media storm and had absorbed much of its wrath, and for that he felt bad. Maybe a journalism professor could better explain the phenomenon to him, but in a world full of instantaneous news, with brutal crime and health epidemics and wars being broadcast live vying for everyone’s attention, every criminal case that Bryan had ever seen command and maintain headlines had an angle – a reason that it appealed to the masses. With O.J. Simpson, Phil Spector, and Oscar Pistorius, he could see it was the celeb
All the Little Pieces by Jilliane Hoffman / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes