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Leave the Door Cracked

Her little arm stretched across the expanse of bedclothes. Daddy wasn't far away, but she wanted to double-check, just in case. Perhaps he had managed to evaporate out of the room without her noticing. The bed was warm and much too big for her, and the covers weighed heavy on her small frame. Most nights she preferred her bed with its house-shaped frame and pink sheets. However, Daddy couldn't fit in her bed, and on this night she desperately needed him by her side. Therefore, necessity demanded that she sleep in Daddy's big bed with him.

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Esmeralda was in the bed too. She was the woman that Daddy had asked to substitute for Mommy and for the most part she did a good job, but the little girl had no time for Esmeralda at the moment. On this night the little girl was sick: cough, fever, and a headache. She also didn't mind kicking Esmeralda out of Daddy's side of the bed.

The little girl found a shoulder with her hand first. The shoulder sure felt like his and was hairy, but she needed to be sure it was Daddy and not some imposter. Her hand followed the shoulder up to a neck and she felt a beard. It was scratchy and medium length, just like Daddy's. Big shoulders- check, scratchy beard- check. There was just one more thing left to confirm that the man in bed next to her was Daddy. She followed the beard up past the man's lips and found his nose. It was BIG, just like Daddy's. The little girl smiled in the dark and pinched Daddy's nose shut.

"Go to sleep Natalie," the man said with a silent groan. Natalie drew her hand back and closed her eyes. She tried to go to sleep.


The young nurse walked out of a patients room and into the hallway. It was a quiet night, and there were not many patients in care. She walked down the hallway and came upon an older nurse peaking in one of the rooms.

"How are they doing tonight?" the young nurse asked.

"Oh, they're doing fine," said the older nurse, "I reckon he'll be heading out in an hour or so just like always."

The young nurse stood beside her senior and looked in the room too. The patient laid motionless and almost disappeared beneath the cords and monitors that kept her young body alive. Her father slept beside her in an uncomfortable hospital chair that he had moved as close to the bed as possible. He was wearing his work clothes and snoring.

"Any change in her vitals?" asked the young nurse.

"No," replied the older nurse. "She's still as unresponsive as the day he brought her in here."

The nurse wasn't on shift the day the little girl was admitted, but she had read the charts plenty of times. Her father brought her in to the E.R. early one morning because he couldn't get her to wake up. Nothing was wrong with her aside from a low grade fever, and the normal tests came back inconclusive. Irregardless of the cause, the girl was comatose.

The nurses kept her comfortable, and doctors from the nearby city hospitals tried to solve her case. No combination of drug, procedure, or racket had been able to arouse the girl. She had slumbered undisturbed for almost two weeks, and her father visited every night and slept in the uncomfortable chair as close as he could get to her bed.

The young nurse had to admit that he was a good looking man. He had been built physically from years of manual labor and was kind. He always put the chair back in the corner that it came from when he left for work in the mornings. He was quiet too, and only asked the nurses necessary questions without ever taking an eye off of his little girl. Each night the nurse thought to ask her supervisor if a cot could be brought for the man to sleep on, but she also silently prayed that the girl would wake up in the morning and leave with her father and never come back.


Natalie laid in her fathers bed with her eyes wide open. She felt hot underneath the sheets with a grown adult on either side of her, but she couldn't get herself free. Esmeralda had somehow wrapped herself into a cocoon of cotton fibers and Daddy had fallen asleep on top of his half of the sheets. She tried to wiggle out at first and was able to get the sheets down below her chest. That brought some relief, but her legs were what was really hot underneath the covers. So she tried to pull.

She pulled at Daddy's side of the covers first. This proved to be as futile as a mouse flying to the moon, so she stopped. Natalie wiggled a little more but bumped into the head board before making any more further progress. So she turned her attention to unraveling sheets away from Esmeralda. Maybe if she could get a few inches free she would be able to sit up and climb out from underneath the covers.

She pulled.

There was a small bit of movement from the sheets, but nothing substantial. She pulled again and got some more of the covers free from the woman sleeping next to her. "One more pull ought to do it," she thought to herself and she gripped the covers tightly in her little hands. She pulled with the mightiest heave a three-year-old could muster, and this time there was a lot of movement. The sheets came free from Esmeralda's body so fast that Natalie's elbow hit Daddy's chest. Esmeralda came unfurled and rolled out of the bed with a thud and shriek.

Daddy yelled.

Natalie cried.


Back at the hospital, the man was starting to stir from sleep. The sun had yet to sneak over the edge of the Earth. He wanted to stay, but knew if was going to have any chance at paying these hospital bills, he needed to take all the overtime he could get. Every morning he took a little longer to leave the hospital room than the day before.

He rubbed his eyes and his nose twitched. He could smell the cup of coffee left on side table for him by one of the nurses. He had made a habit of declining their offers of food in the morning, but he couldn't stop one of them from leaving a cup-of-Joe for him before she got off shift. Secretly he hoped it was the younger nurse who insisted on making the kind gesture. He allowed himself to think about her while he drank the coffee. It helped to distract him from the tragedy he was living in.

Everything he thought about the young nurse was opposite from his cup of coffee. He imagined that she was sweet and made for warm company. The coffee on the other hand was bitter and cooling off by the time he drank it. He knew a nurse had to be a strong person to make their living working in pediatric intensive care. The coffee was weak. He also thought the nurse was attractive, but couldn't find how that related to the coffee at all.


Natalie had tried to explain her case as coherently as a three year old can through fever and tears, but Daddy was having none of it. He scooped her up from the bed and carried her out of the room. He grumbled and spoke threats of time out and the taking away of toys, but she couldn't hear him. She kicked her legs in no general direction and shook her head.

"No, I don't want to go my bed!" she yelled, but her cries were ignored by Daddy. He held her tight to his chest, mostly to prevent her from getting any momentum out of the kicks. He started to rock her back and forth as he carried her to her room. She was hot in his arms, and part of him wanted to take the poor girl back to his bed room.

Daddy struggled to open the door while also holding a thrashing toddler, but was able to get her in the room without hitting her head on the door frame. Natalie's kicks became less violent and her cries more subdued. He continued to rock her, and her body relaxed. Maybe she was tired, maybe it was the fever, but she calmed down much faster than normal. When she was silent he brought her closer to her bed and started the awkward maneuver of kneeling down to the floor with her still in his arms. He managed to do so without breaking both of their necks, and laid his daughter down in her bed that was shaped like a house.

Natalie was completely still. "She must have been really tired to fall asleep so fast," he thought. He pulled the covers over her legs and brushed hair out of the girls face. Her forehead was hot to the touch with a light patina of sweat just below the hairline. He wiped it away and kissed her on the forehead.

"Good night baby girl."


The man stood up. His body was sore from the many nights sleeping in a hospital chair followed by long hours at work. He stretched as he walked across the room to throw away his coffee cup and to find his work boots. He knelt down to put them on and felt his knees and hips groan. His tendons hated the hospital chair as much as he did, but he was afraid to ask for a cot. If he kept sleeping in the uncomfortable chair then Natalie's stay would have to be short.

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He stood up and looked at the little girl in her bed. The room was dark, but he could still make out some of her features: beautiful blonde hear, baby doll lips and a nose that was just like his. He pushed the chair over to the corner and walked to the door.

"I love you, Natalie" he said.

"Daddy," said the little girl, "can you leave the door cracked."

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