Sister Zero by Nance Van Winckel

Home with Me


Since of course there's no crib, a friend suggests I keep my sister's baby in an open suitcase. So there he is. At home on my office floor. I'm trying to read my students' stories, and he's shrieking. He stops when I lift him and coo to him, but as soon as I bundle him back into the suitcase, he picks right up where he left off. Sorry, baby, I say. I have to work. Sorry, baby, I don't know what's wrong with you.


Sleep-deprived. Behind in my grading. While I'm in class a bevy of student babysitters drifts in and out of my office/nursery. I'm sorry, baby, I say when I get home and stare into his red swollen eyes. The scrunched face utters renewed wails. I have no idea what I'm doing. Why won't he calm down? I'm failing the baby. Why won't he sleep? I'm failing everything.


At my doctor's office, I shout over the baby's wails. I explain about the narcotics my sister was taking while she was pregnant. Since I looked. In her purse. Percocets. Oxy-something. And the smoking. The doctor nods and runs her hand over the baby's cheek. "Well, that's the answer then," she says. "He's in withdrawal."


When I start sobbing the baby peers up at me, his eyes the same amber as my sister's, and—for just a moment—my tears stop his.