It was about a quarter after thirty-two o’clock when I felt the mattress give way. There was a light kiss on my cheek. “Love you, Harshan,” came a gentle whisper: it was Melissa, getting out of bed for her midnight glass of water. I rolled over on my side in sleepy pleasure as I listened to the familiar sounds: the smooth sound of a bathrobe being pulled over her shoulders, footsteps into the kitchen, the sound of the cabinet door, and the water flowing from the tap to fill a glass. After a pause, I heard the clink of the glass being set down on the counter top, and the reassuring sound of returning footsteps.
I breathed a deeply satisfying breath—when suddenly a slip and a crash brought me bolt upright in bed!
“Melissaleoma?” I asked tentatively into the darkness and flipped on my bedside lamp. I squinted in the sudden brightness, desperate to see. There was no answer! I grabbed my bathrobe and dashed into the hallway…
There she sat with a sickened look on her face. Her eyes were dull. Could she have slipped on the rug and broken her hip? I hoped not, but raced for the phone. “Hapdorn Medical Emergency,” I enunciated as carefully as I could, trying to suppress the quaver in my voice, and spelled out our address.
It was only moments later that I could see the green and yellow ambulance lights through the living room windows, but it seemed like months. Two men in blue disposable coveralls came racing quietly up the stairs to our apartment, carrying a stretcher. Behind them, I could see our upstairs elderly neighbors creeping quietly down the stairs to see what the matter was. (Older people sleep more lightly, I reminded myself.) I had left the front door standing open in my haste to show the medics where Melissa was.
“Well, friend, she did not fracture her pelvis as you feared,” the shorter medic said. “It appears to be a muscular bruise occasioned by the fall. It will be uncomfortable for a few days. But there’s more…”
“Daddy?” came Darryl’s sleepy voice, “Mommy? Who are all these people?”
“Mommy’s had an accident,” I explained hastily, “and she’ll have to go to the hospital for a while.” I was at a loss for words at this point. What should I do? Go with my ailing wife? Tend to my minor child?
The elderly lady came to my rescue. She walked over to Darryl, knelt, and hugged him reassuringly around his shoulders. “Your daddy has to go to the hospital with your mommy for a while, and then he’ll be back. In the meantime, we will spend the night with you.” She spoke to Darryl, but she looked towards me for confirmation. “Okay?”
“Okay,” Darryl agreed, and I nodded my assent. Suddenly his crankiness dissipated into growing reverent awe: “Does this mean I’m going to have a baby brother?”
I couldn’t choke out an answer right away over the lump in my throat, so I just rubbed the top of his little head affectionately and squeezed him to my side. “I don’t think so, space cadet,” I said, slipping into my shoes, “This is something quite different.” I grabbed blindly into the hall closet for my winter coat and threw it on over my pajamas.
“Oh boy!” he exclaimed. I could only guess what he was imagining.
I briefly wondered how our kind neighbors would cope with Darryl’s characteristically human inability to sleep a whole night though, but Melissa soon regained preeminence in my mind. I’ve seen stretchers being loaded into ambulances a thousand times, but this time, my heart was in my throat for fear they would drop her. It was very cold, and I could only worry that they had given her enough blankets! I climbed in with the medics and crouched by her side. She lay speechless in the ambulance as we sped our way through the deserted nighttime streets of Hapdorn towards the University Veterinary Center. I don’t know if she was unable to talk, or just afraid of it; it didn’t matter. I stroked her forehead with my hand. “Melissa Lahtissimon,” I said as plaintively as I could, “I love you so!” Her eyes sparked a remembrance of the airport incident long ago, and she weakly lifted my hand and kissed it. The wordless message came so clear; that she would not leave me, no matter how bad things seemed.
One of the medics gave her an injection, and the other whispered in my ear: “She’s had a heart-attack. But don’t worry, it isn’t serious.”
We arrived at the hospital in a flurry of activity. I was confused and lost, like a child among adults. Everyone was so busy tending to Melissa, and I had nothing to do but stand and watch! There was a huge commotion for a very short time. She was bundled off to an emergency treatment room somewhere, and I was helplessly pushed in the direction of a waiting room.
I have never before felt conspicuous in Thorgelfayne because of my race; but here I was, the only white Halakanian face in a Thorgelfaynese waiting room. There were only a couple of people there (mainly expectant fathers), but I felt like I had a buzzing, glowing neon sign around my neck: “Nervous Husband Exhibit, Do Not Feed!”
It was too warm for me in the waiting room, but I couldn’t take off my coat, since I only had pajamas on underneath. I couldn’t stand it, so I bore the winter cold instead and paced the street outside. I turned up the collar of my winter coat, and forced my gloved hands deep into my pockets.
I must have paced that empty street a dozen times that night. In my mind, I relived every moment with Melissa; I thanked her for the good ones, and apologized for the bad ones. I also kept wondering why the traffic lights still go red-yellow-blue at night when all the motorists are home asleep. The sky was nearly clear, no moons were out, and I watched the constellations wheel their way one eighth of the way around the southern pole. I looked for Sol, but it had set. (Half past four, my watch confirmed.) How stark and clear the stars are on a cloudless winter night, I thought! Is it like this on Earth, I wondered? My thoughts thus returned to Melissa, and I shuddered, but not with the cold.
What is taking them so long?
I was only dimly aware of the medic who came rushing towards me.
“Thank goodness I found you!” he exclaimed out of breath. “I thought you’d be in the waiting room,” he explained, and caught his breath. “Your wife is fine now.”
“I am so grateful, friend!” I gasped, and fell into his arms in tears of relief. My wet cheeks stung in the winter wind, and I wiped them with my gloves. “What was wrong with her?”
“It was a heart attack, as we diagnosed,” he confirmed. “We’ve corrected the problem; it didn’t even require surgery. It’s somewhat unusual in a Human her age, but with a little checkup now and then, she’ll live to the ripe old age of whatever a human lives to the ripe old age of!”
I was hysterical with joy! Nobody really knows how old that is, but who cares? Melissa is fine!
We bounced our way like schoolboys back to the emergency entrance of the hospital.
“Just one thing,” he said somberly as we paused before the door.
“What’s that?” I asked, fully detecting his change of mood.
“She should not travel to Earth without taking special precautions!” he implored. He stared at his gloved hands apologetically, “This is just my opinion, and I only mention it because it is her planet of origin.”
“The difference in gravity?” I surmised.
“No, that’s negligible,” he explained, waving the thought away as if it were a gnat. “It’s the difference in health care. If she had had a heart attack of this magnitude on Earth, it would have most certainly been fatal. We’ve repaired the damage; a recurrence is not very likely, but it is possible.” He began to stutter with embarrassment. He didn’t want to sound as though he were slandering my wife’s native planet. “Earth is a developing planet,” he stated outright, “and the medical infrastructure is unstable. If she returns to Earth, and suffers a second heart attack, there is no guarantee that proper help will arrive in time.”
“Nothing to worry about!” I said, dismissing his concern. “The only parts we’d visit are the most civilized parts! It’s not as primitive as some people think.” I started for the door.
The medic suddenly blocked the door and stared me in the eyes. “Look, friend,” he said in a serious tone, “I am an expert in these things. A visit to Earth would most likely do her no harm. I would be remiss, however, if I did not inform you of the risk!”
I considered his point. “Then she shall never go to Earth!” I vowed, “but I don’t think she would ever want to go anyway. After all, it’s not as though anything important is there!” After a moment of thought, I added, “Except her mother, of course; and Mrs. Franklin would much rather travel to Homeland!”
The medic led me down long corridors and got me passed several nurses’ checkpoints so that I could finally see Melissa again. She was radiant, and happy as a hugmup in bath water. I was quite frankly afraid to touch her, for fear she was fragile; but she reached out and embraced me. We laughed and cried like children! She asked me about Darryl, and I told her about the upstairs neighbors. I spent the rest of the night under a blanket on the sofa in her hospital room.
The very next morning, she was back at home as though nothing at all had happened (although we were both exhausted). Darryl was grumpy, since his hoped-for baby brother didn’t materialize. I even lied to Melissa, and told her that she had only slightly dislocated her hip when she slipped on the rug. I suspect they told her the truth at the hospital, though; she kept talking about a history of heart disease on her father’s side of the family.
I never told her about the medic’s travel advisory.
But my mind keeps going back to that night on the frozen sidewalk outside the hospital.
Just before he let me in the hospital door, the medic had hesitated for one moment longer.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“I admire you,” he said as his voice broke. “You saved her life!”
“What do you mean?” I protested, “I just called the ambulance, like anyone else would do…”
“No!” he insisted, “No, I mean when you married her; when you took her away from Earth and brought her here to Homeland and to civilization as we know it, you saved her life! If she had stayed in the wild on her native planet, she’d be dead by now!” He hugged me almost with more strength than I could bear.
I shall banish that distressing thought eternally from my skull. To Earth we shall never go. My gift to Melissa, forever my secret.