Anwis Eddicus: Alta slowly walked into the hallway, seeking out a public refresher. The room was completely and painfully silent, save for two beeping machines: a vital signs monitor and a breathing device. Both of these sounds told me was that Mai was still alive.
I still could not believe that I was actually sitting in that hospital room. My wife of nearly eighteen years had been diagnosed with a severe brain lesion, and the root cause remained unknown. The doctors offered loose speculation that a virus of some type had affected her, but such possibility failed to explain why neither Alta nor I remained in good health. In fact, our daughter had been with Mai for two weeks seemingly non-stop when she had suddenly begun to vomit blood. I remember the call in my office on Coruscant from Alta while my wife was being admitted to emergency care. Needless to say, my universe did more than grind to a halt; it collapsed inward upon itself as if a super-massive black hole had been unleashed.
I canceled all my meetings, dismissed my staff for a few days, and mentioned to Senator Zallen Fraajic, the head of the political alliance, that I was leaving. He promptly called a frigate to take me to Tanaab straightway, and Alta met me at the spaceport in the blue family speeder. We traveled together in utter silence to the hospital, exchanging only passing glances. Her face was rife with fear; we were both at a loss for words.
And so it was: Alta and I had watched together as Mai suffered for three tedious days. She was barely conscious, her vital signs were slowly slipping, and the doctors were completely powerless to do anything about it. Operating on the brain was not possible due to the location of the lesion, and her condition—as unstable as it was—made any attempt impossible without the risk of death being an absolute certainty. The decision had been made before my arrival to stabilize my wife before trying anything else. This plan seemed to be strongly failing, but nothing else appeared to have potential.
Minor operations on the brain only minimized the effects, but nothing was able to prevent Mai from slipping further and further toward the grip of Death. I feared that this was the inevitable end. Whatever strength I did have, I attempted to show for my daughter. Such vain effort! Even at seventeen, Alta was stronger than I; she was handling everything in stride. Of course, she was visibly tormented by the events that were unfolding, but she was keeping it together far better than even I. Only once did she cry publicly; I, however, was melting like a candy in an ion cooker.
The hours passed because they had to. Time was tormentingly dutiful. We did not eat; we barely slept. I sat almost exclusively in a green-padded chair next to the bed, so I could reach the stand with some basic supplies and be within an arm's-length of the bed. The window over my right shoulder offered a little natural light, and the occasional scurrying of nurses in the hallway, just to the left of straight-ahead, broke the monotony. For hours at a time I sat in that chair, aligned with my wife's waist and angled to stare at her face. Alta took up residence on the bench at the foot of the bed, staring longingly up from her mother's feet. When night fell, she simply rolled onto her side and dozed off. A padded bench under the window became an alternate makeshift bed, but we barely used it.
Mai periodically awoke but was only partially aware of her surroundings. She sometimes grabbed my arm and squeezed as tightly as she could. Each time the grip became weaker and weaker. Her face was drawn and pale. She had not been able to say anything audible since my arrival, but I was not asking for her to say anything. Each time she moaned, as if trying to talk, I wept nearly without control. On occasion, she did muster a few words together. I only wished that she could have one last chance to speak, if this was in fact the end—one last time for her to tell her daughter that she was loved. That's all I desired, should Death's arrival be imminent.
With Alta still out of the room, Mai opened her eyes and slowly turned her head toward me. Even though her complexion indicated that she was fading quickly, her eyes showed the same fighting spirit that I had loved from the beginning. Nothing scared her, not even now. She mumbled something incomprehensible and garnered enough strength to smirk. Excited and impatient, I leaned forward, bracing my left arm on the mattress of the bed. Then, she began to softly speak.
"Don't wait for me," she stammered. "Go home and eat some dinner."
The words impaled me directly in the heart. My wife had finally spoken, and she wanted me to leave? I broke down and wept, my face plunging into the mattress next to Mai's hip. She was garnering the strength to dismiss me, as I would have dismissed soldiers under my command. Alas, I understood what she meant, but the prospect of losing her was not one that I was ready to face. She clearly recognized that Death had arrived for her, and it was not her desire for me to see it take her soul.
"I cannot go yet," I replied tearfully, looking up from the bed. "Almost, but not yet. Not until Alta talks to you."
She squeezed my hands and stared into my eyes. It was almost as if for a moment she was communicating with me. It felt as if I could hear her voice pleading with me to let her go, yet reminding me that she would always be present. Then, our conversation changed as her eyes became weary. Of course, she had literally said nothing to me telepathically, but I could sense her desires nevertheless. Many years of marriage built that bond.
"Retreat to Ursapa if you must," Mai once again interjected, eyes drifting closed. Her voice carried the weight of a thousand banthas. "Don't rush back to Coruscant. Spend some time with Alta. She needs you more than ever."
"I'm not leaving without you," I blurted without thinking. Tears streamed down the side of my face.
"I'm never leaving you," she returned. Her eyes gained intensity. "I've never stopped loving you."
"I love you more," I responded, playing our little game that had gone back to our engagement almost nineteen years earlier.
Mai smiled softly. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, which resulted in a rash of heavy, deep coughs. I grabbed a wad of tissue from the stand and held it to her mouth. In moments it was covered in blood and mucus, but the coughing subsided. I simply dropped the tissue into the untouched bowl of soup from lunch, knowing that Mai was never going to eat it. In fact, she was likely to never eat again. Such premise haunted the air in the room.
It remained silent for another ambiguous block of time. Alta slowly plodded back into the room, having missed the moments that were just shared between a husband and wife. She positioned herself in the corner of the room over my left shoulder. Sometime later—time no longer meant anything to me—Alta stepped closer and stood directly behind me. She crossed her arms across my shoulders and leaned forward, against me. I could tell she was gently crying, so I reached up with my right hand and put it against the side of her head. At that point, she finally lost composure.
I stood and tightly embraced my daughter, hoping to calm her down. Tears poured down her face as it was pressed against my chest, her breathing grew heavier and more labored than having had run a race. Nothing needed to be said, and nothing was said. She simply needed to let her emotions loose and know that I was there to comfort her. Alta stayed in my arms for what was probably about five minutes, her tears soaking my shirt. Eventually, the requirement of tissue outweighed her desire to remain stationary. As she stepped over toward the box of tissue, the distraught teenager tacitly placed her left arm along the edge of her mother's bed.
Suddenly, Mai raised her left hand and touched the backside of Alta's arm. The seventeen-year-old nearly jumped at the surprise, and her face illuminated with life. Mai still had her eyes closed, but it was clear that she knew who had trespassed the area of the bed.
"My little girl," she whispered. Two suppressed coughs interrupted the train of thought. "I have something to tell you."
Alta, with extreme excitement, squatted on the side of the bed and leaned across her mother, arching over the waist. Her left forearm landed incredibly close to the IV line that was attached to Mai's right arm.
"You've become an amazing young lady," Mai said, opening her eyes to see her daughter practically laying across her waist. "I'm so happy for what is still ahead of you."
Alta mumbled something incomprehensible, unable to overcome the emotions that welled up inside her. Tears began to drip down her right check, to which her mother used every bit of strength possible to lift her left arm and wipe one of them.
"I will always love you," she continued, staring into Alta's eyes. "Always. Never forget that."
"No, Mommy," Alta blurted.
"Never," Mai stammered. "Never forget that I love you."
I took a step forward, allowing my legs to press against Alta's, which hung from the side of the bed like branches from a tree. I then leaned inward, hoping to make eye contact one last time. Mai responded with a smirk as she gazed into my eyes. Looking into hers, I no longer saw the fighting spirit that I loved. Instead, I saw a courageous peace. She knew it was her time. My heart sank through the tiled floor, knowing full-well that Death was completing the process of taking her away.
I grabbed her left arm, as if to hold onto her and prevent the dark menace in the room from winning the battle. She gripped mine delicately for a brief moment and then let go.
Her eyes closed, and her breathing ceased.
The machines stopped beeping, one of them initiating a long, low-pitched tone.
Alta's face became flush and withdrawn; her eyes widened to the size of planets. She let out a high-pitched scream and fell flat on her mother's chest, gripping the body. She wailed and groaned. Overcome by the display, I fell into the seat next to the bed and began to weep. I had seen Death act many times as a soldier and commander. I had seen it take my parents. Never before had its actions assailed the very core of my soul. I feared I would never survive this emotional assault.
A moment later, a series of nurses entered the room. The lead doctor followed not far behind. They looked at me and checked some of the instruments. They looked at Alta, strewn across her mother's body, and then exited. Before making the turn down the hallway, the doctor reentered the room.
"I am terribly sorry for the loss, Senator Eddicus," he cordially offered. "We'll give you and your daughter some time alone. If there is anything you need, please ask."
"We're going to leave, actually," I stated, feigning a re-composition of composure. "There's nothing more for us here."
As the doctor left, I walked over to Alta and lovingly peeled her off of Mai's lifeless body. The process only had to be initiated before she stammered to her feet and threw her arms hastily around me. Her brown hair flung into my face and scattered across my bosom. We stood in silent embrace for what may have been nearly fifteen minutes.
Finally, my daughter stood upright and glared into my eyes. The pain was palpable, but her resolve had also returned. Alta wiped her eyes and walked passed me, grabbing the bag of belongings that we had brought. Together, we slowly began to pack everything up and prepared to leave.
A nurse walked in shortly thereafter with paperwork that needed to be signed. The body had to be delivered to someplace appropriate, considerations that had not even been pondered on my end. We had no other family to consider and only a few close friends, so I elected to have the body transferred directly to a burial site. A solemn ceremony was all that was necessary before Alta and I did anything else. Instructing the body to be delivered there, I signed the transfer documents and let out a large, gasping sigh. Then, the nurse handed me one last piece of paper. I read it, noting the contents. All life seemed to be sapped from my existence once again. As I scribbled my signature on the document, I realized that I had just done the unthinkable: signed the death certificate of my wife.
As the nurse departed, Alta stood and slung the two bags over her left shoulder. I took my arm and pressed the right side of her body against mine and walked her out of the room. I fought the swelling of emotions, but tears still began to form in my eyes. As we traversed the corridor, the nurses stood still and watched. Everyone knew what had happened. Alta and I were on parade, walking a shameful march of loss. Death prematurely stole away my wife; the inevitability of his victory having come far too early. We marched deliberately to the repulsorlift and, after taking it down a few levels, walked through the lobby.
As the doors slid open to the outside of the hospital, the fresh warm breeze smacked our faces like punches from an adversary. The stale, oft-sterilized air of the hospital had become a norm.
"So what do we do now?" Alta asked.
I looked down at my daughter, still gripping her with my left arm across her shoulders.
"What is there to do?" she continued.
"Let's grab something quick to eat and think about going to Ursapa for a few days," I answered. "That's what your mother wanted."
Alta nodded without looking up.
"There's no reason why she couldn't get what she wanted," she replied.
Once we sat in the blue speeder, she tightly grasped my right hand before I started the engine.
"Don't leave me," she said. Her face was one of terror.
I positioned myself to face her more and leaned forward. After planting a kiss on her forehead, I answered, saying, "I'm not going anywhere."
Alta sighed and sat back in the chair. She stared forward; her pain was visible in her face.
"Who are we going to call to attend the burial?" she asked.
The question assailed my emotions.
"I haven't given it any thought yet," I said. "I… I'm not even sure who to call. Probably the Mettus family, and… a few others. I'm just not sure yet."
"Let me know when you've made your calls," Alta continued. "Once you've told the people that need to know, I want to call Cirra and talk to her."
"She's your best friend," I responded. "You can call her now."
"Not yet," Alta hastily returned, turning back toward me for a brief moment. "We need to tell Mom's friends first. That's only proper."
Even though my daughter was assuredly in emotional pain, she was attempting to conceal it.
"We can always talk, Alta," I said. "Sometimes, it's best to talk these things out."
"I know," she answered, peering back toward me. "I'm still just trying to understand this."
"Well, let's get something to eat," I responded. "We can talk about everything over dinner. Neither of us has eaten for almost two days."
"Can we go do the Tapani take-out place near the park?" she asked. "That was Mom's favorite. We can sit in the park and have some quiet time away from everyone."
"Sure," I answered, nodding in agreement. "That's probably a good idea. Let's go eat some Tapani food and sit in the park."