This is a work of fiction.
My throat is sore and I’m thirsty.
So this is it, I think as I tiptoe into the bathroom and fill a glass. This is the virus.
I never thought to ask Mercy how hers started. Were her symptoms this mild and innocent, like a little bit of a cold? Did she have any inkling that she would be wandering the streets, feverish and confused, looking for shelter? How long had she walked before she stepped up onto my porch and rang the bell?
I should ask her.
Do I want to know the answer?
Does she even remember?
I take a sip of cool water and then another.
I drain the glass.
I take another one with me back to bed.
I wake up again needing water and the bathroom, but I fall back to sleep quickly.
When I wake up again, it’s eight. I hear Mercy in the kitchen, making herself breakfast.
I dress, have a drink of water, and go down into the kitchen.
“Hi,” she says. She’s at the stove, frying bacon.
“Hi,” I say. “I’ve got the virus. So far, just a sore throat and I guess I’m sort of tired.”
The bacon also smells weird, but I decide not to complain. At least one person should enjoy it.
I decide to have some toast.
After one bite, I put it down.
“Does it taste bad?”
“Yeah. I think I’ll try some orange juice.”
It tastes marginally better, and I force it down.
Mercy sits across from me, eating a large plate of bacon and eggs.
“Are you going back to bed?” she asks.
“No. I feel well enough to paint. What are you doing today?”
“I think I might read or watch TV. It’s nice to be able to sit and . . . do whatever I want.”
“Will you tell me about before you came here?”
She shakes her head.
“Maybe some day, but not now. You draw pictures for books, right?”
“Can I read any of the books?”
“None of them have been published yet, but when they are, sure you can.”
She takes a bite and chews.
After she swallows, she says, “I wish I had a talent.”
“I think everybody does.”
“Not me. I’m no good.”
I want to tell her she’s good in bed, but something stops me. She is, but I sense it’s not the kind of talent she’s talking about, and to say it might even offend her, which is the last thing I want to do.
“What kind of talent would you most want to have?”
“What do you mean?”
“Drawing? Writing? Singing? What talent would you most want?”
“Oh, I used to sing.”
“Why did you stop?”
She looks uncomfortable and sad.
I reach across the table and take her hand.
“It might be part of what you don’t want to tell me. I get that. Would you ever want to sing again?”
“What was your favorite song?”
“The usual children’s songs, and Christian stuff.”
“Like Amazing Grace?”
I’m not the best singer, but I try.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound.”
“That saved a wretch like me,” we sing together.
She looks surprised.
Her voice is beautiful, high, and goes well with my low one.
“I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.”
“We sound good.”
“Yeah,” she says. “Do you know the rest?”
I don’t, so she sings it solo.
After the last note dies away, she says, “Thank you, Billy. Thank you for helping me find my voice again. It’s been . . . nine years. The last time I heard that song was at . . . at the funeral.”