Today, Todd would face his wife’s killer. Four days ago (only four?) the killer had taken her life. The funeral was over. Family and friends had mostly drifted back to their own lives. The officials had called. It was time for Todd to do something about the killer.

Todd and Jessica had only been married two years. Their courtship began at church and culminated in a storybook church wedding. She was God’s choice for him, Todd knew. Jessica had a zest for life that lit up his engineer’s step-by-step approach. She pushed him to try new things and enjoy the random interruptions that God threw into his meticulous routine. “God is a God of surprises,” she would remind him. And He had surprised them.

Jessica had been pregnant with their first child, a girl. It hadn’t been settled yet, but her name was going to be Mercy. Jessica’s grandmother, a true southern matriarch, started most of her exclamations that way. “Mercy, but isn’t it a hot one today!” “Mercy! This tea needs more sugar.” “Mercy! But hasn’t the Lord been so good to our family!” If it hadn’t been forbidden by some taboo Todd didn’t understand, he probably would have called her Grandma Mercy. She had died just a few months ago, declaring “mercy” until the end. Jessica wanted to honor her by naming their daughter Mercy. Todd hadn’t objected, but it all seemed a little unreal to him anyway. The naming could wait — except for what happened four days ago. The killer struck. Now Jessica was dead, and Mercy … Todd couldn’t even continue the thought. He tried to order his emotions like equations, but they refused.

Driving was probably a bad idea. Todd hadn’t driven since it happened. Church friends had ferried him between hospital, home, funeral home, and cemetery. For as much life as he felt, he should have just taken another coffin in the hearse. But driving was a rote mechanical skill. He could do that. Do your duty. Hold back those emotions and just drive. It should be a short trip. But even the traffic lights showed no mercy, lengthening the journey to sputtering stops and starts.

Eventually Todd parked in the gray, nondescript lot next to the gray, nondescript building. So, the killer was here in this bland institution. It felt so wrong. The killer received everything needed for daily living. Todd had barely eaten, barely slept. Did the killer rest easy? How could this be? How could a merciful God spring such a surprise? Todd hadn’t done anything to deserve this. It wasn’t right.

“Shoulds” and “oughts” waged guerrilla war against Todd’s anger, grief, and sense of injustice. His faith had taught him about mercy and forgiveness. But surely he was exempt from the demands of faith, at least for awhile. He deserved a reprieve from doing “right” because of the injustice he was enduring. But then a shot from a hidden place: if mercy is right, shouldn’t it always be right? How could it be called mercy, unless a wrong was absolved? Would God grant mercy to this killer? If Todd somehow chose mercy, would it lessen his own pain?

Consumed by his struggle, Todd barely discerned all the people around him. A few moved with duty and purpose. Others wandered in despair and indecision. The saddest were trapped, unable to move at all. Todd could calculate the volume of air in the building, but not the pain. How much sorrow and grief could one building contain? How much sorrow and grief could one heart contain? His vision narrowed to just his goal. Follow the signs. Without them, this place was a maze without escape. Many never left. An elevator brought him to the proper floor. He took a right, a left, and followed the harshly flourescent corridor. Those around him ignored his presence. He was just another wanderer in a building of lost souls.

He neared the killer’s temporary residence. It lay behind ominous doors marked “Authorized Visitors Only.” Todd approached the guardian of the doors and fumbled through his wallet for the proper identification. The guardian nodded knowingly, sadly and typed something into a computer terminal. A printer clacked briefly to life and then fell silent. Todd took the printed badge and applied it to his chest. He didn’t want this badge or any other. He paused, thinking about what was on the other side of those sealed doors. “Breathe,” he thought, realizing that he had even paused that life-sustaining act. The guardian pushed a hidden button. The buzzing sound permitted entry and jarred Todd enough to move again. “Last door on the left,” accompanied him through the doorway.

His steps slowed. His heartbeat increased. What was he going to say? What would he do? The confusing tangle of all his musings over the last four days would erupt into something. His first words, his first actions. It was incredibly important. They would be seared across his life — and the killer’s. But his attempts to create order were failing. He reached for the doorknob, defeated in his attempt to formulate a plan. Maybe Jessica’s encouragements to embrace the random challenges of life would aid him. “Oh, Jessica, I need you!” The heavy door swung inward.

The first thing Todd noticed was the killer’s box bed. But the killer was not there. A pleasant voice startled him: “Mr. Stanfield.” It was a white-clad nurse. And in her arms – the killer. “This is your daughter, Mercy.” She stepped forward, holding out a tightly swaddled pink form. The girl was awake. It could have been anyone’s daughter, except for those eyes. The sparkle behind the blue was unmistakably Jessica’s — the sparkle of spontaneity he missed so dearly. The killer was his daughter.

“No! I can’t… Don’t you know? I don’t know how…” stammered Todd. The nurse stepped closer still. Gently she laid the girl into his arms. How had they opened to receive her? His thoughts shattered, nothing coherent presenting itself. He looked down into that beautiful, innocent face. Her birth had brought Jessica’s death. But she was no killer. Not any more. Todd’s grief melted into a warmth he didn’t understand. A protective instinct wrapped about him as tightly as the girl’s blanket. It was probably a trick of his tears, but she seemed to be gazing right into him. In that moment, Todd knew only one thing. Mercy would come home with him.

Other works by this Voice:
A true story about a 67 year delayed picture that arrived just in time
Poetry: “Some Might Say”

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