Michelle Buchanan was in her living room, watching the news on the TV while her mother, Siobhan, was in the kitchen peeling and slicing apples.
“Well, worldwide there have been no deaths from The Splits in almost six months,” a reporter said while interviewing Wayne Grey, head of MedicinaTech. “And there have been very few infections, all of which have been quickly dealt with, now that the protocol has been established for quarantining and vaccinating new cases. Have we finally flattened the curve? Is this pandemic finally over?”
“Pretty much, I’d say,” Grey said with a smile that some might have thought overconfident, but in which Michelle saw a possible lie. “Our vaccine, Merginin, which came out on the market about eight months ago, and which has been crucial in flattening the curve, has been sent to countries all over the world and eliminated the symptoms of millions of people. I’ve taken the shot myself, as many have who are unsure whether or not they’re carriers.”
“You have, have you, Wayne?” Michelle whispered as she watched the program with her head tilted to the side.
“Why is the vaccine called ‘Merginin?” the reporter asked.
“Well, the disease is aptly called ‘The Splits,’ since it causes a splitting of the victim’s body and mind,” Wayne explained. “So the cure is a merging of the split body and mind…hence, ‘Merginin’.”
“A lot of people aren’t wearing those protective suits anymore,” the reporter said.
“As we aren’t!” Wayne said with a laugh, noting also the reporter’s not wearing of a protective suit. “No, I don’t think we need them anymore. And since all those earlier viruses, those coronaviruses, have pretty much disappeared off the face of the Earth over the past year, I think we can finally say we can all stop worrying about this plague of diseases we’ve been suffering over the past ten-to-eleven years.”
“Wait, wait, Mr. Grey,” the reporter interrupted. “You don’t want to upset your investors and stockholders now. You don’t want MedicinaTech to go out of business, do you?”
“Oh,” Wayne said with a chuckle. “I didn’t mean that we’ll never ever have diseases again. I just meant that we can all calm down about pandemics…for the time being, anyway.”
“What about maintaining MedicinaTech’s profits?” the reporter asked.
“With the creation and sale of Merginin, MedicinaTech has made such a mountain of profit that we can feel fiscally secure for a long time,” Wayne said. “In any case, I personally am not so worried about profits as I am about ensuring global health.”
“Why do I find that not so easy to believe?” Michelle said.
Her mother came in the living room with a plate of sliced apples. She set it on the coffee table by Michelle.
“Here you are,” she said with a smile.
“Thanks, Mom,” Michelle said, looking up at that smile and scanning it for sincerity. “So, a week ago, you got a shot of that Merginin vaccine, eh?”
“Yes, I did,” Siobhan said. “I feel much better now, too. As you’ll recall, I felt a little nauseous for the first few days, a typical side effect many vaccinated people feel at first. But I’m all good now.”
Michelle looked deeply into her mother’s eyes. “I miss Dad,” she said.
“I do, too,” her mom said, seeming to be getting choked up about her husband’s death for the first time. “When he died, I had that…virus…inside me, clouding up the expression of my feelings. But now that I’ve been vaccinated, I’m feeling emotions more freely. Last night, in my bedroom, I looked at our picture together on our bedside table, the one taken during our honeymoon, and I lay in bed staring at him in the photo, weeping myself to sleep.” A tear ran down her cheek.
The feeling looks sincere, Michelle thought. I guess.
“As bad as it is that your father is gone, though,” Siobhan went on, “at least we have been able to make some democratic changes in our governance of Mississauga. Your father would never have allowed it, but more tax money is going into providing welfare and subsidized housing for the poor.”
“Peter says he’s seeing that happening in Regent Park, too,” Michelle said. “He can’t believe MedicinaTech is actually using some of its revenue for the homeless over there. Maybe Wayne Grey really doesn’t care all that much about maximizing profits.”
“In spite of the pain we’ve suffered, things are changing for the better, Michelle. Little by little. Believe me.”
Michelle looked carefully at her mother’s face again. That smile she saw looked sincere…maybe.
“Sometimes we have to look beyond the immediate needs of our individual families, and be more concerned about the greater good of the world, of all of humanity,” her mom said, still with that smile.
Michelle’s phone rang. “It’s Peter,” she said. She picked it up and ran out of the living room. “Hello,” she said as she went up the stairs to her bedroom.
“So, The Splits is over, eh?” Peter said.
“Apparently,” Michelle said as she entered her room.
“‘Apparently’ is the key word,” he said.
“The news does seem too good to be true,” she said.
“How’s your mom?”
“She seems OK.”
“‘Seems’ is another key word. Be careful. The aliens wouldn’t have given up the fight so easily.”
“Well, I’ve looked in my mom’s eyes carefully many times over the past week or so, and her feelings have looked–well, more genuine since she got the jab.”
“Maybe the aliens are becoming better actors.”
“OK, let’s be careful, but not outright paranoid.”
Peter sighed, then said, “Look, I understand how you’re feeling, Michelle. She’s your mother, and you love her. It’s only natural that you want to believe she’s back to normal. But you don’t want to set yourself up for disappointment, either.”
“Yeah, I know.”
“And ‘paranoid’ is good thinking these days. I still don’t trust Grey. I’ll bet that ‘vaccine’ of his just hides the presence of the aliens inside the carriers.”
“OK…and how do you explain the fact that there haven’t been any more deaths in so long?”
“A media cover-up is the more than likely explanation. The journalists are probably all carriers by now. We’ll need to develop, like, a Voight-Kampff test to know who’s an Earthling and who’s an ET.”
“Maybe,” Michelle said, then walked out of her room, crept down the stairs, and looked at her mom serenely watching the TV, with that all-too-familiar smile on her face.