Sisters of Mercy


Fiction Editor Suzanne McConnell on “Sisters of Mercy” by Joan Leegant:

I’ve presented the short-short story “Sisters of Mercy” in the literature and medicine seminars I facilitate at three hospitals in New Jersey, and twice more in demonstrating for medical organizations how the literature and medicine program works. Each time the story provoked a well of responses.

In “Sisters of Mercy,” Joan Leegant depicts, in an astonishingly brief page and a half, gender and class at work in the theatre of a Boston operating room, while focusing the plot on medical error. I admire the story enormously. I admire it for these themes but also for its technical skill. The narrator’s voice seems singular, but the point of view is actually the unusual collective “we,” so Leegant captures an individual and the communal at once. It’s as concise as a poem. It’s moving. And the character – this shrewd, veteran nurse – is as vivid in my mind’s eye as if I’d known her all my life. And maybe I have.

Joan Leegant

Joan Leegant is the author of a novel, Wherever You Go, and a story collection, An Hour in Paradise, which won the Winship/PEN New England Book Award, the Wallant Award, and was a finalist for the National Jewish Fiction Award. Recent story awards include the Nelligan Prize from Colorado Review, Moment Magazine story contest, and a Pushcart Prize nomination. She divides her time between Boston and Tel Aviv, where she teaches at Bar-Ilan University.

V11N1 (Spring 2011)

"Sisters of Mercy" appears in BLR V11N2 (Spring 2011).

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Sisters of Mercy, by Joan Leegant

The surgeon came into the O.R. chewing gum. This was how we knew there’d be a problem. It wasn’t the gum but what it was meant to disguise. We’re not talking bad breath.

The patient was shaved, supine, out. His wife was in the plastic chair in the hall gripping the handle of her pocketbook. He’s the best in the business, we assured her. Why don’t you go home and wait there? Much more comfortable, your own living room, you could rent a movie, read a book. A tough bird, South Boston, she said she’d stay here thank you very much. You didn’t leave your husband of forty-two years with a brain hemorrhage to go home and watch Law & Order.

Gloved, gowned, masked; we dressed him. A star in medical school. No rich parents putting him through. He was one of us. West Roxbury, Roslindale, Revere. Like the man on the table. Like all our brothers. He’d gone to school with our cousins, his parents went to Saint Anne’s with ours, at sixteen he got into trouble for setting off Roman candles at Wollaston Beach. Girls like us have always been there to keep him in line. Mothers did it too. Aunts.