Subscribe to Granta today

The Mercies

Long before any decisions have been made about where or when she might be moving, Sister Nena starts combing the liquor stores early in the morning looking for boxes. She is breaking down the modest contents of her life into three categories: things to keep, things to throw away, things to donate to Catholic Charities. Sister Melanie is doing the same.

‘What’s the rush?’ I ask, picking my way past the long row of boxes that lines the front hall, everything labelled and sealed and neatly stacked. It is August, and the heat and humidity have turned the air into an unbearable soup. I think they’re getting ahead of themselves and I tell them so. Sister Kathy, who is responsible for assessing their situation, won’t be coming from the mother house in North Carolina for weeks.

‘We’ve got to be ready,’ Sister Nena says. She does not stop working. Her state of being is one of constant action, perpetual motion. A small gold tennis racket dangles from her neck where on another nun one would expect to find a cross. ‘I won’t pack the kitchen until the very end.’

Not that the kitchen matters. I suspect that the nuns, who are small enough to emulate the very sparrows God has His eye on, should be eating more, which is why I’ve brought them dinner. Sister Melanie is going to Mercy, the nuns’ retirement home, but she doesn’t know when. Some days she is looking forward to the move, other days she isn’t so sure. She stops and looks in the bag at the casserole I’ve brought, gives me a hug, and ambles off again.

Sister Nena is certain that she doesn’t want to go to Mercy. She regards it as the end of the line. She’s hoping to land in a smaller apartment by herself, or maybe with another sister, though finding a new room-mate at the age of seventy-eight can be a challenge. ‘It’s up to God,’ she says, then she goes back to her boxes.

This article is for Granta online subscribers only.

To read this article you need to be a subscriber to Granta magazine. Login below if you have an account, or click here to subscribe.

You are not currently logged in.