Hot Tin Roof: Sorrow House

By Bri LaPelusa

My first experience with Mercy was in the single stall bathroom in the emergency room lobby. I was 19, high—lost on my way to or from a house party. The lobby air was disorienting; it smelled like lemon, rubber, grief and chicken noodle soup. I remember an overall sense of antiseptic. A brushed steel crucifix was mounted above the information desk; a plaque on the adjacent wall read Lord Have Mercy.

In 300 B.C. one of civilization’s earliest hospitals on record was established in Ireland; it was called Broin Bearg, which translates from Celtic to “House of Sorrow.” Hospitality developed as a Christian virtue; mercy likewise as a concept of religious ideology.  Mercy Hospital was first established as a physical embodiment of these virtues.

As I asked the desk clerk directions to the nearest restroom, I felt overwhelmed by the notion of mercy. She pointed straight at me and said, “Right there.”

“Right, there,” I said, pressing my index finger to my lips. The residue of my lipstick pooled fuschia around my fingerprint. The woman behind the desk adjusted her reading glasses and emitted a cough with such severe apathy that it vocalized sadness.

Hospitals are edifices erected out of necessity and despair. Their patronage is forlorn, strung together by a common search.  Navigating the wings of a hospital is akin to that of a scavenger hunt—the searched object being hope. Christian hospitals found themselves on this search, on the principles of judgment and faith.

The bathroom stall was handicapable and gender neutral. The silver railing next to the toilet was exceptionally shiny; I searched for my reflection in it and found nothing. There was no mirror. I urinated for what felt like five entire minutes. Alternating between slouching and sitting up straight in the seat, I grabbed at my beer-bloated stomach and struggled to find the seam along the toilet paper roll. I balled a long ribbon in my palm and smeared the neon orange debris from my nose into it.

Mercy’s Mission Statement cites their core values to be “Respect, Excellence, Compassion, Stewardship and Collaboration,” in that order. Mercy vows to treat each person with dignity and to honor the sacredness of life; to provide personalized and quality care, to show empathy and care for the sick and vulnerable while using resources responsibly; working together ultimately for the common good of the community.

Prayer cards are available at the information desk for free in honor of the Angel of Mercy to provide words of encouragement for the sick and mourning. Mercy collects New American Bibles and back issues of The New Yorker and arranges them neatly on tables made of wood laminate. Its air is filtered, Smoke Free and Latex Safe. Its walls murmur an acoustic version of “Here Comes the Sun,” and its atmosphere sings Percy Faith’s “A Summer Place.” LCD screens surround its hallways and glow with repeat episodes of its bi-weekly cooking show, titled “A Taste of Mercy.”

The frosted block window next to the sink seemed hyper-real, gelatinous. The hospital pastels appeared aggressively cheerful to me, and every sound cut sharply across the fourth amphetamine wall that surrounded me. I tried again to find my reflection in the railing, noticing this time only the color of my lips, the outline of my gold necklace.

The Sisters of Mercy established their hospital in 1873. Together they turned carriages into amphitheaters and built bridges from limestone and community morale. They hosted weekly bridge tournaments and appropriated money to Mercy and its white-walled offspring. Two lifetimes after the Sisters’ arrival, Mercy has since increased its capital by four parking lots, a triage with individual biohazard disposals, floral wallpaper and a gift shop with three flavors of M&Ms. 

The Sisters believed that faith contests impunity; the Angel of Mercy believes in Christmas and community allegiance. The faith bestowed upon us by Mercy and the plaques on its walls says that we are congruous with the rules of His Kingdom. That we will hold serpents with our hands and we will not be bitten except by the glory of God; our tongues will be slick with venomous oil and our taste buds will buzz silently with the bitter-sweetness of the Holy Land.

I dumped the contents of my purse across the faux marble floor and popped the lid off of the clear bottle prescribed to my name that read AMPHETAMINE SALTS 30 mg. I broke one in half and swallowed it with faucet water. As I re-gathered my scattered belongings, I found a blood-tipped five-dollar bill rolled into a tight cylinder; I unraveled it on my bare thigh. As I searched the railing silver again, I was merciful to it, overwhelmed by periphery.

Bri LaPelusa co-edits an online lit mag called DOLLFEEDER and writes a column for Whole Beast Rag. Her work has appeared in The NewerYork, UR Chicago, and Jettison Quarterly. She lives and attends school in Iowa City

Hot Tin Roof is a program to showcase current literary work produced in Iowa City. Submit your piece now to, or visit the contest page for more information.

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