“Join hands for prayers,” said Grandma Mercy.
Little Thomas cringed. He hated saying prayers before meals, especially in public. Worse, the server had put the steaming pepperoni pizza with extra cheese right under his nose. How could anyone pray with a pizza warming your face and bombarding you with delicious smells? Thomas groaned as the family finished “…in Jesus’ name, amen.”
He crammed the tip of the pizza slice into his mouth and burnt his tongue. He gagged and that caught Grandma Mercy’s eye. He knew she knew he hadn’t prayed. She was a Sunday school teacher and could see right through him. She’d think the pizza-pain was God’s punishment. He forced the doughy wad down his throat in one big gulp. His tongue hurt, but the aftertaste was wonderful. He smirked and licked his lips. That’ll show her, he thought.
Grandma patted her lips with a white paper napkin and then took another nibble of her vegetarian calzone. Even at home, where they didn’t use napkins at meals, Grandma Mercy used her pink handkerchiefs to dab her lips after every bite. The habit was one of the first things to annoy him when she came to live with them, that and her insistence they pray before meals. She even made them go to church on Sunday. “Why do we have to go?” Thomas asked his father.
“Because my mother asked me to,” he answered as if that explained everything. “You’re lucky. When I was a kid…” Thomas held his breath. He hated when his father began a sentence with ‘when I was a kid’. Whenever he did, Thomas turned off his ears.
At church, his younger sister, May, got to spend the service in the glass-enclosed playroom in the back. He had to sit through the whole ordeal sandwiched between Grandma Mercy and his father. As a mechanic, he smelled like a service station and she smelled like the bathroom medicine cabinet. Worse, church was a hungry time. For some insane reason his father made him fast which meant he went without breakfast. There was nothing fast about fasting. Each second was interminable.
“You’re lucky. When I was a boy…”
Oh darn, Thomas thought, here we go again! Thomas turned off his ears.
Thomas missed his Grandpa Mercy. He took him fishing. He let him shoot a pellet gun at grasshoppers. He told him stories about the pioneers and how the Indians became Native Americans. He taught him the real way to pray. “The best time for prayer is after dinner. Thank you, Lord. Or after you catch a fish. Thank you, Lord. Or after you survive an interminable sermon. Thank you, Lord. Or…” and Grandpa would wink. “…after I spend time with you. Thank you, Lord.”
Grandpa gave the best hugs, too. He let Thomas stay in his arms as long as he wanted to and Grandpa always let him go when Thomas was finished. With Grandma Mercy, a hug was a tug-of-war, just as it was now when they left the pizza parlor. Why won’t she let me go? She even tried to wipe off his mouth with her pink handkerchief, but this time he escaped. He whooped and raced to the car.
“Thank you, Lord.”
Richard M. O’Donnell, Sr. is a freelance writer from Oberlin, Ohio. He is co-founder of the Oberlin Writers’ Group and the MindFair poets, and the founder of Infinite Monkey Sci-fi/Fantasy Writers group. His stories, poems and plays have appeared in many venues.