"Jamie, Ali called. "Son, come on. Dinner's ready. Go in the bathroom, wash your hands and let's eat."
“Not right now mama, I’m busy.”
“What are you doing?”
“Playing with my Paw Patrol.”
“Jamie, you've been playing that game for an hour. That's long enough. I want you to come and eat your dinner. I fixed your favorite. Hotdogs and Macaroni and cheese. And some green peas.
“I don’t like peas.”
"I know you don't, but I want you to taste them. I melted some butter on them and I know you like butter."
The child did not move.
“Jamie. Dinner. Now.”
“Do I have to?”
Six-year-old Jamie Hendricks, with a scowl on his face, trudged into the bathroom, turned on the faucet, soaped his hands and held them under the warm water. "Mama, is it okay if I dry my hands on daddy's towel?
"No. It's not okay. Use your own towel."
His mother, Ali, rumpled his hair.
The child pushed her hand away.
“I don’t like green peas.”
“Sit down Jamie.”
“If I have to eat green peas, I want to stand up.”
“Young man, sit down!”
Jamie’s loud sigh was absorbed by the scraping of his chair as he pulled it from beneath the table and thumped himself down.
He looked at his plate of macaroni and cheese, a sampling of green peas and a hotdog in a bun. He touched his fork to the peas and scrunched his lips together. "Don't want those peas."
Ali ignored his protest.
“Jamie, will you please ask God to bless our food?”
“Why mama? Why do I need to ask God to bless something I don’t like?”
“Jamie, don’t ask me any questions. I want to you ask the blessing.”
“Do I have to?”
Sigh. Okay then.”
The child bowed his head, folded his hands and closed his eyes. Ali bowed her head and folded her hands, but kept her eyes open. She wanted to watch her child.
The boy opened his eyes and looked at his mother. “I’m thinking, mama. I don’t know what to say.”
“Jamie, you have done this before. Just ask God to bless the food.”
“Mama, where’s daddy?”
“Jamie, your daddy can’t be with us.”
“Honey, you know why. Your daddy is a soldier. He’s in Afghanistan.”
“When will he be home?
“Jamie, I’m hungry. Please ask the blessing so we can eat.”
He bowed his head, folded his hands and closed his eyes. Ali watched.
“God, my mama wants me to ask you to bless this food so we can eat. So, it’s okay to bless the macaroni and cheese and the hotdog. But don’t bless the green peas. I don’t like them. Maybe if you don’t bless them, mama won’t make me eat them. But God, most of all what I want you to do is send daddy home to us. I miss him so much. I know mama is going to make me eat some green peas, but if daddy were here, he would tell her that I don’t have to eat them if I don’t want to. Please bring daddy home. And that’s all I want to say. Amen.”
Ali wanted to say something to her son, but the lump that had formed in her throat made it difficult for any words to leave her lips. She reached across the table and put her hand on his shoulder.
He looked at her. “Was that okay, mama?”
“Yes Jamie. It was more than okay.”
The boy piled some macaroni and cheese on his fork and put it in his mouth. “Oh mama, this is really good!”
The doorbell rang.
Ali arose from the table and looked out of the window. An official looking car had pulled into the driveway. She saw two men. Solemn faces. Full dress army uniforms. Standing on her doorstep. One, holding a large envelope.
Ali froze, surrounded herself with a silent prayer. “No. No. Please God, No.”
She opened the door.
“Are you Alice Hendricks, Mrs. Benjamin Hendricks?”
“May we come in?”
“Of course.” She ushered them into the living room. Please have a seat while I take care of my son.”
“Of course, ma’am.”
“Mama, who’s here?”
“Some men from the army. They won’t be here long. Eat your dinner.”
“What do they want?”
“They just need to talk with me about grown-up stuff.”
“Grown-up stuff. Does that mean I can’t talk with them?”
“Yes. Not now. Maybe some other time when we can talk kid stuff.”
“So, after they leave, you and I will finish dinner and then have some ice cream. Bubble Gum. Your favorite flavor.”
Ali went back into the living room and faced the two men. “Please tell me quietly whatever it is that has happened. My son is only six years old. I don’t want him to hear this from someone he doesn’t know.”
“Of course ma’am. We understand.”
The men spoke quietly in gentle tones. Ali heard what they were saying, but six words screamed in her head. BEN WILL NEVER COME BACK HOME.
The men expressed their sympathy. Ali walked with them to the door. They exited. She watched them get into their car and drive away. She went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. Reached for a towel. Ben’s towel. The one they had hung on the bar the day Ben deployed to Afghanistan. The one that she and Ben promised each other would not be used until he was back home.
She knew the next necessary thing for her to do was join her son Jamie at the dinner table.
“Mama, I ate all of my macaroni and cheese and my hotdog. But do I have to eat my peas?”
She moved his chair away from the table and knelt beside it. “I need a hug.” She said, stretching her arms toward him.
“Okay mama.” He leaned into her and pressed his head against her shoulder
“Mama,” he asked again. “Do I still have to eat my peas? “
“No Jamie, you don’t. I will never make you eat peas again.”
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.