"Put your fork down! We haven't prayed yet."
Oliver dropped the meatball-loaded fork into the pile of spaghetti.
"Don't say sorry to me, tell God you're sorry."
Oliver twiddled with the knife on the side of his plate. His mother finished setting the rest of the table.
"Time to eat!" she yelled to the house.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs and down the hall. Oliver's mother sat down at the table and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. She massaged her temples while Oliver stared at the bags under her eyes.
Oliver paused and looked down at the knife.
"Uhh, thanks for making dinner."
The rest of the family filled the empty seats around the table. Six-year-old Darla and eighteen-year-old Johnny sat down on either side of Oliver, whose age was exactly in-between. Oliver's father sat down at the head of the table with the newspaper.
"Alright, time for grace," said Oliver's mother.
Darla set down her doll and Johnny lowered his headphones. Oliver's father set down the paper and his reading glasses.
"In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, amen."
They crossed themselves and recited aloud.
"Bless us, Oh Lord, and these thy gifts which we are about to receive from thy bounty and through Christ, Our Lord. Amen."
They crossed themselves again. Darla picked up her doll, Johnny slipped his headphones over his ears, and Oliver's father picked up the paper. Oliver's mother sighed and dipped her fork into the spaghetti on her plate.
"Thanks mom," said Oliver.
Oliver stared at the meatball on his fork before playing with the knife beside the plate again.
"You're being pesky today, Oliver. What now?"
"Why do we pray?"
"You know why we pray."
"No I don't."
"We pray because it is the right thing to do. We have to thank God."
"But why? God didn't make any of this food. You did."
"But God provided the food for us."
"Dad did, he goes to work to get money to pay for it."
"Oliver, eat your dinner."
"Dad, why do we pray?"
"Listen to your mother now, Oliver, eat your dinner."
"But I'm not hungry."
"Oliver, you've been acting strange all day, if you're sick, not eating isn't going to help."
"But mom, I'm not sick."
"Then eat your dinner."
Oliver sighed and set down the knife. Why it was there in the first place, Oliver had no idea. Nobody used a knife to eat spaghetti and meatballs.
The dinner continued on in silence. Eyes were focused on the plate or the the newspaper and the mouths were too filled with food to talk. Five minutes later, Johnny slid back his chair and left. Two minutes later, Oliver's father did the same and a minute after that, Darla attempted to follow.
"Darla. Finish your noodles," Oliver's mother corrected her.
After finishing the noodles, Darla left. The TV flickered on in the adjacent room as Oliver's father turned on the news. Oliver finished his meal but sat, staring at his plate, until his mother stood up. Picking up Johnny's plate and glass, she reached to pick up Oliver's but Oliver snatched it before she had a chance.
"I can get it, Mom."
He took Darla's and his father's as well and walked to the kitchen.
She followed behind him.
"What did you do, Oliver?"
He placed the plates in the sink and turned around."
"What do you mean?"
"Did you get into trouble at school today?"
"Then why are you suddenly being so helpful?"
Oliver stared at the wrinkles engrained on his mother's face. He tired eyes stared at the pile of dishes needing to be washed.
"I prayed for you today."
A smile cracked from her wearied face as she turned on the hot water.
"Thank you, Oliver."
"I don't think God needs those prayers."
She turned off the hot water and stared out the window above the sink.
"I'm sorry! I just don't see how God deserves all this praise when people like you are the ones that do all the work."
His mother sighed and turned around. She ran her hand through her son's hair and pulled him in for a hug. They stood there, in the middle of the kitchen, before the pile of soiled dishes, holding each other.
"We praise God because he created us. He does a lot of things for us that we don't appreciate."
They separated and Oliver looked through the doorway at the TV. A newsreel of war footage was playing.
"Most of the time God is ignored for all the good things he has done," Oliver's mother said, "He makes the sun rise in the morning. He gives us life, all our talents and abilities, our opportunities and friendships. He does many small miracles without thanks."
She turned around and began to clean the stack of plates.
"God could use a prayer."
Warm soapy water embalmed her calloused hands as she scrubbed at the
dishes, as she did every night. There were never complaints, but always
work to be done. By the end of the day, somehow, it would always be finished.
"Thank you, Mom."