Prayers at Lunch
by Sigrid Wilson
“What you’ve been through. I know it’s hard. But it’s God's plan. He doesn’t make mistakes.” You stare back at your father-in-law and ram a triangle of club sandwich into your mouth until you feel a slight choking sensation. For the first time in your life, you are grateful when the server arrives to ask how everything is. You nod your head vigorously while smiling with pursed lips, and marvel reverentially at how servers materialize out of nowhere to ask questions when your mouth is full of food.
Your server’s eyes are kind. He really does want to know how everything is. His cheeks are full, and his jawline is soft with the last vestiges of baby fat. His dark hair is long on top, buzzed short on the sides, and slicked down into a deep part. Some trendy hair style you presume, but you think he looks like a soldier in a WWII movie. You know, one of the sweet, corn-fed types from Nebraska, that doesn’t have a mean bone in his body. He sits around the bunker with the main character looking at a picture of his girl back home, then ends up getting blown to smithereens. There is a long scene where the main character cries over his friend’s body because he couldn’t save him, then the violins reach their crescendo and he realizes he must get up and carry-on.
You need to carry-on here too, but you’re not dodging real bombs, you’re sitting in a pretend English pub in an American suburb enduring lunch with your father-in-law. His son couldn’t get out of work, so you’re stuck solo with his father that doesn’t give two shits about you or that God put a baby inside you just to have you find out it’s not going to make it. It already took 3 years to get that baby inside you, so you’re used to it. You don’t need it anyway. Your father-in-law will explain all about God’s plan with your uterus. The turkey and bacon taste like leather in your mouth. God, you hope this lunch doesn’t ruin club sandwiches for you because there really is nothing quite like bacon, mayonnaise, lettuce, and tomato separated from sliced turkey by a third slice of bread. Who thought of that anyway? Because eating a club sandwich can be quite precarious. Those little triangles can fall apart if you’re not careful, but man, when they don’t, it is magic in your mouth.
Your father-in-law is now talking about college football. You’ve never shown an interest in any college sport, but hey, sure, yes, you wonder too if the coach will get fired. Because really, every day for the past three days since he came to visit he brings up how hard “this” has been for you. Not hard for his son, but that’s probably God’s plan too, right? Because his son already has kids, that did not come out of your body, so this is really just hard for you. Got it. Thanks God. You’d actually rather talk about college football right now.
Your server comes back to refill your coffee. You don’t have anything in your mouth, so he doesn’t ask you any questions. When he reaches his arm toward your mug, you look closely at his sleeve tattoo. Just above his wrist are waves and above the top wave rests a swan. It is large and its head reaches above the elbow just below the bicep. Curving up and around the side of your server’s arm, the swan’s wings are flapping. The swan is confident and stretches gloriously upward, right before it lifts into the air.
You want to ask your WWII soldier server to explain why he chose a swan tattoo. Why not a raptor or an eagle? Swans don’t seem an obvious choice for kind boys becoming men. For you it makes sense - a cygnet uneasy among the ducklings and without its own oary-footed kind. No, your WWII soldier server certainly has a brotherhood of raptors. Perhaps he shares an apartment with three other young men, all with slicked-down hipster haircuts. Together they are studying to take the Foreign Service Exam and afterwards will spend the summer visiting the National Parks.
Your server will meet a woman at the embassy in Warsaw. She will be young and smart and surprise him with her sarcastic wit. They will spend their nights after work exploring the city, and he loves that she will drink espressos after 10pm so they can keep dancing and kiss under the streetlights. They will have babies together that are healthy and get to live. Unfortunately, they begin to forget how much fun they had dancing or taking last minute flights to other countries for only 25 Euro, because the babies need to be fed at all hours of the night, and later get driven to ballet lessons and baseball practice and school. But it’s ok that the WWII soldier server and his wife fall asleep at 8 pm now and hardly make it through a Netflix show. Because the babies are healthy and alive and theirs, and sometimes she will caress his swan tattoo and he will turn on a Van Morrison song that they dance to at the top of the stairs after the babies are put to bed. You feel happy for them even though your heart feels like it is being clawed apart.
You put two triangles of club sandwich into a styrofoam box. “We’ve all been praying for you,” your father-in-law pats your back as you both walk out to leave. You, foundress of nothing, pray to God to send you someone whose prayers aren’t superficial placations. Your server tells you to have a nice day. You stick out your tongue at the back of your father-in-law’s head. Your server’s eyes shine back at you and a small smirk forms at his lips. You say, “Thanks, you too.”
Sigrid Wilson is a writer from Arlington, VA. She has recently won the Weymouth Center's Moore County Writing Contest for Poetry and been published with the International Writers Collective.