In a flash, Zach and Becca find themselves in another place and time, perhaps a future life together. It’s summer, Becca has graduated from college, and she’s working as a church social ministry coordinator and liaison, with Zach as a sometimes volunteer helper. Through her work, Becca comes in contact with Jonah, a gifted but at-risk young African-American boy, and his great-grandmother Mrs. Brackett, Jonah’s substitute guardian for his absent mother, Latonya. And one warm Sunday afternoon, Becca and Zach take Jonah and Mrs. Brackett a simple homemade dinner.
The four of them stood around Mrs. Brackett’s long, low, well-worn wood table. When Zach had seen Becca emerge from the bedroom with Jonah following, his hand in hers, he’d gone ahead and taken the lid off the warming tray with the baked beans and fried chicken, and the plastic wrap off the deviled eggs and potato salad. A mix of appetizing odors filled the low ceilinged room, and everyone was suddenly very hungry. But no one moved as they waited around the table with their hunger growing by the second. First Becca then Zach and finally Jonah turned their gaze to the head of this household, the one present far most meriting of deference and respect.
Mrs. Brackett saw their joint attentions and finally nodded, closed her eyes, extended her arms, and held her dark hands with their beige palms up toward the bright sky lurking beyond the shadowed ceiling. “Lord, as we live by your grace alone, we ask that you would sustain us this day and protect us through the coming night. Bless this food, bless the hands and souls of these good people who prepared it, bless us all that eat it, that we might see in this earthly meal a glimpse of the heavenly feast where there will be no more pain only joy in your presence and peace with all people. Amen.”
Zach smiled at Jonah and said to everyone but especially to him, “Good food, good meat, good gosh, let’s eat!”
Jonah hid behind Becca’s legs from the tall white man and his booming voice.
Becca continued to stare at Mrs. Brackett, still mesmerized by the eloquence of her impromptu grace, thinking again that she’d landed in the midst of an elemental struggle between good and evil and somehow found God’s side in this fight.
“Becca?” Zach called.
She looked up at him.
“How about helping Jonah get a plate?”
She laughed sheepishly. “Sorry.”
Behind her, Jonah whispered, “She still at the heavenly feast.”
The other three could laugh then, before digging into the earthly one.
This meal, though less lavish than the restaurant dinner, is perhaps in its way more substantial and every bit as promising–until Latonya shows up:
They ate off their laps sitting on the simple ladder-back chairs lined up along the wall since the table was full. When they’d finished their meals (after Zach and Jonah had each had sizable seconds), Becca collected their paper plates and tossed them in a trash bag she’d brought for the purpose. Zach covered what food remained and took a large bowl of banana pudding from the cooler and set it on the partially cleared table. He’d just started to uncover the pudding when there was the sound of a key in the lock of the front door. All four turned their attention toward the door, each frozen in place.
A wiry thin black woman with braided hair and bloodshot eyes stood in the doorway, backlit by the bright day. The man from across the road, Snake, looked over her shoulder.
The woman said, “I come to take my son,” directing the words at the blond girl in the room.
This action launches Becca, and by extension Zach, into a life-changing struggle that will imperil their relationship and their lives–God’s high price for this new feast.
I hope to publish Birthday Dinner on smashwords.com in the near future. Check back here, or under my author name on smashwords ( http://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jcafiction ) to see when it’s available.