"In a world where so many are hungry,
may we eat this food with humble hearts;
in a world where so many are lonely,
May we share this friendship with joyful hearts."
Mother murmured the prayer, holding our hands. Penny stared at the stain on her fork. All the utensils were dappled with grime.
Mother tried to wash the utensils and dishes at least once in three days.
She had a basin ready to fill up the water when the water breaks, stood up all night to check them, but it had never been enough to fill the basin. What she worried the most was the food.
Last month was the worst, we were grateful if we had a meal once in four days. It got slightly better now, we could eat at least once a day, but mother's face got even more dreadful.
Mother never told us everything "to protect us" euaccording to her. She thinks we don't understand her because we are so young.
Our banal clothes seemed even more trifling. Every corner of the house stinked.
Since nanny Nancy was fired, this tranquil, beautiful house at the edge of the town turned into a vapid, debilitated shack. Technically, Nancy wasn't fired.
Mother has to let her go back to her home because now we can't afford such luxury.
It wasn't a story only for our house. People were tired out waiting until everything was over. One by one, people vanished from this shitty town in a silence. Last night, Ms. Harris passed away.
She used to give us chunks of leftover bread, but she was too old to get through this long famine.
Mother told us not to go far, so that we don't lose our energy when there aren't enough to eat. But I know the real reason that she is worried if we get swallowed up by the war attacks.
The bombs. We can hear them a few times a day, like an echo conveyed by the wind faraway. Mother said it's nothing, but I know it is the war.
I heard an old lady chattering with another old fat lady about it with that aghast face. The women would be better to do something, rather than bemoaning, my mother said.
It seemed like the kingdom already lost its capital over France. And the ladies added that our town is so cooped up in the corner, the enemies are going to barely notice us.
It was pretty sure that the king doesn't even know that we are starving to death.
I heard the sound of a bomb again. All I see is a bunch of trees. The leaves seemed trembling by an invisible wave. Me and Penny stopped at the end of the town.
Lucy told me there is a big market opening over the forest.
She gave Penny a pretty bracelet with phoney pearls, saying that there is a lot of pretty stuff, all the dresses and shoes, accessories.
She told us about the tall, mature young ladies with gleaming adornments all over their body. Me, Lucy and Penny used to talk about our future life.
Penny always said that she wants to be called "signora" and have a pretty young daughter resembling our mother.
That is not going to happen, but I didn't tell her the truth just like my mother did to protect us. Because she was too young.
I haven't seen Lucy for weeks. People said she's dead. People said she's lost. Is she gone over this forest? I wondered, but gave up thinking about her.
It's better to do something, rather than bemoaning.
"I miss Lucy."
"Let's go back, Penny."
* * *
"Our dear Heavenly Father,
we thank thee for this food.
Feed our souls on the bread of life
and help us to do our part in kind words and loving deeds.
We ask in Jesus' name."
We are not starving so much anymore, however, there was a shadow casted over mother's face.
Penny bit the meat, I could see her canine tooth burrowing into the meat. I saw the juice trickling out of her teeth. Mother started at Penny, and she noticed that I was looking at her.
"What's the problem? You don't like the food?"
"No. It's just... You were looking bad recently."
"Is something happening?"
I asked the question I never urged to dare. We barely, almost never talked about the war. The sound of grating her knife across the plate stopped, I saw her pupils widened. Something's wrong.
I shouldn't have asked that.
"There's nothing happening in this town! If you understood, shut your mouth, just be grateful for what you are eating!" She screamed.
I dropped my eyes from Mother, quickly shoved a hunk of meat and a dollop of mashed potato in my mouth. I could feel the air thrilling because of her panting.
Mother's breath died down, then she said, "I can't tell you. I'm trying to protect you" again. I didn't like that feeling when she said that.
She always says that, and I can't explain what feeling that was, but it was formidably abashed.
Medium well done steak reminded me of Lucy's favorite, bloody brown dress. I miss Lucy, she would've understood me.
I didn't like the texture of the meat touching my tongue.
* * *
I hoped Lucy was here. I hold Penny's hand, walking down the alleys. We were heading to the forest where we three used to hang out. I tried my best not to hear what the neighbors were saying.
Another one died. A boy. Living four blocks ahead of the house. I wasn't so close with him, but we used to go to the same school that is closed now. With Lucy.
Penny tried to say something, but I shouted, "Just don't talk. I know"
I shouted toward the forest. Lucy must be over there, at the market where she said there's so much shining stuff.
But I couldn't stop the image of the market destroyed by the bombs wringing in my head. The image of mangled body parts. The image of blood coming out, permeates into the blackish red soil.
I wanted to throw up the meat I just ate.
But Penny called me.
"My stomach hurts."
I turned back, and I found Penny's face got whiter. She was pale. I took her straight to mom. Mother laid Penny down in her bed. I hold her hands tight.
I had the feeling that she's going to disappear just like Lucy. Is it how war really changes people to turn differently?
I fell asleep by Penny's pillow. In the middle of the deepest night, I saw the loom of the candlelight, shaking frantically. I saw Penny. I saw Mother.
The next morning, what I could see was only the dead candle and Penny's pillow soaked with sweat.
The warmth of the living human body no longer lingered on the bed, Penny was no longer here.
* * *
"Father God, may mealtimes in this place be times of bonding with each other.
If there is anything that we have been holding against each other, God, use this time to help us set our differences aside so that we can come closer as a family.
May this food give us strength and bless our bodies that we may be able to endure whatever challenges lie ahead of us. In Jesus' name, we believe and pray, Amen."
The prayer was longer than usual. And it was creepier than usual. Mother's hollow eyes were reflected on the dishes in front of us. It was the meat again.
The meat that reminded me of Lucy's dress.
Mother's voice transiently shuddered. I saw it even shuddered her shoulders. It thrilled the air, and the wave touched my plate. I saw a bead of a phoney pearl.
The pearl of the bracelet that Lucy gave to Penny. It was plated in between the meat and the salad. I felt that Lucy and Penny were watching me.
The image of distorted eyes of mine and mother's was reflected on the pearl. The two pupils were blended in the whirl of hazy grain of the pearl.
The sound of grating knives across the plate, as usual. No tears, no anger, no nothing expressed after all of it.
She did something, rather than bemoaning, to protect me euthat used to be "us.
"eu Because we were too young, Penny was, Lucy was, the boy living four blocks away was too young to make a choice to be survived from this war.
Questions were smothered under the name of protection. Will it be my turn if I utter their names? Will the flesh of my friends and sister be the last supper?
I asked the question I never urged to dare. My voice echoed evanescently in the air.