Fred sat watching television, which more accurately meant he was relaxing in front of a television whose programming was so bad he was actively ignoring it. For some reason if you sat quietly and reflected people thought you weren’t right in the head. If, however, you sat quietly and ingested the contents of a television people thought you were perfectly normal and further left you alone to “enjoy your programming”. And so with a bit of effort Fred reflected while ignoring the chattering television while Faith worked in the kitchen clanging pots and pans and periodically muttering things to herself.
Fred was trying to think of a way to get out of tonights social obligations, since otherwise he’d have to be subjected to the unwanted company of Faith’s friend Harriet. There must be a way out of this, thought Fred.
Unexpectedly, the front doorbell rang. Since in Maine friends and family used the back door (off the kitchen) and strangers came to the front door, Fred braced himself for either commercial or religious proselytizers. “Fred!”, reported like a shot from the kitchen, “Someone’s at the door!”. Sometimes Fred found Faith’s observations unnecessary, like now, but at other times her barks were liable to awaken Fred from reflections somewhat deeper than consciousness allowed.
He moved to the door and opened it and knew right away he was about to be invited to seek salvation. There was no mistaking the severe shoes, the funeral gaiety, and the cheerless dress of a Jehovah’s Witness spreading the good word. “Jesus! Just what I need…”, thought Fred. As he opened the door he was about to hasten the young woman’s departure from his front porch when the beginning of an idea came to him. It stopped him in half expression and his visitor was greeted with a facial expression that might have been interpreted as a mild stroke by one medically inclined, but was instead treated with confusion.
Quickly a most welcoming smile graced Fred’s face as he scratched up under his hat and enthusiastically greeted the newcomer. She was a short woman with wavy hair and a dark dress-suit. She had brown eyes and brown skin and stood slightly slouched and slightly tilted to one side. Looking again at her severe shoes Fred thought he detected one sole thicker than the other.
Fred thought how Harriet Mackie had been coming over to his house and inflicting herself upon his person for years and it was about time he got a sliver of revenge. He eyed his visitor again and wondered if it was mean-spirited of him to use her in his newly formed scheme. He decided that religious people were always saying that the Lord worked in mysterious ways and perhaps it was honoring their philosophy to accept his visitor as a gift of Providence.
He was right about the religious intent of his visitor and was soon offered a pamphlet which no doubt contained snatches of hokum that no more interested him than the ingredients of a hot dog did (and for the same reasons). His visitor was delighted when he said, “Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”. He opened the pamphlet, and perused it quickly pursuing his idea with increasing glee. He saw that the cover of this pamphlet had the questions “What is the purpose of life? How can you find it?” printed across a photo of culturally diverse young men and women. He leapt in.
“It just so happens I was sitting right there in that chair”, he said, “pondering the meaning of life myself. Isn’t that a coincidence? If you had a moment I’d love to discuss my ideas with someone.” Fred then held the door as his visitor radiated enthusiasm as she entered his home.
“Faith”, Fred sung, “Faith dear we have a visitor.”
A rather severe sound erupted from the kitchen that was undoubtedly something hard striking something else hard but beyond that Fred was uncertain. “I’ll be right there”, said Faith, as water began to run in the sink. After a brief pause Fred knew Faith would appear and took a moment to close the door, an act symbolically significant for the newcomer and perfectly time coordinating for Fred. As Fred now asked Naomi to sit down Faith appeared slightly dusted with flower, slightly sweating, her hands slightly wet, and slightly off balance socially. Fred said, “Faith this is Naomi and she’s talking to folks about religion and I expect she’s walked all over this neighborhood and she looks a bit hungry.” Turning to Face Naomi Fred asked, “Would you like to join us for supper? I’ve just picked more peas than we can eat and Faith here can cook better than anyone in town.”
Fred felt his delivery was just about right. He appealed to Faith’s mothering instinct, placed her in a delicate position in front of a stranger that really did look hungry, and he was being honest about her cooking and knew that inflating Faith’s pride wouldn’t hurt his chances. He knew, though, that Faith was expecting Harriet and would be hard pressed to gossip in front of a religious woman.
Fred licked his lips and smiled, then turned toward Faith. She blinked quickly a couple of times and then stammered that of course Naomi was welcome and there was plenty to eat and she hoped she’d stay and join the company.
Fred thought that was a pretty good parry from Faith, for the normal uninvited guest might decline to intrude on company. Fred felt confident that there’d be an easier job made of taking a bone away from a dog than driving off a fundamentalist with such appeals to manners. He wasn’t disappointed when Naomi parried with, “Thank you kindly Faith for offering to share the Lord’s bounty with me. I feel blessed every day that I spread the good word.”
Fred thought that Naomi’s introduction of the Lord into Faith’s offer somehow made it sound less generous. The Lord might provide the ingredients, but Fred never tasted anything as good as Faith’s cooking dangling on the end of a vine. He supposed that is why he didn’t take to any religion whatever. Religion always cheapened human accomplishment except when assigning blame. He thought religious people had it bass ackwards, since People couldn’t fairly be judged if there was a Creator, and he thought anything People did accomplish under such unguided circumstances was cause for appreciation.
As Faith returned to the kitchen and Naomi started talking about the empty lives that resulted from societal decay Fred found himself wondering if he had just miscalculated. He was pretty sure that Naomi would cheerfully overwhelm Harriet’s opportunity to gossip, but supper was two hours away.
Fred glanced longingly at the muted television and scratched up under his hat as he turned to face Naomi.