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Chapter no 33 – Faith

Lesson, in Chemistry

In 1960, people did not go on television and say they didn’t believe in God and expect to be on television much longer. As proof, Walter’s phone was soon filled with threats from sponsors and viewers who wanted Elizabeth Zott fired, jailed, and/or stoned to death. The latter came from self-proclaimed people of God—the same God that preached tolerance and forgiveness.

“Goddammit, Elizabeth,” Walter said, having slipped Harriet and Madeline out the side door ten minutes earlier. “Some things are just better left unsaid!” They were sitting in Elizabeth’s dressing room, her yellow-checked apron still wound firmly around her narrow waist. “You have every right to believe what you want to believe, but you shouldn’t force your belief on others, especially not on national television.”

“How did I force my belief on others?” she asked, surprised. “You know what I mean.”

“Edna Flattistein asked me a direct question and I answered it. I’m glad she feels she can express her belief in God and I welcome her right to do so. But I should be extended the same courtesy. Plenty of people don’t believe in God. Some believe in astrology or tarot cards. Harriet believes if you blow on dice, you’ll get better numbers at Yahtzee.”

“I think we both know,” Walter said through gritted teeth, “that God is just a bit different from Yahtzee.”

“Agreed,” Elizabeth said. “Yahtzee is fun.”

“We’re going to pay for this,” Walter warned.

“Come on, Walter,” she said. “Have a little faith.”

Faith—that was supposed to be Reverend Wakely’s area of expertise, but today he was having trouble finding his. After spending hours consoling a whiney congregant who blamed everyone for everything, he returned to his office, wanting to be alone. But instead, he found his part-time typist, Miss Frask, at his desk, using his typewriter, plodding along at thirty words per minute, her eyes glued to his office’s television set.

“Take a good look at this tomato,” he heard a vaguely familiar-looking woman on the television say, a pencil sticking out from behind her head. “You might not believe you have anything in common with this fruit, but you do. DNA. Up to sixty percent. Now turn and look at the person next to you. Does she look familiar? She may or may not. Still, you and she share even more: ninety-nine point nine percent of your DNA—as you each do with every other human on earth.” She set the tomato down and held up a photograph of Rosa Parks. “That’s why I stand with our leaders of the civil rights movement, including the very brave Rosa Parks. Discrimination based on skin color is not only scientifically ludicrous, it’s also a sign of profound ignorance.”

“Miss Frask?” Wakely said.

“Hold on, Rev,” she said, holding up a finger. “It’s almost over. Here’s your sermon.” She yanked a sheet out of the typewriter.

“One would think the ignorant would die off sooner,” Elizabeth continued. “But Darwin overlooked the fact that the ignorant rarely forget to eat.”

“What is this?”

Supper at Six. You’ve never heard of Supper at Six?”

“I have time for a question,” Elizabeth was saying, “Yes, you there in the—”

“Hello, my name is Francine Luftson and I’m from San Diego! And I just want to say, I’m such a fan even if you don’t believe in God! I was just

wondering: Is there some sort of diet you recommend? I know I need to lose weight, but I really don’t want to feel hungry. I do take diet pills every day. Thank you!”

“Thanks, Francine,” Elizabeth said. “But I can clearly see that you are not overweight. Therefore, I have to assume you’ve been unduly influenced by the relentless imagery of the too-thin women that now fill our magazines, destroying your morale and submerging your self-worth. Instead of dieting and taking pills—” She paused. “Can I ask?” she said. “How many people in this audience take diet pills?”

A few nervous hands went up. Elizabeth waited.

Most of the other hands went up.

“Stop taking those pills,” she demanded. “They’re amphetamines. They can lead to psychosis.”

“But I don’t like to exercise,” Francine said.

“Maybe you haven’t found the right exercise.” “I watch Jack LaLanne.”

At the mention of Jack’s name, Elizabeth closed her eyes. “What about rowing?” she said, suddenly tired.

“Rowing?”

“Rowing,” she repeated, opening her eyes. “It’s a brutal form of recreation designed to test every muscle in your body and mind. It takes place before dawn, too often in the rain. It results in thick calluses. It broadens the arms, chest, and thighs. Ribs crack; hands blister. Rowers sometimes ask themselves, ‘Why am I doing this?’ ”

“Jeepers,” Francine said, worried. “Rowing sounds awful!”

Elizabeth looked confused. “My point is rowing precludes the need for both diet and pills. It’s also good for your soul.”

“But I thought you didn’t believe in souls.”

Elizabeth sighed. She closed her eyes again. Calvin. Are you actually saying women can’t row?

“I used to work with her,” Frask said, switching off the television. “At Hastings, until we both got fired. Seriously—you’ve never heard of her? Elizabeth Zott. She’s syndicated.”

“She’s a rower, too?” Wakely said, amazed.

“What do you mean, ‘too’?” Frask asked. “You know other rowers?”

“Mad,” Wakely said, as he took in the enormous dog Madeline had brought with her to the park, “why didn’t you tell me your mother was on television?”

“I thought you knew. Everyone knows. Especially now that she doesn’t believe in God.”

“It’s all right not to believe in God,” Wakely said. “That’s one of the things we mean when we say it’s a free country. People are welcome to believe whatever they want as long as their beliefs don’t hurt others. Besides, I happen to think science is a form of religion.”

Madeline raised one eyebrow.

“Who’s this, by the way?” he asked, reaching his hand out for the dog to sniff.

“Six-Thirty,” she said as two women walked by chatting loudly.

“Correct me if I’m wrong, Sheila,” one of the women was asking, “but didn’t she say cast iron requires zero-point-one-one calories of heat to raise the temperature of a single gram of atomic mass by one degree Celsius?”

“That’s right, Elaine,” the other said. “That’s why I’m buying a new skillet.”

“I remember him now,” Wakely continued after the women had passed. “From your family photograph. What a handsome dog.”

Six-Thirty pressed his head into the man’s palm. Good man.

“Anyway, I bet you think I forgot all about this—so much time has passed—but I did finally follow up with All Saints. The truth is, I’d called several times after we first spoke, but the bishop was never in. Today,

though, I reached his secretary and she said there’s no record of a Calvin Evans. Looks like we have the wrong home.”

“No,” Madeline said. “That’s the one. I’m positive.” “Mad, I doubt a church secretary would lie.”

“Wakely,” she said. “Everybody lies.”

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