She was starting to believe in God, but for all the wrong reasons. The foray into faith began with the toaster. No matter what setting she twisted the knob to, her toast came out crispy. She didn’t like crispy toast. She preferred the slightest browning, just enough time to transform the bread to toast and then stop! and softened butter because cold butter would tear the bread, or toast, rather, and a smidge of jam, a thin layer, membrane-like, of sweetness. The delicacy appealed to her, the gentle blend of flavors, the way a crisp bite would yield to softness
But now the toaster turned every slice of bread into a hard brown square that even a half-inch thick smear of jam could not fix. Because she could not bear wasting food, she had to eat it. The process invoked suffering. Each reluctant bite followed by dutiful chews until finally the wafer-like hunk could be swallowed, digested.
As she chewed, she pondered what had led to this. The obvious connection was how she had recently burned her best friend by applying for the same job and getting it. They’d pretended the competition was friendly. It had been friendly on her part, she was sure. Of course, being friendly about competition came easier when you had the advantage. She pulled her fingers through her artfully tousled hair and swallowed.
It wasn’t just the toaster, of course. A lifelong dedication to atheism couldn’t be undone by a standard household appliance. Her potential conversion to belief was also triggered by the car, which, despite being only two years old, had started having problems after she’d passed the hitchhiker. She never stopped for hitchhikers – the rule had been embedded into her womanly psyche early on. She didn’t stop for hitchhikers, she didn’t walk alone to her car late at night and she didn’t write letters to incarcerated men. These were basic guidelines all women should live by. But this one particular hitchhiker. He stood at the base of the bridge, his long locks blowing Jesus-like – she actually thought this at the time – “Jesus-like” – and his smile encompassing his eyes, unlike most hitchhikers who barely smiled and seemed more menacing when they did – this guy, his smile lit up the air like sunbeams through a raincloud. She had smiled back and was still grinning when their eyes met. Her foot eased on the gas and her hands on the steering wheel shifted slightly to the right before she shook herself back into enough awareness to reapply the gas, keep going. No matter how appealing, she thought, one should not pick up hitchhikers. She knew this to be true and yet. And yet. A certain guilt settled onto her shoulders and his imagined face appeared before her, disappointed.
The next day her car overheated. Redlined a block from her house. She waited, tried to drive again, cranked the heater full blast in hopes of staving off the damage. Five minutes later, she was back on the side of the road, calling Triple A. While she waited, she could’ve sworn she saw the hitchhiker go by, comfortably ensconced in the passenger seat of a Nissan Armada, his eyes connecting with hers in the millisecond between rain drops. Of course it was raining. She had shivered. She had waited. She had convinced the tow truck driver to stop at the grocery store – they were passing right by it, after all – so she could run in and grab a bottle of cheap red wine. “Please?” she’d cajoled. “I mean, after all” – giggle – “what a crazy day! Am I right?” She’d twisted her fingers around a lock of hair. “I’d love to buy you a six-pack as a tip.”
The driver had laughed and declined, but he had laughed, so she’d known she’d had him. She kept up the chatter the rest of the way home, a way of thanking him.
The final blow, or inspiration, depending on one’s perspective, arrived in the mail. A parking ticket. For her no-longer working car, which had been working long enough for her to illegally park long enough to sneak into a bar and have two quick cocktails before taking a sauna that, she hoped, would detox her into perfect sobriety before her volunteer shift at the twins’ Animal Action night. Actually that wasn’t the final blow. The final blow, or inspiration, depending on one’s perspective, was the pregnancy test. The one she’d taken after an impossible one-night-stand with, Mary swore, a guy named Joe. She was sure that was his name. And the thing was, they hadn’t even quite had sex. Bringing someone home was not something she did – don’t pick up hitchhikers, the mantra repeated in her head. But the twins had been having their first sleepover at a friend’s and in the rush of freedom, she’d gone dancing – dancing! – and one thing and then another and suddenly she and Joe were on her bed and her skirt was up and his pants were down and then – oh! – he’d made a mess between her thighs before she could even ask about a condom. Jesus Christ, she’d said, not meaning to embarrass him further, but shocked, who wouldn’t be caught off guard. And apparently she hadn’t cleaned up fast enough.
So here was God, she had determined, punishing her for not being generous enough, for being vain, for lustfulness. She was pretty sure these were at least some of the deadly sins. She thought about the others as she scrolled through the list of churches in town. One of them would have to take her in.