[This is a work of fiction, and is part of my God-Talk club series. For more information follow the link.]
Ellen McDonald set the extra large Coke on the table in front of Mark Morton and then sat down herself.
“I hope you won’t get fired for sitting down here with us,” said Mark.
“Oh, I’m not on the clock.”
“So what about this?” Mark pointed at the Coke.
“It’s a Coke, just like you like.”
“Why are you working if you’re not on the clock?”
“Well, I’m not really working. I’m just getting you your drink.” Ellen paused. “I listen to bits and pieces of your conversations, but I can’t really join in. I’d like to hear more.”
“You might even say something once in a while,” said Jerry Simonson. The whole group was gathered, though they hadn’t really gotten started on any topic. There was a long pause in the conversation, as though they couldn’t decide what to talk about.
“If you’re not comfortable with me being here, I’ll go,” said Ellen.
“Oh, absolutely not,” said Jerry.
“Well, we have treated her like part of the furniture,” said Justine. “Sorry, Ellen. We know you’re a person, but it’s easy to ignore the waitress.”
“Oh, I don’t mind. Most of the time I’m just happy to be treated as part of the furniture. It’s better than what some people take to be friendly chatter.”
“OK,” said Bob. “What do you do, other than work as a waitress?”
“What do you mean?” asked Ellen.
“Are you working your way through school?”
“No, just working.”
There was another moment of silence.
“It’s OK if that’s all she does,” said Mandy, drawling the word “all.”
“I didn’t mean it that way,” said Bob.
“You sounded like you meant it that way.”
“What’s the good of your discussions . . .” Ellen started.
“Our discussions,” interrupted Mandy.
“OK, what’s the good of our discussions if we don’t tell the truth?” Ellen looked straight at Bob.
“OK, then,” said Bob. “You look intelligent, you sound intelligent, you enjoy our weird discussions. Surely you want to do something more than be a waitress.”
“Why is it so important that she wants to be a waitress? There’s nothing wrong with being a waitress,” Mark announced fiercely.
“Oh, but I don’t plan to be a waitress always. Just for now.”
“Good!” said Bob. “I was hoping you had some higher goal.”
“I don’t know about higher,” said Ellen. “I haven’t decided what to do. I know a couple of very fine ladies and one young man here that think they want to do this as a career.”
“Interesting,” said Bob. This was followed by an awkward silence.
“Listen, can’t we just discuss? I’d like to know what you all think about the election.”
“Not much left to think about for me,” said Jerry. “I’m not sure if I’ll vote for McCain, or if I’ll go for a third party candidate. What about you, Ellen? I’m guessing your candidate is out of the race.”
“My candidate?” She grinned a little. “You probably mean Mitt Romney.”
“Because I’m Mormon.”
Jerry nodded, then looked embarrassed.
“It’s OK, but you’re wrong. I was rooting for John Edwards. My dad worked all his life down at the foundry. I’m a union girl.”
“Well you go girl!” said Mac.
“Who are you going to vote for now?” asked Mark.
“Whoever is the Democratic nominee.”
“Shouldn’t you make a choice?” Mark asked again.
“Why? Our primary is over, and there’s nothing I can do about it anyhow. I’m good with either of them.”
“I’m praying that Barack Obama gets the nomination,” put in Justine.
“Between Clinton and McCain, I really don’t know who to choose,” said Mark.
“I think Clinton is getting pretty nasty,” said Justine.
“Oh, they’re politicians. They get in their licks and go on no matter what.” Mark shrugged as he said it.
“You’re looking excessively comfortable,” said Jerry, looking at Mandy. “You and Justine are the only ones whose candidates seem to be going all the way to the general election.”
“Assuming Obama really is going to do it,” said Mac.
“Oh, he’s going to do it. Count on it,” said Justine.
“My candidate is going to go all the way as well,” said Mark. “You left me out.” He was looking at Jerry with an offended expression.
“You don’t have a candidate,” said Jerry. “You don’t even have a party.”
“But I’m immune to disappointment,” said Mark triumphantly.
“So Bob,” asked Mac. “Who are you supporting?”
“Oh, I’m also happy with either of the Democrats.”
“So I’m the sole conservative of the bunch,” said Jerry.
“Looks like it,” said Mark.
“Well,” said Jerry. “I have a question for Ellen.”
“Yes?” said Ellen.
“How can you, as a Mormon support a candidate who is in favor of abortion and gay marriage.”
“Well, first I should point out that John Edwards wasn’t in favor of gay marriage, though his wife was. He was in favor of civil unions.”
“That’s pretty close to the same thing.”
“I don’t think so, but that’s not my main point. I guess I’m in the minority of Mormons, but if you ask me whether I’m more concerned about abortion rights one way or the other, or whether I’m more concerned that my family can make a decent living, the decent living will win every time.”
“But you’re condoning murder. Killing people. How can you do that?”
“Well, I’m more concerned about what happens to families after they’re born. I’ve seen lots of families broken apart because they couldn’t earn enough to make a living, or couldn’t get adequate medical coverage.”
“But unions don’t really help that much with wages. Wages are set by supply and demand.”
“And unions help workers make more demands,” said Ellen.
“You don’t talk like any Mormon I ever talked to before,” said Jerry.
“Well, I’m still a member in good standing, even if my politics is not what you expect. I’m wondering though why you expect me to be more concerned about abortion rights than about health care, for example.”
“I’m not saying abortion is OK. I’m not saying I’d get an abortion. I’m saying that I think it’s more important to make sure people have access to health care than it is to make sure some people don’t make wrong choices. That’s assuming, of course, that laws against abortion actually prevent abortions and don’t just make them more dangerous.”
“I can’t see how you can make abortion into just a minor matter.”
“And I can’t see how you expect others to make abortion the one and only issue. If a candidate is not pro-life, according to you, it doesn’t matter what else they may believe.”
“I never said that.”
“True. I’m responding to all the other people who have told me I can’t vote for people who will do the things that I think need to be done because they also support abortion rights. I hate abortion. I hate the very idea of it. But I hate even more the idea of a mother who can’t take her child to the doctor because she can’t afford it. I hate the idea of children who suffer or die because they can’t get medical attention. I hate the idea of children who aren’t properly nourished because their parents don’t make enough money to feed them.”
Jerry looked at her for a moment. “I don’t think I’ll ever look at you quite the same again.”
“You mean you think my position is that horrifying?”
“No, not that. Well, yes, I’m horrified by your position. I can’t see how any other issue can be given a higher priority than murder. But the way you present your position is good. You’re passionate and articulate.”
“Well, I was in the debate club in my high school.”
“I knew it. I recognize the sound of a good education,” said Bob.
“Well, this was educational,” said Mark, “But I have to go.”
And that started the breakup of the God-talk club for the evening.