|VEGETARIANS TASTE BETTER
“Avery.” I pushed my plate away with great ceremony. “I’ve got something important to tell you.”
He nodded encouragingly, dabbing his mouth with his napkin. I did notice though that he took a quick but rather large swallow of Merlot before I could make my announcement. I can’t blame him for it I suppose—preventative medicine and all that.
“I’m not going to eat any meat ever again,” I informed him. “I’m going to be a vegetarian.”
“Was there something wrong with your chicken?” he inquired politely.
“Oh, no,” I assured him, not wanting to hurt his feelings. It had been sautéed to perfection with lemon and beautifully served, too. Avery’s a strong believer in food presentation. “The chicken was fine.”
He glanced somewhat meaningfully at my plate, which had been scraped clean…well, to be honest, all but licked clean. Avery’s a marvelous cook after all.
“What prompted this decision then?” he asked lightly.
“Well.” I leaned forward intently, folding my arms on the table, then leaned back quickly as he frowned toward my elbows. “It’s immoral and wrong, Avery. It’s just plain evil.”
“What is? Chicken?”
“Yes! I mean, no. The way they treat them. Do you know what you have to do to chicken before you can eat it?”
“Cook it?” he asked dryly.
“Aside from that,” I said, ignoring his tone. “I mean, before they’re”—I dropped my voice in horror—“slaughtered. They keep them in crowded cages and they lop off their beaks and…it’s just too horrible to get into at the table,” I finished primly.
“What brought this on?” he asked mildly.
“I’m teaching ‘The Jungle’ this semester,” I admitted. “And I wanted some modern information, so I was looking on the internet…” I broke off at the rather noisy exhalation of breath from Avery’s side of the table. It was accompanied by a far too knowing look.
Avery’s got something against the internet! It’s not MY fault! The man’s practically a technophobe. Give him a hooded raincoat and a pair of dark goggles and he could be the Unabomber. I mean, without the homicidal tendencies, of course. With certain obvious exceptions, Avery’s really the non-violent type.
Still he’s been known to summarily unplug the modem in the middle of some of my VERY important internet chat room research. Like I said—totally and unfairly ANTI-computer!
“I found REALLY disturbing things,” I explained to him, flushing slightly under his gaze. There’s nothing wrong with internet research and he KNOWS it. He was just being unfair.
“So it’s the treatment of the animals you’re worried about?” he asked.
I nodded. Now we were talking. “It tastes great. I just wish they were treated better, that’s all.”
“There’s free-range chicken…” he began.
I hadn’t thought of that. Those chickens were treated REALLY well, weren’t they? They ran free in the woods and ate rose petals and stuff! Eating them couldn’t be immoral. Maybe I didn’t have to give up chicken after all!
“Let’s start buying that!”
“Darling, I don’t know if we can’t afford to switch to free-range chicken…but perhaps kosher chicken…”
“Oh no!” I breathed. “That’s the worst of all. They…” I dropped my voice. “They EXSANGUINATE them!” Avery didn’t look nearly as shocked as I expected him to.
“It’s brutal,” I explained. “So you see, there’s no way around it. I need to give it up completely. I NEED to take a stand,” I said firmly.
He nodded. “All right.”
That was TOO easy!
“Okay? You agree?”
“If you want to be a vegetarian I’ll support you, as long as you do it wisely. You’re not going to live off pasta and bananas; you’re going to have to incorporate protein into your diet and all the vitamins you’re losing…”
I lost him at about that point. Avery’s wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but when he gets going on a lecture he can start sounding like the grown-ups in those Peanuts movies…you know what I mean: “mwah mwah mwah mwah mwah.” And it all just blends together. So I deal with it by nodding and smiling at regular intervals. A well-placed “Yes Avery” can go a long way too.
Silence. Lecture over.
“I’m so glad you agree,” I enthused. “Anyway it’ll be fun! We’ll hardly miss meat!”
“We?” he asked.
“Well…yes…I mean, we’re doing this together!”
“Con, if you want to be a vegetarian that’s one thing, but I don’t plan to become one as well.”
Huh? Had he TOTALLY missed my point?
“Did you TOTALLY miss my point?” I asked him. He raised his eyebrows and I realized I sounded a BIT too accusatory.
“Avery,” I began in a softer tone. “I JUST finished telling you how brutal it is to eat meat. It’s practically criminal.”
“Con, I’ll support you if you want to give up meat, but I happen to enjoy eating meat—brutal a pastime as that might be.”
I shouldn’t have been surprised. Avery has been known to take part in MANY a pastime that others might see as brutal! But bringing that up now seemed impolitic at best.
“But you said you’d support me!” I squeaked. We were supposed to do this TOGETHER. It wouldn’t be any fun to be a vegetarian alone!
“Of course I’ll support you. And I’m …glad you’re so passionate about this,” he said, though his voice didn’t sound glad exactly. Maybe he was remembering the Save the Spotted Owl campaign a year or so back. The Parks Department had dropped the charges though, so I don’t know WHY Avery would still be holding a grudge.
“We’re talking about a lifelong commitment here!” I cried. “We should be committed TOGETHER!”
“I’ve thought that myself on occasion,” he mused, pressing his lips together. Very funny. NEVER marry an English teacher; they’re far too heartless about twisting your words around.
“Aaaavery,” I whined, feeling distinctly unpopular. This was NOT fair. It was a moral issue!
“If you’re finished”—he nodded at my empty plate—“unless you’d like to eat the plate, perhaps we could get the dishes cleaned?”
I don’t WANNA be a vegetarian alone!
But I couldn’t exactly say that to him now, could I? It didn’t sound NEARLY like a grown man of 26 inching his way toward a THIRD degree who was considered in many circles to be, well, rather bright!
No. It sounded more like a spoiled brat.
Which I am NOT. Ask anyone. Ask Avery.
Ask him on a GOOD day, though.
“I don’t think you should eat meat either,” I said finally, but without much confidence.
“We’ll have a deal then. I won’t pressure you to eat meat, and you won’t pressure me not to. Is that reasonable?”
Of course it wasn’t! But it’s no use arguing what’s reasonable with Avery, he ALWAYS thinks he’s right.
Not that he’s not very lovable, but he’s also stubborn as anything. I’ve learned to live with it though; I’m VERY patient and tolerant. Also he looks particularly gorgeous in candlelight, I noted ruefully as he blew out the dinner candles.
“It’s reasonable,” I muttered.
I knew what he was thinking—yes, SOME of the issues I’ve been passionate about in the past have been short-lived. But that’s not my fault!
There was the time I’d convinced him to try only organic foods for a month, but I’d run so short on grocery cash I’d had to forgo lunches…and then breakfasts too. Organic food is EXPENSIVE! I was certain Avery was THIS close to realizing how much healthier and better we were for the switch, but then I fainted in lecture and…well. It didn’t quite work out the way I was expecting.
I picked up my plate and glass and headed for the kitchen. I couldn’t resist licking my fork one last time—after all, it would be my last bite of chicken for my WHOLE life. This was one moral conviction that was going to STICK.
* * * * *
Four days later my wallet was starting to hurt. Cooking tofu was HARD – I had a few aborted attempts, then decided to stick to take-out until I found some better recipes. Avery, who misses NOTHING, pointed out to me over dinner that night that perhaps my vegetarianism wasn’t economically feasible. Or wouldn’t be for long.
Unfortunately he DID have a point, so I spent the better part of the meal trying to distract him. Avery can lecture for HOURS on economics; distraction is key when it seems he might be about to start.
“Tofu?” I asked politely, offering him a chunk across the table. It was a bad idea, it slipped through the tines of my fork and landed with a wet plopping sound in the cactus at the center of the table.
Well, those things survive in the desert with no water and wild prairie dogs and all that! Surely a little tofu wouldn’t hurt.
Avery didn’t agree, and I ended up spending several minutes picking tofu lumps out of the plant while trying to protect my fingers from
“Let me see.” Avery took my hand, gently but inexorably pried my fingers open and held the injury up to the light. I’ve been in this place with splinters before; I KNOW logically he’s awfully good and fast and painless at this but it’s hard to remember when I’m RIGHT in the middle of it.
So I tried to yank my hand away.
“Con.” He ran the pad of his thumb over the spot and I jerked again. “Shh. I’ll have it out in a second if you’ll just hold still –”
“YOU’RE the one who made me clean the cactus!” I snapped.
“And you’re the one who fed it tofu,” he countered cheerfully.
“Well, YOU –” I broke off when he gave me a Look, squeezed my eyes shut and submitted to his ministrations.
I opened my eyes again; what was TAKING him so long?
“It’s out,” he informed me, holding up the needle for me to see. “But I wasn’t sure if you were napping…”
You have to admire me that I don’t throw things at him on a regular basis.
Sometimes it’s REALLY hard to control myself!
Being Avery he of course then made me go wash it WITH soap. Arg and arg again. I HATED being a vegetarian by myself! Vegetables were against me. Even PLANTS were against me! I’d been attacked by a cactus, probably as punishment for feeding it that horribly bland tofu.
Something needed to be done and fast.
My injury tended to, I was putting the clean dishes away – one advantage of the rogue needle was that I DIDN’T have to wash – and looking forward to a nice cuddle when Avery dropped the bomb.
“I’m afraid I have to cook tonight,” he said, looking regretfully at his watch.
“The annual Faculty Potluck Valentine’s Lunch?” he reminded me, mouth quirked in a distractingly adorable half-smile.
“Is that tomorrow?” I asked grumpily.
“It’s usually on Valentine’s Day, yes.”
“Do you HAVE to cook tonight? What are you cooking, anyway?”
“I’ve been assigned lasagna,” he informed me, not sounding thrilled. Avery doesn’t trust chopped beef.
You’d think since he doesn’t trust chopped beef, getting him to go veggie wouldn’t be SO hard. If only he…
That was it.
A sheer stroke of genius.
Conrad, you are a GENIUS!
“Actually, you don’t have to cook tonight,” I announced brightly.
“No. I’ll make the lasagna tomorrow. I only have an 8 a.m. lecture and then I’m free all day…I AM invited to the lunch, right?”
“Yes…and we can leave right afterwards; I’m not teaching tomorrow afternoon.”
“Well, then I’ll come AND bring the dish.”
“That’s very sweet of you to offer…” he said slowly, giving me an insultingly searching look. Doesn’t he TRUST me? Sheesh.
“It’s NO problem; it’s in BOTH of our best interest,” I assured him.
“If you’re certain you don’t mind…”
I grabbed him before he could think of any more objections and began the longish and always exciting process of informing just how MUCH I enjoyed making him happy.
Luckily, I was so exhausted by the time we finished I barely had time to feel guilty.
“Yes, I’m SURE I don’t mind, it’s fine,” I assured him again that morning as we parted ways on the steps, ushering him ahead of me toward the cars.
My doubtful man.
Sometimes he seemed downright suspicious.
I should have been insulted.
But I didn’t have time for that. I had a lecture to attend, and then I had some SERIOUSLY important internet research to do. And no one was going to unplug my modem this time.
I tapped my feet restlessly through a FAR too long lecture on Reconstruction. And when I can’t get excited about Reconstruction, you know something’s up. I ended up ducking out early; my plan was TOO important to wait.
Back home I surfed the ’net for recipes. Avery may be a technophobe, but I embrace progress. Half an hour later, printed recipe in hand, I took off for the Whole Foods market.
It was nearly ten by the time I got to peeling and chopping, and then I whirled like the proverbial dervish. There was pasta to be boiled! There were layers to be laid! There was Tupperware to be filled and Saran wrap to be wrapped! I was a regular housewifely advertisement and I was in a RUSH.
I paused mid-dervish to admire my handiwork: I’m not Avery but the lasagna looked delicious if I do say so myself. I had just enough time to grab my keys and the dish (ow, and on second thought some potholders too) and speed (don’t tell!) across town to Avery’s school.
It was NOT in the most…serene of neighborhoods, and I locked my car TWICE before I headed in the side doors, automatically handing my keys to the security guard as I escorted my lasagna through the metal detectors.
Schools sure have changed since I was a kid.
But that’s Avery for you. He started out teaching at Wheeler but only made it a semester. That kind of school is just NOT his style. He loves the kids at Independence High, and they love him. After all, didn’t they write a commencement essay in his honor? What was it called again…oh, yes, “Mr. Foster Didn’t Suck That Much After All.”
It was touching, really.
There’s no faculty lounge at Independence—they gave it up for more classroom space years ago—so the lunch was held in the classroom/cafeteria on the third floor. I loped up, lasagna in hand, excited to watch my plan come to fruition.
Did I mention that it was sheer GENIUS?
I found Avery upstairs; he looked offensively relieved to see me arrive ON time – early even! – lasagna clutched in two potholders JUST as he would have done. Kissing him was OUT of the question here – the teacher currently setting up the punch bowl doubled as the bible study leader – so I settled for a discreetly lustful look.
Avery tends to inspire discreet lust, you know.
And sometimes not so discreet.
But now was just NOT the time to think of that. We set up a long table buffet-style and I settled behind my lasagna to serve the hungry teachers.
It was all I could do not to cackle and rub my hands together in cartoon-style fiendish glee – my lasagna was snatched up right and left! Compliments flew! Avery looked positively prideful and…
Was it relieved?
Honestly, the man can be SO suspicious sometimes.
“Con, you remember Maxine,” Avery was saying. I snapped back to attention to plaster a large and extremely phony smile onto my face.
I certainly did remember her.
The aforementioned music teacher/bible study leader, former missionary, raiser of a STINK when some students tried to form a gay-straight alliance at Independence…
In other words, more or less your average b—
“Oh, Maxine, nice to see you again,” I said sweetly. “Lasagna?”
She peered suspiciously down her nose at the dish, clutching her paper plate protectively to where the obligatory cross dangled between her breasts. “What’s in it?”
“It’s a pretty traditional recipe,” Avery was saying politely. “Cheese, beef, tomatoes, pasta…you used the recipe from the Globe cookbook, right, Con?”
“Well. If you say so,” she said, rather too snidely for someone eating MY lasagna from OUR dish. I just hated watching her talk to Avery. She took the helping I offered and moved on.
Belatedly I realized I should have spat in her plate.
I was wondering if it was too late to catch up to her and correct my error when a shriek pierced the air.
I looked at Avery in alarm.
About ten feet away from us Maxine was standing rooted to her spot, her plate upside down and splattered on the floor, clawing at her throat.
Immediately I offered up a prayer – Lord, I know she’s annoying as hell, but I didn’t mean for you to strike her down right HERE! Think of the insurance costs alone!
Within seconds she was surrounded by a swarm of well-meaning people. The cafeteria buzzed with group alarm.
“Check her pulse!” Someone yelled.
“Loosen her blouse!” Someone else cried, but this was met with a snarl from Maxine and a well-placed slap at the hand touching her blouse.
Surely if she was healthy enough to protect her chastity she wasn’t REALLY dying?
Finally I got a look at her; her skin was mottled and red and angry, and she was gasping for breath, though it sounded more like panic than oxygen loss.
“Allergies,” someone was saying. I recognized Bill the band conductor. “She has food allergies, but I’m not sure exactly which…”
“She’s very careful about what she eats,” Bill was explaining to the woman next to him as someone began fanning Maxine with a paper plate.
“Call the paramedics!” someone yelled as someone else shouted “Call security!”
For my sake I REALLY hoped the paramedics got there first.
“Check her plate!”
“It’s on the floor!”
“Check the floor!”
Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Independence High’s own keystone cops. I laughed in spite of myself as two well-meaning teachers butted heads trying to peel her plate off the floor, then slipped in the spilled sauce. Avery shot me a none-too-friendly look from where he was helping, at a respectful distance of course.
“Just some lasagna,” one of the keystone cops muttered to the other.
(That was the sound of the final nail in my coffin, if you were wondering.)
Avery turned on me with slow-mo perfection and I cringed.
“Conrad?” he asked very calmly.
I could run…but with a roomful of panicked people and uniformed officers on the way…
“Conrad.” His blue eyes locked onto mine. “What did you put in the lasagna?” he asked, voice still, to his credit, perfectly even.
A hush chose THAT moment to fall over the room.
In fact all the people looked a bit too interested in my answer.
“S’otein…” I whispered.
“A little louder, darling,” Avery suggested. “Project to the cheap seats.”
“Soy protein,” I enunciated reluctantly. Maxine was glaring at me with raging eyes from the midst of the hives, still clutching at herself with unfairly high drama.
“And…?” Avery prodded.
“SATAN!” Maxine bellowed suddenly, her shriek far too healthy for someone SUPPSOEDLY dying of lasagna-poisoning. I KNEW she wasn’t hurt too badly! “You heard him!” she howled. “Satan! The lasagna’s possessed!”
A roar rose up among the crowd.
This was NOT looking good.
I backed up a few steps. New England was NOT a good place to be possessed! History teaches that!
I was toast.
(“I saw Goody Proctor with the devil!”)
“SAITAN!” I enunciated desperately but that only seemed to madden Maxine further. She began to cough with great gusto.
She probably WANTED to pass out! That would hasten my getting ducked in a well or being burned at the stake or whatever these crazed townspeople were planning for me!
“Anything else, Con?” Avery’s voice cut though the witch hunt. His eyes were STILL firmly on mine and they did not look amused.
On second thought, I’d take the ducking.
“Mushrooms,” I mumbled, and Maxine’s face lit up, if it’s possible for a face swelling nearly beyond recognition to light up.
The paramedics chose that moment to burst through the double doors of the gym. The crowd parted like the red sea and Maxine, ever the drama princess, swooned gracelessly into the arms of the first blue uniform to approach.
“She’s allergic to mushrooms,” I told the EMT helpfully as he and his partner crouched over Maxine. The press of teachers backed away somewhat, looking at me as if I’d just clubbed a baby seal.
Avery’s glare could have cut through the glass lasagna dish.
I wondered if it was too late to choose burning at the stake?
* * * * *
“Not one word,” Avery warned as he ushered me out the back door, his hand locked around my upper arm suspiciously firmly.
My knees were sore from wiping up spilled lasagna from the floor, but I decided now was probably not a good time to mention that.
He escorted me to his car and all but strapped me into the front seat. My car was still parked in the visitors’ lot, but again I figured now wasn’t the best time to point that out.
I love Avery lots, don’t get me wrong, but in this mood he’s very picky about what he wants to talk about.
He didn’t speak again until the third intersection. I was watching the red light, neck craned, wondering if I had enough time to dart out of the car and seek religious refuse in the church on the corner.
“What were you thinking?” he asked in that Tone. The one that doesn’t bode well.
“Never mind.” The light changed and he accelerated.
He continued to escort me like a criminal even AFTER we got to our own house! In fact he escorted me all the way into the house, through the foyer, past the closed study door, and right into the far corner of the living room.
“STAY,” he ordered me unnecessarily – I wasn’t going anywhere! – and headed into the kitchen.
I perked my ears as much as I could from the junction of the two very boring walls.
What was he DOING in there?
Had he forgotten about me?
Ack! Conrad, have you lost your mind? Why did I WANT him to come out of there?
I knew that Tone. Nothing good was waiting for me when he came out!
“Avery?” I called tentatively, peering over my shoulder.
“Turn around, Con,” he called back heartlessly, without turning around himself.
He thinks he knows everything!
I turned back around and sulked into the seam of the walls for a few minutes, letting a tear or two fall for my poor unloved self. Dragged out of a very nice lunch, left car-less, abandoned in a corner…this was NOT my day.
“Aaaavery,” I wailed finally, without turning around this time.
Then he was behind me, tugging me out of the corner and onto his lap in one fluid motion. I curled up, clutching him.
“What is it, darling?” he pushed my hair off my face, pried my head out of his shoulder gently.
“Are you mad at me…?”
“Conrad…” He buried his face in my hair for a moment. “What am I going to do with you?”
Hm. Unfortunately I knew the answer to that question all too well.
I also knew at this point it was less a question of what and more a matter of when. I twined my arms around his neck in the hopes of turning now into later.
“I didn’t mean to make her sick,” I told him. “Really.”
“What WERE you trying to do?”
“I just thought if…I mean, I was hoping if you tried it and everyone else liked it then you’d all see that you don’t need meat in lasagna and maybe you’d want to be a vegetarian too, and…” my voice trailed off. Avery looked like he was getting one of those Discussion headaches again.
He rubbed my back briefly. “That was a good glass dish, too,” he reminded me gently.
Damn. The glass dish was another casualty of the Lasagna Caper. Someone had swept it off the buffet table during the second chorus of “Get the devil’s lasagna!” and it had broken.
It hadn’t made cleaning the floor any easier, either.
“That wasn’t what was supposed to happen,” I explained lamely.
“The dish…the hives…” I trailed off again. “I just wanted you to like the lasagna!”
“It was delicious,” he said. “But that’s really not the issue.”
I declined to ask him whether the lasagna convinced him he could be a vegetarian. This just didn’t seem like the right time to bring it up.
Also quite frankly the idea of tofu and saitan right now just wasn’t very appealing.
I lounged against him, holding onto the hand resting on my hip. “She’s going to be okay, right?”
He nodded above me. “Not very comfortable for a while, but she’ll be fine.”
He shifted me, easing me off his lap and onto my feet. “It could have been much worse, you know.”
I stared at the cuffs of his pants. “I know.”
“What should you have done differently?” he asked conversationally, gently taking his hand out of mine and busying himself undoing my cords and stripping them downwards.
“Not given her any lasagna?” I suggested. It was hard to think rationally in the midst of being turned upside down. I was in a much more dangerous position when he asked the question again.
“Conrad…what should you have done differently?”
I considered my answer more carefully this time. “Cooked with meat?” I asked tentatively.
“That’s one option,” he said. “Or you could have cooked it vegetarian-style, but been forthright about the ingredients. What if someone had a life-threatening allergy, Con? Is it fair to mislead a group of innocent people to make a statement for me?”
“No,” I said decisively.
“That’s right,” he agreed. “I do NOT like deceit and cooking with secret ingredients to get someone to do what you want isn’t too far from that. Not to mention manipulation.”
“I wasn’t being manipulative!” I argued, punctuating the exclamation with a yelp when his hand swatted down firmly.
“What do you call offering to do me the favor of cooking, all the while knowing you were planning this little surprise?” he asked, his tone gentle enough that it didn’t sound accusatory, but firm enough that it made me feel terribly ashamed.
“I didn’t mean to trick you!”
“You most certainly meant to trick me and you did it so I would give you your way. Conrad,” he emphasized this point with a flurry of swats that left me breathless and ready to agree with more or less anything. “I am NOT going to become a vegetarian and this should be a non-issue! If you want to discuss something rationally, that’s one thing, but resorting to deceit will NEVER convince me of anything,” he said firmly, “except that maybe I’m not keeping a close enough eye on you.”
“I’m sorry!” I cried sincerely at his words. I hated hearing Avery sound down on himself! And god knows he kept a close enough eye on me as it was!
“I didn’t mean to hurt Maxine,” I whimpered as Avery’s hand continued its work.
“I know that,” he said, and I thought for a moment I detected a hint of a smile in his voice. Then it disappeared again. “But if nothing had happened to her or even if something worse had happened – that doesn’t change the situation or what you did wrong. Do you understand that?”
“Yes!” I assured him enthusiastically.
“Being a vegetarian is your decision, but you will not make that decision for anyone else and you certainly won’t make it by tricking people! That’s dangerous and dishonest and you’re not doing it again.”
I was getting beyond the point of speaking so I tried to radiate agreement and enthusiasm with my cries instead as Avery finished the job.
Finally it was over; I slipped down to my knees and rested my cheek on his thigh. He ran his fingers through my hair as I gradually calmed down, then lifted me to my feet and gave me a hug.
“Come on, darling. You didn’t eat anything at the party; you must be starving. What sounds good?”
I mulled it over.
“I’m kind of craving a ham sandwich,” I admitted. “Or maybe some pepperoni pizza…?”
Avery’s eyebrows shot to sky-high proportion as I darted out of reach of his swat.
I ran to the relative safety of the kitchen, one thought on my mind…
I KNEW my odds were better being ducked in the well! Salem, here I come!