Issue #18 |

Vegans

young man sitting on a roof

They met at the coffee shop she said was her favorite. It was a vegan coffee shop. Being vegan was a thing they had in common. They had other things in common as well, but this was a new thing they had, and so it seemed like a safe place to start. Sorry I’m late, she said, hanging her coat on the back of the chair, I didn’t know it was supposed to snow today. He said he had just sat down himself. He said he hadn’t even been here five minutes. In truth, he had been there a while, had gotten there a few minutes early in fact, and so had been waiting long enough to be drinking his second coffee. I’m just glad you didn’t have to wait long, she said, reaching into her purse for her wallet. Her hair was shorter and darker than he remembered, and she wore it up in the style of a fifties housewife. She was making an effort to not seem nervous. He realized he was making a similar effort.   I’ll be right back, she said, and he thought for a sharp second that she might lean in and give him a kiss, just a peck, maybe on the forehead, before she went to order her coffee. But she didn’t, and he sat staring at the lining of her overcoat hanging on the back of the chair. It was the kind of coffee shop they might have worked at twenty years ago—the kind of place they would have complained about working at, about the hours and the customers, but it would have paid the rent, would have been another thing they had to do until they got their first album recorded, until they got signed, until they got an opening spot on someone else’s tour. It would have been another thing they had to do so they could do the thing they actually wanted to do, which was play music. It’s really coming down out there, she said, setting her mug gently on the table. I had no idea it was supposed to snow like this. He said he didn’t either, not like this anyway. Do you remember that time, she said, scooting her chair forward, that we got the van stuck in the parking lot? Remember that? He bit his lip and looked at the ceiling. She laughed and rubbed her palms together. I thought we’d never get out of that place. I remember the tires spinning and spinning, she said, and you guys out there pushing and cursing. Where was that? It was Wichita, he thought, but for some reason did not say. Anyway, she said. At least it’s not snowing that hard today. This was followed by a familiar kind of silence. She coughed into her shoulder. He sat forward and tapped his knuckles on the table, feeling like it was his turn to ask a question. So— he said, and then stopped, hesitated. Why did you stop eating animals?

 

It had been her idea that they get together in the first place. She had been the one to contact him, the one to text him out of the blue about the death of an old friend, someone they had played music with back in the late nineties. The friend had just turned forty-five. He had assumed drugs, but it was cancer. Makes you think, she had texted him. And he had agreed. Now she was running late again. He was waiting in the same vegan coffee shop, somehow more nervous this time than the last time. This is so embarrassing, she said a few minutes later, visibly flustered, tearing at her hat and gloves. I really am genuinely sorry. He could tell by her voice that she really was, or that she was really trying to be, and he told her it was no big deal, that he understood. He said it had been nice to sit and enjoy his coffee for a while. Do you need another one? She pointed at his empty mug. Let me get it for you this time. Really, I want to. He shook his head, said that wasn’t necessary. It’s more for me, she said. To make me feel better. I really am sorry about being late again. She reached for his empty mug and carried it with her to the front counter, saying not to go anywhere, she would be right back. He had been the one to make contact this time. After leaving the coffee shop the last time, he hadn’t planned on reaching out or texting her again. She would understand. But then a few days went by and his mind eased on the idea. She really did seem like a different person. And he hoped the same for himself. It did seem like things might actually be different this time. Here we go, she said, setting a fresh coffee in front of him, followed by a large cookie on a separate plate. It was some kind of oat cookie with seeds and dried fruit. For your trouble, she said in a formal accent, then, I really am sorry for being late. I got stuck at work, and, well, anyway, I’m not going to make any excuses. Lord knows we’ve made enough of those. I’m glad you’re still here. I was sure you wouldn’t be. I was sure you would leave. The grind and steam of the coffee shop was the only sound for a minute, as if they were both processing the simple reality of sitting across from each other for the second time. It was impossible to know how many different ways they had both imagined it over the years. And yet this was the way it was happening. He situated himself in his chair. It certainly crossed my mind, he said. She sipped at her coffee, said she wouldn’t have been able to hold it against him. He gave her a smile and a nod, and then reached for the cookie. It’s supposed to have six different seeds in there, she said. Good for omegas. Do you take any regular supplements?

 

Come in, come in, she said, waving for him with hurried excitement. I was just about to put the moussaka in the oven. She wore a flower printed apron, had her hair tied up in a blue bandana. Let me take your coat, she said, and he slid his arms out one at a time. Her house was not unlike what he would have imagined. A quaint bungalow on a street lined with other quaint bungalows. He thought about his condo in the burbs, the complete absence of anything resembling character. Her house was all bright colors and midcentury furniture. Did you have any trouble finding the place? He said no, not at all, that her note about turning at the dry cleaners was perfect. She said the GPS would have sent him a roundabout way that didn’t make any sense. I’m glad you found it okay, she said, smiling. I’m glad to have you here in my home. He nodded, said he was happy to be here. He followed her into the kitchen, where she went over what they would be having. He said he was not familiar with moussaka. She laughed and said neither was she. I thought it would be fun to try something new. She added that she thought it seemed appropriate that way.

He had noticed the stereo when he first walked in but hadn’t said anything. He didn’t really listen to music anymore, and when he did it was just through his phone on terrible little earbuds, running on a treadmill at the gym. But she had asked him if he wanted to listen to anything as soon as they sat on the couch. We don’t really have to listen, she said now. I just thought you might want to put something on. He sat forward like he needed to think about it. Something instrumental, he said. Maybe some jazz. She stood up and said she had one or two things that might fit that description. When did you get into jazz? He gave a laugh and said he wouldn’t go so far as to say he was into jazz. He knew it sounded ridiculous, he said, but he couldn’t really listen to rock music anymore, had a hard time listening to anything with an electric guitar. She said that didn’t sound ridiculous at all. She knew what he was talking about. It had taken her a long time to come back around on a lot of different things. She slid the record out of its sleeve, held it up to the light for a second, and then placed it on the turntable. First the crackle of the record itself, then a muted trumpet. She came back and sat on the other side of the couch, pulled her legs up under herself. For a few minutes they just listened. She reached for her sparkling water. Good choice, she said, meaning the music. It sounds nice, he said. He reached for his sparkling water, took a drink, set it back down. These are pretty good, he said, pointing to the can on the table. I haven’t had this flavor before. She nodded, said her roommate was addicted to them. Well, he said, there are certainly worse things. The space between them seemed to swell with a new uncertainty. One or two things, she said, resituating herself on the couch. He was suddenly very aware of his body in space, the way he had his right foot propped up on his left knee, a new tension behind his shoulder and up the side of his neck. He reached again for the sparkling water, took a long drink, set it back down on the coffee table. She let out a long exhale. He said he was excited to try the moussaka. It certainly smells good, he said. She said she had her fingers crossed. There’s a salad as well, she added. I should have mentioned that. It’s not just the moussaka. She said she tried to have fresh vegetables at every meal. At this point, she said, it’s like my body craves them. He finished what was left of his soda, then pinched the can in the middle. She gave him a raised eyebrow. Do you want another? He waved it off, said he was saving room, didn’t want to be too bubbly before the moussaka. She laughed and covered her mouth with the can of soda. He said he knew was she meant about the fresh veggies. He was surprised at how much his cravings had changed after making the switch. I was worried, he said, that it was going to be this constant struggle, wanting these greasy old things, but it was the opposite. It was like my body knew. She pulled her knees up, situated herself to face him more comfortably. Isn’t it crazy the way the body communicates like that? Her voice was lighter, more energetic. The first side of the record had played through and she got up to flip it over. She stood facing him from across the coffee table and explained how she had a friend who had gone completely raw and how it was like a full-time job hunting down so much fresh food. Like she had to meet people in back alleys and secret locations. I appreciated her dedication, but that’s just too much. He said his only regret was that he hadn’t made the switch years ago. She said she knew exactly what he meant. He said he could never go back. If I had known I could feel this good, he said, I would have made some different decisions. This was followed by another silence. He reached for the soda, but then stopped, realizing it was already empty. The jazz was a nice call, she said. He sat up straight. It’s really nice to be here, he said, to be talking like this. She agreed, said she had always hoped something like this would be possible. He said he had wondered the same thing. I guess we don’t have to wonder anymore, she said. No, he said. I guess we don’t. They sat and listened quietly until the timer on her phone went off, and she got up to check on the moussaka, calling from the kitchen that everything looked good to her.

 

To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of Issue #18, which will be released in December 2023, or become a subscriber to the magazine.

Scott Ditzler is a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where he was a Capote Fellow and a Teaching Writing Fellow. His fiction has appeared in Crazyhorse, december, and Puerto del Sol.  His articles and reviews have appeared in The Kansas City Star. Scott currently lives in Iowa City, where he is working on a …

Learn More