By: Sofia Gershevitskaya
“Guess who invited me for a dinner tonight?”
“No way, Jo!”
I wasn’t quite prepared for my friend’s scream of surprise, which made me move the mobile away from my ear. By the way, my name is Joanne (shortly, Jo).
“Exactly. And I hope it’ll be as perfect as I’ve been picturing. Ok, hon, let’s catch up tomorrow. Ciao, Jess.”
I hurriedly hung up to avoid the everlasting girlish talks.
By “I’ve been picturing” I meant four years of idle crush since Lucas Kowalski entered the lecture hall at the university. One will probably wonder why all these years I didn’t manage to enter his life. My explanation would be – the timing just wasn’t right for us. No, I’m not trying to shift the blame to destiny or other universal mechanisms. Anyways we were both absorbed in legal studies, which eventually brought us into the same department of a multinational giant. It was here, by the copy machine, where he picked an occasion and asked me to go out with him for the first time.
Lucas waited for me downstairs after work. Although I had been acting like a hyper monkey during the day, I was relaxed by the time we walked out of the office.
“So, where are we going?” I wondered because I’m picky when it comes to food.
“It’s a new place – Steak & Co, a couple of streets from here. Great atmosphere, delish food. You’ll enjoy it.”
“Oh, I see.” I pondered over the next remark. “Do they also have salads?”
To make it clear for everyone, my pickiness stands for I have disgust for any kind of animal exploitation since I’ve watched a terrifying documentary as a kid. The shots from the film got so fixed in my memory that passing through the meat aisles in supermarkets became tortuous for my sight. I accept that it might be a mere phobia left as a trace of a childhood fear. But due to the growth of vegan activism I don’t feel like an alien surrounded by flesh-eaters, and prefer things to stay as they are. Somehow I’ve improved my health and earned some karma points (fingers crossed). At least that’s what they say.
“I doubt you’ll trade a joint of juicy meat for a bowl of tasteless greens.” Lucas gave me a wink. I just smirked while all the painful recollections from the film were whirling in my head.
“You are not a vegan, are you, Joanne?” He went on talking before I could stop the whirl and say something, “you know what I like about you? You don’t give an impression of a woman obsessed with a healthish lifestyle.” He made finger quotes on the word healthish, casting doubt on the benefits of veganism.
“Really? What’s so bad about plant-based meals?”
“In my view, it’s more about the attitude than the food itself. Some of those people are health freaks, but I can bet for the majority it’s a fashion rather than a well-reasoned personal choice. And if you dare to date them, you have to totally adapt to their lifestyle. Otherwise they will just force you into this adaptation. It’s so subtle and manipulative that after a while you sit in a company of meat lovers and realise that you’re already allergic to even the smell of it.”
The talk was touching my sore spots. Was it a well-reasoned personal choice in my case? For the very first time in my meatless journey, I doubted. Most probably it was the choice of film directors and cameramen.
“And yeah, it’s hard to believe, but it was the primary reason why I broke up with my ex. In fact, she was an initiator. My doctor told me that I should consume meat because my blood test results were poor. So one day she just packed her stuff and left without notice. Cutting out meat doesn’t make them less aggressive or happier. It makes them total nuts.”
I wanted to change the meat-centred topic before it got too provocative for my life principles, but my mind got stuck. So I just humbly continued to listen.
“You are not caught in this trap, Joanne. You are honest with your mind and body. I see that. And that’s exactly what I value in people. In women, to be precise.”
The walk inevitably plunged into the awkward silence. This monologue was a lot for me to digest. Lucas was waiting for my say while I was waiting for the answers from the universe, like manna from heaven. Did I need to consult a psychologist about that film and my childhood impressions as an “anti-nuts” preventive measure? Would I die if I persuaded myself to eat a steak? Most importantly, what would happen if I confessed to the guy and he rejected me right away?
Receiving no feedback from the universe, I followed Lucas into the dim restaurant. The place was filled up with rushing waiters, clinking glasses, loud chatter and sizzles of meat on a hot grill. I couldn’t recall the last time I was in a steakhouse. Apparently because it had never happened. Still, the place was full of good vibes.
The waiter accompanied us to an intimately-set table in the corner and we ordered the drinks. I rarely drank, but I thought if I got on the verge of a slight intoxication I wouldn’t pass out at the sight of a roasted carcass. Besides, it was a Friday night and we could afford some heady cocktails.
I briefly skipped through the menu until my eyes rested on a familiar title. “Tomato pasta, please,” I blurted with relief.
The waiter nodded and now stared at Lucas who almost drowned in the variety of dishes. At the sound of my order his face made an expression as if he had heard something ridiculous. “Tomato pasta? I thought we’re in central London, not Rome. Believe me, you’ll regret your choice the moment you see those succulent cuts on my plate. How about a beef tenderloin? I’ll take one too.”
“What’s your final decision, madam?” The waiter glanced around, his impatience was megascopic.
“Ok, tenderloin for me as well.”
I was mad at myself for being a softy. Although I tried to keep a straight face, my inner conflicts reached the apogee. A fearful child, hiding in the corner of my subconscious, declared war on the rational adult, who couldn’t plainly explain to the child what I longed for after dinner. Otherwise, the child would have been doubly scared and even Freud couldn’t have cracked the case.
“Perfect. How would you like it done?”
“We would like it medium rare, please.”
I didn’t expect we so early, but in fact, it gave me some pleasant sensations.
“Perfect choice, it really melts in the mouth. I wish you a pleasant evening.” The waiter gave us a warm smile and disappeared.
If the meat melted in the mouth, then I wouldn’t have to chew and swallow, I thought to myself.
The pre-meal time went smoothly. We mostly reminisced about good old days at the university, drunken parties that we both occasionally attended and groupmates’ embarrassing moments. Apart from eating habits, we had had a lot in common. Actually, we had nothing but that we worked on the same floor, but I consoled myself with the theory that opposites attract. In the faint lighting of the restaurant I figured out why I had been desperately attracted to Lucas all these years. He was a man in the full sense of the word; not a pale imitation. He ate meat. So what? I suppose it just added more masculinity to his character. Anyways, Lucas was unconditionally kind, at least to human beings.
In half an hour our order arrived on the table and the razor-sharp smell of meat instantly rushed into my nostrils. I winced at the thought of inevitable encounter with my biggest fear. To be honest, I have a foggy recollection of the following events. If I had starred in a film (I guess that would be psychological thriller), this scene would have been shot in slow motion. I took the knife, then sliced the beef thin. Juices oozed out. I was looking at the piece, the piece was looking at me. I brought the fork to my mouth. My taste buds froze. It felt like my tongue took on a life of its own. I ventured to part my lips. Then I thought I was going to black out. Luckily I didn’t. Someone hailed me.
“Jo! Look who’s here!” I heard the same scream of surprise as I had heard earlier that day. It was Jess.
Wait a second, what was she doing in a steakhouse? I thought.
Now let me play a little prelude to account for my confusion. I had become acquainted with Jess during healthy cooking classes, which I had joined to socialise with like-minded people. But there was a great difference between my “film-through” way to veganism and theirs. Jess belonged to hipster vegans, who didn’t quite understand the purpose of following, but were extremely devoted to the idea. She had just ditched her boyfriend for no convincing reason (his name was also Lucas – such a coincidence, right?) and used to cry on my shoulder. I had known something substantial was missing from that story, but the moment I started to pry into her secrets, she immediately cocooned herself. After several futile attempts I realised that I wasn’t exactly a hands-on psychologist. That’s basically how we became besties: thanks to food, “all men are bastards” talks, and her sobbing.
“Luuuu… Small world, huh?”
“Jeeeeess… I haven’t reckoned on meeting you here. Decided to be normal again, huh?”
Lucas and Jess ping-ponged retorts for a while so that I felt myself as the two’s company.
“Excuse me, do you know each other?”
“We dated.” Bam!
I noticed that I was still holding the fork close to my mouth. The meat, all my fears and struggles, didn’t exist. They were all gone. Having completely lost control over my body and mind, I put the cut on the tongue, clenched my teeth and started to chew. The waiter was right – the beef was tender, juicy, lean, richly-seasoned with pepper and spices, and, to my greatest surprise, delicious. I didn’t have a desire to spit it into the napkin which meant that the rational adult won. When I finally came to my senses, the questions queued up like a crowd of hungry folks in front of McDonald’s. First of all, what was Jess doing in a steakhouse if she stood with a placard, clamouring against cruel slaughter practices, only a week ago? Secondly, were they together?
“Sorry, I have a meeting. Enjoy your meal.” Jess made a significant pause looking at my plate, “and I’m happy for you, guys”. She smiled sincerely and my eyes followed her as she was leaving. She headed to the table where a man with a bunch of peonies was already waiting. To my greatest surprise, I had never heard of him before.
“You see. I told you my ex is cuckoo. Now she’s got a new victim.”
“Indeed.” I was preoccupied with my own thoughts and the puzzles of the whole story were falling into their place.
“Mouth-watering, isn’t it?” Lucas impaled the piece of meat on a fork.
I received a text from Jess when we were in the taxi. “I feel so embarrassed. Let me clarify one thing. I broke up with Lucas cuz I’d been unfaithful for a long time. I was afraid to acknowledge the fact even to myself, let alone other people. The “meat excuse” sounded somehow smart, considering that I was in a vegan community. Btw, it was a rushed decision to refrain from meat, but my love life was so confused. I thought some changes would do me good and clear up my mind. Anyhow, I’m relieved this unexpected encounter has occurred tonight and now we can talk plainly. How about we meet for a coffee (or a steak – winking smiley) tomorrow afternoon? xoxo”.
I sighed with relief and pillowed my head on Lucas’s shoulder.