I didn’t know about Candace, my friend since girlhood, and when I was with her or thinking of her I didn’t know about me either. Why would I suggest we have lunch at a vegetarian restaurant? The place was crowded. I’d eaten there before and knew she’d have trouble ordering. I watched her scanning one side of the menu, then the other. I said the black-eyed peas were delicious and they’d boost her manganese and magnesium. I could see her trying not to make a bigger face than she was already making.
“Should I be worried about a manganese deficiency?”
I was tempted to tell her I wasn’t giving her a blood test, but I didn’t know how to say it without sounding annoyed. Did I want to be annoyed?
“You could give them a shot,” I replied.
“I don’t like the look of black-eyed peas, don’t like the taste or the way they feel in my mouth. They remind me of dust.”
“How long has it been since you’ve had them? You could open yourself to a new taste.”
“I’ll get something else.”
Judging by her look, she hadn’t found it yet. She wouldn’t trust a salad, wouldn’t want anything spicy, wouldn’t like the sweet potatoes, green beans, lentils, chickpeas, veg burger, veg chili, veg taco, carrot cake. Why was I with her? Did I want to get her mad at me? She looked at me as if asking herself the same question.
“I’ll try the grilled cheese,” she said.
We’d eaten grilled-cheese sandwiches when we were little.
“I’ll order a side. You can taste them.”
“Don’t order them because of me.”
I didn’t want to imagine the food she put in front of herself at home, all the salt and sugar, or the containers and paper products she dropped into her garbage instead of recycling them. Many things that made me mad didn’t make her mad, except in the sense that it made her mad that they made me mad.
“I’m not ordering them because of you.”
“Are you ordering them in spite of me?”
“I don’t understand the question.”
“You know I don’t want to look at them.”
“Are you afraid they’ll try to get inside you?”
“I’m afraid you’ll be thinking of them in my mouth while you’re eating them.”
“You think I’ll pick up a forkful and try to jam them in there?”
“Let’s get off the black-eyed peas.”
“If I order them, they’ll be staring us in the face.”
“Don’t order them.”
“I want them. You shouldn’t be stopping me.”
For years I’d tried to look past her politics and religion, which had been instilled in her as a young person and never wavered. She’d stiffen if I touched on certain subjects, such as questioning how she could square her political beliefs with her religion’s moral code. She disapproved of my beliefs and of what I’d chosen to do with my body on a couple of occasions.
“Eat your black-eyed peas. I’ll eat my grilled cheese.”
“It’s the same thing you’d have ordered as a girl. You’ve inherited your beliefs and haven’t opened yourself. You won’t even taste a black-eyed pea. Always being the same is a wilful denial of your ability to choose. It’s not natural never to change. You must have a deeper awareness hidden within you.”
“You want to obliterate me. You don’t like me or accept who I am.”
“I don’t accept your limited version of you.”
“I have a right not to like certain foods.”
“Being tolerant of you is not making you a better person. I’m tired of letting you do this to me.”
“I’m not doing anything.”
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about.”
We glared. The owner appeared at our table and leaned down.
“Take it out the door,” he told us.
We stood, our chairs scraping the floor, Candace sneering at me, embarrassed.
“You go first,” she said. “I don’t want you behind me.”
Did she deserve more trust than I did? I went first, still arguing inside.
Outside, I looked over at her as we walked to our cars. She watched me, wary and angry. Did she have a gun in her purse? We did not speak another word.
Glen Pourciau’s second collection of stories, View, was published in 2017 by Four Way Books. His first story collection, Invite, won the 2008 Iowa Short Fiction Award. He’s had stories published by AGNI Online, Epoch, New England Review, New World Writing, The Paris Review, Post Road, and others.
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