GOING VEGAN • by Bridget Norquist

Honey, I’m going vegan.

That’s right, I’m turning over a new leaf. (Even my puns are plant-based, now.)

You cringe. “Are you sure that’s a good idea? Especially now?”

Don’t worry, you don’t have to “go” with me. And why not now? It’ll give me a new focus. I’ll be healthier, and maybe I won’t miss her quite so much. When you think about it, it’s kind of fitting. Why not love and respect all animals like we loved her?

Kale is a comfort food, right?

When you bring home food from our favorite Japanese restaurant, the vegetable nigiri just isn’t the same. The shrimp tempura calls to me — a treat I would choose over chocolate cake any day. And then I start thinking about all the other meat dishes I’m going to miss, like a nice sirloin running with juices. Or bacon.

I try not to remember how she’d stand by us in the kitchen, underfoot, waiting to see if we’d drop some. I shut out the memory of the drool bubbles that hung from her lips or the unabashed joy on her face when we’d sneak her a piece, as if we’d proven our love forever with pork fat. She could never have enough. Love, or pork fat.

“Vegan doesn’t necessarily mean healthy,” you say, as I munch on Red Vines, Oreos, and Fritos.

But they are vegan. Not a drop of milk in any of them. No egg, no meat.

“Would you call that vegan or just a non-food?” you ask.

It’s a fair question. I guess the Fritos have some corn in them. And salt. Lots of salt.

They taste even saltier drenched in my tears. I munch and cry and stuff my face as I remember how her paws smelled a bit like these corn chips, but not quite. How we used to nestle into her warm fur and breathe in. This is what unconditional love smells like, we knew. Not like Fritos but like our dog’s neck.

I’m going to starve. I can’t do this.

You remind me to start small. Start by giving up one small thing. How about cheese?

Her favorite was that nice white English cheddar I used to buy at Trader Joe’s. We couldn’t give her more than a couple of cubes, though, remember? She’d have these putrid farts, so loud and sudden, they’d startle her from sleep, her body folding in on itself as she sniffed her own butt accusingly.

They say removing dairy from your diet reduces inflammation. I think this might help with the constant nasal congestion from my allergies. Maybe you won’t need earplugs tonight, Honey.

You smile tolerantly and make sure there’s a pair in the bedside table, just in case.

She used to snore, too. Louder than I did. When she got older, I’d get up in the middle of the night and reposition her in her bed, so her airway was clear. On Saturday mornings, she’d come to your side of the bed, tail wagging, eyes pleading: let me up. You would always let her up, her warm body wedged between us with you and I snuggled up on either side of her like a hot dog.

Now those are right out. Ballpark franks, kielbasa, sausage — random organ meat and God knows what in a strange, clear casing like some edible tube sock. Mystery meat I can snub my nose at, no problem.

It’s an easy step, then, to venture into new, weird sources of protein. Like seitan (“Satan?” you ask, and I reply, like some kind of hippie-sage, “No, SAY-tan.”) Tempeh, tofu, jackfruit, coconut milk, cashew butter… they see me coming at the Whole Foods. They recognize my uncertain strut, my virgin righteousness. “A newbie,” I hear them whisper. “Just steer her away from the vegan cheese. That stuff tastes worse than Velveeta and melts like plastic.”

As I devour an entire tub of faux ice cream, I blather on about the strangeness of cultures where people eat animals I would never dream of eating, like rabbit, or horse, or… I can’t even think it. But how much of a leap is it to go from dogs to cows, or pigs, or chickens? Why eat any of them? I’m being kinder to my planet and my furry friends, and I get to go pants shopping.

“Mmm hmm,” you say, gently taking the empty soy ice cream container away from me.

Maybe we don’t need to get another dog, either. I mean, isn’t it another bad leap to domesticate canines? Who says humans are at the top of the chain? Do we “own” planet Earth? We’d also be free from taking care of anyone but ourselves. We wouldn’t have to rush home from the movies to let her out. I wouldn’t have to walk around the neighborhood at 6 AM, bleary-eyed and in my pajamas, accidentally waving at the neighbors with the hand holding the poop. We’d be free.

And lonely. The house is beyond quiet without the click of her toenails on the hardwoods or the flap of her ears when she shook off the morning cobwebs. I feel the utter lack of that reassuring weight of her head on my knee, and all those wet, sloppy kisses from her big, pink tongue.

“We gave her a good life,” you say, “and she made ours better.”

Several months and five vegan recipe books later, we’re looking at rescue websites. Suddenly, there he is: our new pup, waiting for us to come and get him.

I think she would approve. I know I’m anthropomorphizing, but I don’t care. I lost my job yesterday and after this, I’m gonna eat some barbecue and get back to those grad school applications.

Bridget Norquist’s first novel, The Albatross Agency (a fantastical story about an all-bird detective agency) won her free admission to a young writers’ conference when she was in sixth grade. Since then, she has continued to write fiction, primarily fantasy and science fiction. She is a graduate of the 2015 Odyssey Writing Workshop, and is currently working on her next award-winning novel.

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