THE VEGETARIAN • by Eric V. Neagu

My wife is trying to starve my father. I am not entirely convinced of it, but that is what he seems to think. In his gravelly baritone he has said to her at least three times, “Are you trying to starve me?” There is definitely some basis to this logic. Since he moved in four months ago his health has gotten worse. He is getting thinner by the day. His memory is going and his breathing is shallow. It might be because of the pneumonia he had just prior to living with us. On the other hand, those symptoms are, indeed, consistent with starvation. The Internet taught me that. In any case, I recognize I am not a doctor so as another part of the Internet says, I should not comment on such things.

Generally, I do not comment regarding his health or my wife’s cooking. Even before he moved in, I did not comment on either. That is dangerous ground to tread. My father has always seen himself as a robust man, even though he is the shortest person in our family. He was the type of father who liked to say, “I can still whoop you,” even when my brother and I towered over him. Actually, my sister towered over him, too. He was 5’4” tall. My mother was 5’6” tall. Everyone else is over 6’. It must be genetic.

My wife, who is only 5’3” tall, has always seen herself as a skilled chef. She even talked about writing a cookbook one day. I laughed when she told me this. As long as I’ve known her, she pretty much follows recipes out of books. To me, that’s not really cooking in a creative sense.   When she told me about the cookbook idea, several years ago now, I said with a smile, “Great idea, honey. Afterward, we can write a book about copyright infringement.” She did not think that was funny. We did not have sex for nearly two months after I said that. 

Since my father started making the starvation comments we have not had sex, either. I do not blame my father, nor do I blame my wife, but I really have never understood what not having sex has to do with anything. Sex seems to be enjoyable for both of us. (When I say “us” or “we” in the context of sex, I am referring to me and my wife, not me and my father, and not my father and my wife.) Whenever I argue that sex should be kept separate from everything, my wife asks, “Should it be kept separate from love?” This is always a loaded question. If I say yes, I am doomed for obvious reasons.  If I say no, she always replies, “Well, I don’t feel loved at the moment,” or some such nonsense.

Right now, I would say my father does not feel loved, either. Clearly, we love him. My wife and I let him live with us, after all. It seems difficult to imagine a nice couple like us letting anyone they did not care about live with them. Somehow, however, it is not impossible to imagine a nice couple like us starving an indefinite houseguest to death. How both things can be true at the same time is confusing to me.

Do not misunderstand me. My wife, she would never starve my father on purpose. It is doubtful she would even do it unconsciously. What I have less doubt about is that her vegetarianism could be causing problems. I, myself, have lost twenty pounds since she became a vegetarian. The weight just came off in a matter of months. At the time I did not think of it as starvation. I was, and still am, hungry quite a bit, though. (I would like to point out that I continued having sex with her even though she became a vegetarian and even though I was often hungry.) My father complains of being hungry a lot, which is apparently a consistent symptom of both starvation and vegetarianism. There appears, then, to be a slippery line between the two. One is eating just enough, as my wife seems to. And the other is eating just not enough, as my father seems to.

A few minutes ago, in fact, my father said to me, sotto voce while my wife was doing the dinner dishes, “You got anything else to eat? She’s starving me to death.”

Shortly after his comment, my wife entered the room. She sat next to me and put an arm lovingly around my shoulder and a hand on her tiny belly. We have been talking about having children, so I thought maybe she was thinking about it. I also thought the arm around my shoulder meant we might try to make a baby tonight. I was wrong.

A little too loudly, she sighed, “Boy, am I stuffed.” To me this meant I would not be having sex, though the arm around me was still confusing.  My father took this to mean he was also expected to be full. He replied, “I could use some dessert.” Then we were quiet. As for me, I was neither hungry nor too full, though I could have probably eaten dessert, or had sex. (I have never, as some do, equated sex with dessert.)

Right now, I am the only one left awake in the house. I was playing on the Internet and researching both sex and starvation. There have been, apparently, cases when wives deliberately starved members of the family, usually children. I am fairly certain that I would not stay married to a woman who tried to starve people. Because I have no plans to divorce my wife, I feel it is safe to assume I do not really believe she is starving my father to death. I just think he is hungry from eating vegetarian food all of the time.

Eric V. Neagu studied creative writing at The University of Chicago, where I received an M.A. His fiction has been published in Hackwriters and Bewildering stories, where you’ll find “Mrs. Fletcher” and “The Circumstance Concerning Hilbert”, respectively. His day job is in sustainable redevelopment and green infrastructure as a consultant. A book will be forthcoming once he rewrites it and fixes all of the problems with the characters, plot, and language.

This story was sponsored by
Rotten Little Animals — An unnatural novella by Kevin Shamel. Animals are people too! And that is messed up. It’s a crazy ride from the backyard to the Big Time. Zombie-cats, car chases, puppet shows, kidnapping! Fear your pets from this day forward…

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