“Filet or New York Cadence?” Brad asks as he peers over his glasses, large fork in left hand, large knife in his right.
“No thank you,” she answers looking straight ahead.
As if not hearing, he reaches his fork from the platter, stretching across the flowers to put a piece of steak on her plate. A minute later, he adds another small piece, “That was so small, here’s another little piece.” He continues serving as she stares down at the red juice trickling across her plate.
Noisily the food is passed around the table, eager teenagers ready to pounce. Brad offers the white bowl in her direction, “mashed potatoes Cadence?”
“No thank you,” she answers. He places the bowl beside her plate, again as if not hearing. A call for a blessing is announced; all are silent waiting for a volunteer. Hunger gets the best of Trevor and he thanks God for the food and asks a generic blessing for everyone, hoisting his utensils simultaneously with the Amen.
“Hold your fork right and put your feet under the table.” Brad commands, leaning in Trevor’s direction.
“Why Dad,” Trevor scowls and rolls his eyes, “What difference does it make?”
“Its proper manners and it does make a difference…” he trails into an explanation of poorly mannered colleagues, offering examples that the kids could recite by rote.
She sits pleasantly still, just looking forward; her hands folded gently across her thin legs.
“Cadence, why aren’t you eating?”
“Dad, how many times do I have to tell you I’m a vegetarian? Well, I’m trying to be one anyway.”
“You have to eat something, have some mashed potatoes.” he pushes the bowl a little closer, “You love mashed potatoes.”
She takes a slow, deep inhale, prepared to offer a well thought out, eight year old's monologue. “First of all, I don’t like mashed potatoes…” she begins in a tone that wavers between in charge and about to crumble.
“Yes you do.” Dad interrupts.
“No, I don’t. I’ve just been eating them all this time because you tell me to, but I’ve decided not to eat things I don’t like anymore.”
“You love steak; this is a beautiful piece of meat. The butcher is a friend of mine and he picked this out especially for us.” He looks over his glasses while cutting his dinner, her arms cross around her middle.
“Daaad! This poor animal was once alive!” arms flail to the side in frustration, “Just walking around not bothering anyone and suddenly, boom, they kill it and it’s dead! That’s it! Done! Gone! Over, just like that! And there’s its body.” she gestures two hands, palms up at the wake on her plate.
“I know, it’s spirit is in heaven, but its looking down and watching and how would you like it if someone just shot you and then you watched your body being eaten?”
“Who cares? Its already dead, Dummy.” Offers Trevor, one disgusted eye squinted in her direction.
“You know, God put them here for us to eat,” offers Dad.
“Well I don’t know what He was thinking,” she looks up exasperated, anxious hands fidgeting over constructive criticism of God, “I mean, I get the whole ‘we need to eat protein’ thing, but if I was God, I’d put animals here for us to eat that were not alive! And… I’d change the laws of physics.” She nodded, case closed.
“You don’t even know what the laws of physics are, Stupid,” Trevor gnashes as he chomps dead cow in her direction.
“I do so! Like what goes up must come down and fire can’t burn under water… I do so know! Ooooh, I’m just torn! This half of me feels so bad for this poor, harmless animal,” she shakes her head in compassion while touching her left shoulder, “and the other half loves steak.” she touches the right shoulder, “Someone decide for me! I don’t know what to do!”
“Eat the steak,” her father offers, oblivious to the conflict in her soul.
“Go ahead, Murderer, dig in,” Trevor taunts, sticking his fork brutally into his meat.
“I’m not a murderer! It’s already dead!” Cadence fights back, again wavering between control and total loss of.
“Murderer!” he grins.
“Enough!” I tell Trevor, in a tone that makes him know his fate if he continues.
“Cadence,” I ask, “Do you feel the same way about fish? They were once alive.”
“Yes Mom, I do.” she looks over the top of her eyes, stuck in a no win situation.
“Does it help to know that Jesus ate fish? You know he wouldn’t do something if it was against God’s plan.”
“OK. I’ll eat the steak.” she gives in. “It is dead anyway.” she shrugs, picking up her knife and fork.
She pokes around on her plate for a bit and begins trimming; looking for any signs of fat. I wonder if I advised her correctly. How many times are we caught between what we believe with passion, and what we do as realists; the ideal vs. the practical. I suppose most of us land in the middle, but I’m not sure the middle is the right place to be.
She takes a bite and her eyes close, head tipping back delighting in the taste. Her head whips upright and brows reach for one another as she pulls something out of her mouth. “What on earth is THIS?” She dangles a little string in the air, eyes bugging in horror.
“It’s a vain,” Trevor mumbles, “and when you bite it blood squirts into your mouth and …”
Trevor is quickly silenced by Dad as Cadence goes back to surgical dissection of her dinner, searching for any bits of fat or veins. I wonder, watching her, whether passion or practical will win.
Perhaps I will need to learn how to cook Tofu.