In this scene, Georgette is working up the courage to tell Paul some important news.

Georgette was in a mood. She seemed distracted. Paul knew something was on her mind, but he couldn’t get her to admit it, much less say what it was. He knew badgering would only make matters worse, so for now Paul was just going to keep his mouth shut. Georgette would talk when she was ready. She always did. And as long as he had time to think about other stuff, Paul could always mentally draft his next letter to Jerry Landis.

They walked in silence down a long, dingy hallway under the watch of the still, oil-painted eyes of Pythagoras, Sir Thomas More, Tolstoy, and George Bernard Shaw. Finally, Georgette spoke. “I’m as antihandgun as anybody,” she fumed, “but if I’d had one, I swear. . .”

“I don’t doubt you for a second, sweetheart,” Paul said. “And if it makes you feel any better, I wouldn’t testify against you.”

On the drive over to the meeting hall, Georgette and Paul were trapped behind two cars driving parallel with one another, ten miles under the speed limit, for seven frustrating miles. Georgette tried tailgating, honking, flashing lights, and all the traditional hand gestures but neither driver would yield. In fact, neither of them was paying any attention to her or any other car on the road. And it wasn’t the estimated four minutes she lost that bothered Georgette, it was the principle. “It’s either arrogance or ignorance and neither one is a good excuse,” she said. “It’s like no one else matters to these idiots. The rest of us will just have to do as they please.”

Since the driving infraction had occurred only recently, Paul knew it wasn’t the issue that had been gnawing at Georgette all day. It was something else, something personal. At the end of the hall Georgette stopped and glanced up at the paintings. “I see they conveniently left a couple of adherents off the wall.”

Paul was examining Mahatma Gandhi. “Really? Who?” he asked.

“Adolf Hitler, for one,” Georgette said. “And I think Mussolini, though I don’t think he was a full-timer.”

At a friend’s urging, Georgette and Paul were on their way to a meeting of the Vegetarians Association of Central California. Though Paul and Georgette occasionally enjoyed a nice pork loin chop with a savory mustard cream sauce, they knew fruits and vegetables were healthier than tons of meat. Another reason Paul wanted to attend the meeting was that sign:

ACRES OF RAIN FOREST REMAINING: 1,145,829,000

Paul knew one of the reasons the rain forests were disappearing was so cattle barons could make more pasture for grazing cattle to satisfy the ever-increasing demand for meat. Paul knew it took X acres of land to feed a cow which, when butchered, would feed only Y number of people, and that the same acreage planted with grain could feed Y2 people, or something like that. Paul also knew that Jerry Landis had significant financial interests in foreign cattle ranches that were involved in this sort of “development” of the rain forests, so he hoped to get some new ammo with which to shoot at his longtime foe. But mainly they were hoping to pick up a few good recipes and maybe some coupons.

The Vegetarians Association of Central California was no middle-of-the-road outfit. They had pulled their little vegetable cart far to the right (or left, depending on your point of view), and they would not suffer the fish or chicken eaters who called themselves vegetarians.

“Hitler was a vegetarian?” Paul said.

“Yeah,” Georgette said, “but I read that he fell off the wagon and ate pig knuckles occasionally. Other than that he was inordinately fond of asparagus tips, cauliflower, and killing Jews.” She smiled, opened the door, and made a sweeping doormanlike gesture. “Shall we?”

They entered the auditorium where the meeting had already started. A frail blonde was leaning against the podium leading the crowd in some sort of prayer. The herd of plant eaters spoke weakly, but in unison, “No longer now, he slays the lamb, who looks him in the face, and horribly devours its mangled flesh.” This pledge of vegetarian allegiance came from Shelley’s epic poem “Queen Mab,” not, as many of those in the crowd believed, from his Vindication of Natural Diet, an obscure pamphlet he published in 1813.

Paul and Georgette took seats in the back of the room and listened — Paul intently, Georgette amused. Georgette didn’t care much for the vegetarians she had met; they tended to give the otherwise commendable lifestyle a bad name with their holier-than-thou snootiness. Vegetarianism seemed to be a magnet for the intellectually flighty, their logic undermined perhaps by too much fiber. On the one hand they argued against killing other living things for food, yet it was somehow all right to kill plants. And, as measured by the number of dead insects in the grills of their cars, in the course of an average day, vegetarians killed as many insects as did their carniverous counterparts. Was it all right to kill insects because they weren’t as cute as lambs? Or because you couldn’t make eye contact with them the way you could with a cow?

And Georgette loved the famous animal rights philosopher who proclaimed that the line between the animals which had inalienable rights and those which didn’t was to be drawn between the crustaceans and the mollusks. Such arbitrary, hypocritical notions grated Georgette’s nerves. But at the moment, Georgette was less focused on the vegetable issue than on what she had to tell Paul. And she did have to tell him. But when and how? Maybe on the way home, stuck in traffic behind some more idiots.

“I’m glad to see so many of my fellow antipreophogists here tonight,” the woman said. “Now before we get on with new business, let me just say something that bears repeating, and that is that the eaters of dead flesh depend on others to do their slaughterhouse dirty work and on euphemisms so they won’t be reminded what they’re really eating is not just flesh but all the violent energy also necessary to kill animals in the first place!”

As the crowd applauded listlessly, Georgette leaned over to Paul. “Was that a complete sentence there, or did I miss something?”

Before Paul could answer, the woman continued. “The Buddha practiced vegetarianism and preached the doctrine of Ahimsa, a philosophy of harmlessness to all living things.” Except fruits and vegetables, Georgette thought to herself. Maybe now was as good a time as any to talk to Paul. Certainly the speaker wasn’t saying anything new or intriguing. But Georgette couldn’t just blurt it out; she needed an introductory remark of some sort.

The speaker was blathering something about the osmosislike transference of evil and violence via the rump roast when a dull-eyed young man in the front row stood up and pointed an accusing finger at the woman onstage. “I saw you at Denny’s yesterday eating an omelette!”

The audience let go with a feeble murmur. Georgette nudged Paul, “This should be good.”

“Well, yes, that’s true,” the woman said from behind the podium. “They have an economical breakfast special. But I substituted pancakes for the sausage. What’s your point?”

“The point is you can’t be a vegan and eat eggs!” the man said.

“I never claimed to be a pure vegan,” she said with a hint of shame. “I’m ovum-tolerant.”

“Ovum tolerant?” The man pulled an egg from his coat pocket and held it aloft. “This is where life begins and you dare eat it? You’re a murderer! You’re no better than a butcher!” He threw the egg as hard as he could at the woman but it fell short and hit the front of the podium.

Another woman in the audience stood up. “He’s right! You’re eating the unborn!”

Georgette couldn’t stop herself. “Chickens aren’t born, Einstein, they’re hatched,” she yelled.

“Fine!” the woman said with equal fervor, “she’s eating the unhatched!”

“Hey,” someone too weak to stand said. “I saw you drinking from a carton of milk outside. That sort of thing doesn’t fly in here.”

The diplomat next to the milk drinker shot back, “For your information, she’s a lactose-lenient vegetarian. It’s a perfectly legitimate and acknowledged form of–”

“What a crock!” This came from a rope-thin young man who was trying to stand up to make his point more forcefully, but he didn’t seem to have the strength. “Am I the only true vegan in this room? Somebody help me stand up, so I can . . . oh, never mind, I’m too tired.” He took his seat to catch his breath.

What happened next was historical in the annals of vegetarianism. After a few more sharp words, Paul and Georgette witnessed the official split between the lacto-ovo-tolerant and the pure vegan factions of the Vegetarians Association of Central California. The lacto-ovians took the left side of the room and the pure vegans the right. Georgette and Paul remained nonaligned in the back of the room (though Georgette did put five bucks on the lacto-ovians to win). Accusations and insults traversed the center aisle like Civil War cannon volleys. The stronger members of each faction moved toward one another and, inevitably, a fistfight broke out. But without any real protein behind the punches, little was accomplished and soon the combatants lost their strength.

However, when one of the vegans was poked in the eye with a stalk of celery, the anti-pro-ovum-protester began heaving eggs across the auditorium and a second charge began. Paul tried to play peacemaker, but no one would listen — even Georgette told him to shut up and sit down as he was interfering with their bet. Emotions ran strong; these issues had been buried under a layer of couscousian congeniality for too long. Tolerance gave way to violence despite the fact that most of these people hadn’t eaten so much as a short rib in over a decade.

Georgette found it all amusing and nonthreatening because, with the exception of Paul, she was the biggest, strongest, and healthiest person in the room. And if one of these herbivores threatened her with so much as a snap bean, she’d gladly demonstrate how she’d managed to get more rebounds than any other woman in the history of Stanford basketball. And if that didn’t impress anyone, she’d show how she’d fouled out of more games than any man or woman in the history of the Pac-10 Conference.

As she watched the warring factions, Georgette thought again about how to tell Paul what was on her mind. She wanted to ease into it, not just blurt it out. Suddenly a voice of reason came over the loudspeaker system. A man with sunken eyes was at the microphone. “What about the plant kingdom, man?” he said. “Have you never heard the scream of a squash ripped from its vine?” It was the emaciated leader of a pro-plant group who had infiltrated the meeting. “Plants feel pain, man!” The Vegan Guard slouched onto the stage to subdue the intruder. As they struggled to drag him away, the man yelled, “Flowers weren’t born in vases, man!”

Screw it, Georgette thought, I may as well just say it and get it over with. “There’s something I have to tell you,” she said to Paul.

“Let me guess, you want to up the bet to ten bucks?”

“Well, sure,” she said. “But there’s something else.” She paused before saying it. “I’m pregnant.”

All the madness and the noise and the fighting suddenly faded to nothing in Paul’s mind. He was going to be a father. He had created a life. It was wonderful. It was amazing. Hell, it was God-like. He had always wanted children — well, a son anyway — and now it was happening inside the woman sitting next to him. Paul stood up and pulled Georgette to her feet and he hugged her. “I love you so much!” he said.

“I love you too,” she wheezed. “But sometimes you squeeze me too hard.”

“Sorry.” Paul relaxed. “I’m just so excited!”

“Yeah, me too,” Georgette said without the proper enthusiasm.

“So why’s my ambivalence detector suddenly pegging?” Paul asked.

Georgette sighed. “There are things I want to do that I can’t do if I’m pregnant. I won’t be able to play ball for months. And anyway, what kind of world is this to bring a child into?”

Paul smiled and hugged her again. He whispered in her ear, “We’ll just have to make it better before he gets here.”

“I notice you said ‘he.’”

“Hey, I needed a pronoun,” the proud father said.

Georgette scanned the room. “Looks like the lacto-ovians are winning.”

“All right, I owe you five bucks.”

“Ten; we raised the bet.”

“Ten it is. . . Mom,” Paul said.

Georgette smiled. “You can buy me lunch, Pops,” she said. “I’m hungry.”

“Great,” Paul said. “What do you feel like?”

“I’m thinking double bacon cheeseburger.”

Copyright © 1998 by Reduviidae, Inc.

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