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Hearts of Palm

After a vegan couple breaks up, the café where they work sees unplanned menu changes.

Once, she was compassionate, loving and kind.

Once we found a speckled mouse in the bulk foods section of the Co-op. Tuesday scooped it in the palm of her hand and deposited it safely in the green median of the parking lot. By the time we’d finished shopping, it had only made it about two feet before getting squashed. Tuesday knelt down, fished out a box of organic quinoa, emptied it into her tote, and fashioned the cardboard into a makeshift coffin. She dug into the grass and buried the mouse right there in the median. The dirt was still under her fingernails when I knew for sure that I loved her.

Tuesday is the reason I started coming to Tender Bite for a smoothie every morning. And she’s the reason I took a job there slinging kale salads, even though I have my MFA. She’s the reason why I said I didn’t eat meat or eggs or dairy, and why I became what I said I already was. For Tuesday, there’s already so much pain in the world, she can’t stand hurting another living thing. Except for me.

The guy was a regular. He ordered from the raw half of the menu, usually drank coconut water, and tipped well. He had a man bun. I should have known I was done for from the time he invited Tuesday to his hot yoga class.

“Great,” she’d said. “We’ll check it out.”

Customers were always trading recipes and classes and bicycles so I didn’t think much of it. But we didn’t check it out, she did. At first, Tuesday came to my place after class, sweat-slicked and sexy, smelling of Nag Champa and salt. And it was great. After a few weeks, though, she came over less, saying she needed a good shower and sleep in her own bed before her early shift at Tender Bite.

The guy—I can’t even say his name—started coming into the café every morning. And Tuesday started going to hot yoga four nights a week. And I still didn’t get it.

One night, I packed a bag with her favorites: hearts of palm tacos, spicy cabbage slaw and a growler of IPA, and I bicycled to the yoga studio to surprise her. I’d thought that we could skinny dip in the river like we did when we’d started dating and picnic on the bank. When I got there, class was just letting out, and I’d watched through the window. Sweat-drenched women filed out, saying Namaste after Namaste to the guy as if he’d truly ignited some divine spark in them instead of having them stew in their own juices for 70 minutes. Tuesday was the last student to leave. Through the glass, I could see her lean in to the guy, his hand go to her hip, and his teeth nip her neck as she giggled. It stunk. Everyone stunk. Not of incense or enlightenment. Just the terrible smell of hot wet flesh that reminded me we’re all made of meat.

I left the take-out box of hearts of palm tacos there on the sidewalk. I don’t think she even knew I was there. But the next morning, after the breakfast rush, she said we needed to talk. So we did. Well, she talked and I listened. I just sat there listening as she explained how it wasn’t working out between us, without even mentioning the guy. He didn’t come to the café that morning—which made it even worse that they’d conspired he shouldn’t get a coconut water the same day she and I were having the talk. All I could think of was three things: 1) even with my degree, I had no clue how long it would take to find another job; 2) that I could not take the flatulent stink of cruciferous veggies one more day; and, 3) though I hated her, I loved her too.

After that, I started bringing a flask into work with me. On Monday, I added cow’s milk to the cashew and sweet potato pasta dish that passes for vegan mac n’ cheese. Tuesday, I slipped egg whites into the tofu scramble. Wednesday, it was beef broth in the miso. Thursday, I just swigged whiskey. It was my day off, after all, and I was still so sad. But Friday, I got serious, and slipped liquid that had once pooled in the Styrofoam under a raw steak from my flask into that guy’s beet salad. He ate it without notice or incident, and I still wanted to punch him in the face.

I want to take my heart out with a spoon to stop it from hurting. I want to take my bloody heart and bury it in the Co-op parking lot, next to the coffin of the mouse she loved more than me. Sometimes, I want her to say she’s sorry and that she wants to come back just so I can tell her no. And sometimes, just so I can say yes and be the one to bite her neck again. Sometimes, I want to burn the Tender Bite to the ground.

Most nights now, when my flask is empty and I’m still sending out resumes, I cool down. When I do, what I want is to meet someone new who likes beer and barbeque. Who is afraid of mice and wants me to protect her. Who will love me more.

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