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I’m a herbivore man. That doesn’t mean I stay away from animal meat, but from women’s. And no, I’m not shy, ugly, or gay. I simply detest the idea of becoming the shopping accessory of a girlfriend or the automated salaryman of a wife. What’s the point? I don’t need a woman in my life, especially when I have porn actresses at my fingertips.

My life as a herbivore man is supherb. I wake up in the afternoon and go to my part-time job at Deer’s Diner. After work, I eat ramen noodles or curry rice at a restaurant. In the evening, I drink beer or sake in an izakaya. At night, I stay home to watch anime, read manga, and — more times than I’d like to admit — engage in visually-aided self-gratification.

I enjoyed my life, but it became even more wonderful — though less peaceful — after I met Katsura, a carnivore woman.

I first encountered Katsura at Deer’s Diner, when I brought a veggie burger to her table.

“Did you know — ” She pointed at Rina, the waitress with the heaviest makeup. “That some lipsticks are made with cow brains?” Katsura’s lips were blood-red, probably the result of her genes or cow-brain-free cosmetics.

I scratched the back of my head. “Sorry, I must’ve skipped that class.”

“Your boss should have taught you that. You work in a vegan restaurant.”

The food business had three types of customers: those who ate with their mouths shut, those who ate without shutting their mouths, and those who didn’t eat or shut their mouths. Katsura belonged to a brand new category.

But I knew how to deal with her. “I apologize on behalf of my co-worker.” I offered her a forty-five-degree bow. “And I’ll make sure she buys brainless lipstick.”

The girl squinted at me as if I were a glowing jewel. “You’re really nice to women, aren’t you?”

“To customers in general,” I replied.

“You were colder with the foreigner. You know, the one who complained that his vegetarian meatballs weren’t hot enough.”

The girl was spot on: I treated women nicely — to avoid drama with them as much as possible. Nothing upset me more than a squealing, sobbing, or shrieking woman.

“I like men who are nice to women.” The girl rested her elbow on the table and her chin on her fist. “How ‘bout you join me for dinner?”

I gawked at her. “Y-you’re asking a waiter to eat with you?”

“What’s the problem? Waiters eat too, right?”

“But it’s crazy …”

“It’s fine,” my beefy boss said as he wiped the table next to us. “You’re thirty and haven’t dated anyone in two years. Time to set roots!”

I scowled at the girl, who smiled so broadly I worried her head would split in half.

In the end, I joined her for dinner, saying to myself, She’ll get fed up of me soon.

I would eat my own words.

The next day Katsura invited me — or rather, forced me — to go watch Wonder Woman in the cinema with her. I didn’t like the plan, since I had no intention of having a girlfriend, even one as good-looking as Katsura.

So I did my best to avoid romantic situations. Like not sharing the popcorn that she’d bought (she insisted that one big bag had more popcorn than two small ones), or sipping from her straw (she assured me that the Coke tasted better than any she’d drank before), or going to my apartment (she begged me to watch my collection of harem anime together).

“Listen.” I dodged Katsura’s kissing attempts, a difficult feat when you were pinned against the wall of a park toilet. “Don’t you think you’re being a little, uh, assertive?”

“You have a problem with that?” She relaxed her grip on my wrists. “Oh, you believe women should be passive, right?”

“Not at all. It’s just, this is the first time I’ve met — “

“A carnivore woman.” Katsura smirked, licking her reddish lips.

“I thought you were a vegan.”

“I don’t eat animal meat, but I eat men’s.”

“You’re a cannibal?” The possibility made me want to run away. Or throw up. But I didn’t dare to move, because Katsura had her knee under my crotch.

“No, silly.” She got so close I could smell the French wine she’d drunk at the park bench. “I’m a carnivore woman. You know, a response to herbivore men. They’ve been inside their pen for too long. We women are hungry.” She widened her already large eyes. “Oh, don’t tell me that you’re — ”

I nodded. “I’m a herbivore man. I’ve been trying to tell you, but you haven’t given me the time. Or space.”

“I’m sorry.” Katsura pulled away from me, freeing my crotch from danger. With a ninety-degree bow, she added, “And don’t worry, I understand.”

I gaped at this vegan carnivore woman. That’d been a 180-degree transformation.

Did I stop being her prey?

I was stacking plates on a table when someone tapped me on the shoulder. I swiveled around.

Katsura.

She was wearing her temple-to-temple smile — not only that, also a pink dress she could’ve stolen from a life-sized doll, a purple ribbon tied to look like a rabbit’s ears, and crystal slippers that resembled Cinderella’s.

“Ready for our date?” Katsura tilted her head to the side.

“N-no, because I don’t remember us having one.”

“You have such a bad memory.” She giggled, cupping her mouth.

I grew wary of the plan Katsura was cooking. “Sorry, but I’m workin — ”

“You can finish earlier today.” My boss popped up over my shoulder. “To go to the firework festival with such a beautiful lady.”

“A-are you sure, boss?” Right. I’d been so out of touch with the outside world, I’d forgotten summer had arrived. I turned my attention to Katsura. “Don’t tell me we’re going there.”

She straightened her head and gave it a short shake. “It’ll be romantic, don’t you think?”

I gulped. Hopefully not.

“Shouldn’t you have worn a yukata?” I asked Katsura as we walked alongside the wall of a high school.

“This dress is cuter than a casual kimono.” She did a ballerina spin.

“It doesn’t suit you — same with this girly behavior. It’s not very you.”

She gave me a kitten grin. “I am whatever I wanna be.”

We kept marching forward, Katsura in front, me behind.

Before I could make an ungraceful retreat, she stopped in her tracks. “Here we are.”

On my left stood a pillar with a bronze nameplate that read “Tokyo Metropolitan Shinjuku High School.”

I took a few steps back. “I thought we were going to see the fireworks.”

“We will.” Katsura, to my amazement, clutched the metal fence and flung herself over the top. Was she a cat? She extended her arms toward the sky. “Your turn. And don’t worry, I’ll catch you.”

“Sure no one’s gonna catch us?”

“It’s all right. I’m allowed in. I used to study here.”

I nodded, as if her words made perfect sense. No, I had to escape, even if that made me look unmanly.

But if I abandoned Katsura, she’d have to watch the fireworks alone in the dark. Whatever. She deserved it. For disturbing me at work and for not understanding that for men, no means no.

Yes, I had to be a man.

“For a minute, I thought you’d run away.” Katsura climbed yet another fence, not as high as the previous one.

I sighed. “No way. I’m a gentleman.”

On the other side of the fence was a swimming pool. The water shone a deep shade of blue, with the crescent moon casting silver ripples on it.

“Cool,” I said. “But why did you pick this place?”

“I read this manga where a boy and a girl watch fireworks at a pool.” Katsura wrapped herself on my arm, almost toppling us into the pool. “I found the scene romantic, so I’ve been wanting to copy it with someone.”

“But why does it have to be me?”

Katsura locked her huge eyes on me. “Isn’t it obvious? Because I’m falling in love with — ” Before she could finish her sentence, she slipped and dragged me into the pool with her. I floated in a world of bubbles. When I emerged, I spotted Katsura flailing in the water like an ex-high school girl who’d skipped swimming class.

As I was trying to pull her to firm land, a blast rippled through the pool. I gazed up. The sky had turned red and stars were falling to the earth. The apocalypse? No, the fireworks display had started.

Bad timing.

Had Katsura given up on me? I wondered while I drank a latte at my tea table. Possibly. Her operation “Eat the Herbivore Man” had hit rock bottom yesterday.

And resurfaced today.

A ding of the bell sent me to the front door. I pulled it open. Before me stood Katsura, wearing a white blouse, a gray scarf, and a skirt so long she could walk and sweep the floor. Did she get these clothes from her mother’s closet?

“H-how do you know where I live?” I stuttered.

Katsura grinned. “Your boss gave your address to your beautiful girlfriend.”

I released a sigh, marking a mental note to find another job as soon as possible. “Okay, what are you doing here?”

Still smiling, Katsura lifted two plastic bags full of food. “To cook for you, darling.” Without my approval, she took off her pumps and barged into my apartment. I didn’t like the smell of this.

My mind changed when she began cooking, filling the air with the sweet scent of carrots and onions. Sake and soy sauce.

“What are you preparing?” I asked, peering over Katsura’s shoulder.

She was using my electric cooker and low table since my apartment lacked a kitchen. “Vegetable soup.”

“Forgot to tell you. I’m not a vegan. I just happen to work in a vegan restaurant.”

“What?” Katsura spun around, her spoon still clasped in her hand. “You’re a meat-eater herbivore man?”

I offered a firm nod, hoping the revelation would drive her away from me.

“It’s all right.” She faced the rising steam again. “You learned how to stop eating women. I’m sure you can do the same with animals.”

Giving up, I sat cross-legged on the floor and watched Katsura’s profile, sleeves rolled up, hair tied into a tight bun, lips sipping from a small plate now and then. This was how it felt to have a wife? Uh, not as bad as I’d thought.

“Don’t just sit there,” she called. “Get the bowls, chopsticks, and spoons!”

“Okay, okay.” I stepped up, pulled the eating utensils from the plastic tote, and settled myself across the table from Katsura.

We ate in a solemn, husband-and-wife fashion. The vegetarian soup tasted pleasant. Like home.

“So how was your day, honey?” she asked, reverting to her sweet self.

“Not so good,” I replied. “I forgot to buy groceries, I found out I have a cavity, and now I have an intruder in my apartment.”

“This intruder must be really cute. That’s why you don’t mind.”

“Actually, I do.” I put down my chopsticks. “Besides, you’re not that cute.” My words were horrible. But how else to stop her dumb game?

“You’re so mean.” Katsura’s stroked her cheeks as if to make sure she still had a face. “But what do you mean?”

“Your eyes are too big, your lips too red, and your skin — its’ like it’s made of porcelain.”

“Even that is too good for you.” She dropped her spoon on the table and rose up. “Look at you, you’re thirty and still don’t have a wife, kids, or a decent job.”

“Then leave this loser. The door is wide enough for you.”

Katsura’s eyes filled with tears. Boiling ones. “You get out!” She darted to the bathroom and slammed the door behind her.

With an aching heart and itchy nerves, I followed her path and twisted the doorknob. Locked. “I’m sorry. You okay?”

“We’re done,” she shouted, her voice muffled by the wall of wood separating us. “I want a divorce!”

I sat with my back leaning against the door. Mental note: never admit a woman into your apartment again.

“You still there?” A voice pulled me back from my dreamless sleep. Katsura.

Rubbing my eyes, I staggered up and, with my lips brushing the door, asked, “You’re not going to give me the cold shoulder anymore?”

“I’m not cold. But hot.”

“That happens sometimes. Turn the shower off and on again.”

“I’m not showering,” Katsura teased in a sultry voice. “I’m waiting for you. Naked.”

I became stiff at the speed of light. “Y-y-you’re joking, right?”

“Come and see by yourself. I unlocked the door.”

The bulge in my shorts became harder and harder, until it hurt. No, I had to resist this final test.

“I’m sitting on the toilet,” Katsura said. “If my legs were the hands of a clock, they’d be pointing to five past eleven.”

Patience, persistence, perseverance.

“Now to ten past ten.”

Assurance, autonomy, abstinence.

“Quarter to nine. Aaah!”

Serenity, self-confidence — screw it.

I burst into the bathroom. Katsura was naked indeed.

On the dirty floor.

“Katsura!” I grabbed the towel and draped it around her pale body. She must’ve fallen while performing her stripping show. Blushing, and pinning my little friend between my legs, I checked her body for bruises, bumps, or bleeding. Thank heavens. She didn’t have any.

But now I had a unconscious naked woman in my apartment.

“What happened?” Katsura rubbed her eyes, then her temples. “I got food poisoning? You gave me meat?”

“No, but you wanted to show me yours.” To keep from seeing her bare body — and developing mating impulses — I’d dressed her in my “Save Water, Shower With Me” T-shirt and my cleanest shorts.

“Oh, I remember.” She slumped back on my bed, her arm shielding her eyes from the ceiling lamp. “I wish I didn’t. It’s too embarrassing.”

“So why did you do it?”

“I told you, because I’m falling — you know what, never mind.” Katsura buried herself within the blanket. “I give up. I’ll become a herbivore woman.”

“Good,” I said, a little too weakly. “It’s not that bad once you get used to it. Actually, it’s supherb.”

“Really?” She poked her head out of the blanket . “What’s so great about it?”

“You get to eat alone, drink alone, and become better at being alone.”

“That sounds a bit — lonely.”

“True.” I ambled to my desk and switched on my TV-sized computer screen. “But I get plenty of time to watch this.” I scrolled through my sacred anime selection.

“Lemme see.” Katsura rose from the bed and leaned to the screen. She seemed to be a real fan of films without real people. “Oh, you have Tokyo Ghoul. I’ve been planning to watch it.”

My eyes enlarged. “You’re a member of the human race and you’ve never watched Tokyo Ghoul?”

Katsura scratched the back of her head. “I’ve been busy preying on men.”

“You’re not doing it anymore. Wanna watch the anime now?”

“Sure.” She stretched my T-shirt lengthwise. “But can you give me something else? I look like a potato sack with this.”

“Sure,” I replied. “I have a smaller one, but it’s a bit childish. It says, ‘No Drama Llama’.”

“Childish? No, adorable!”

After buying rice crackers and a bottle of French wine from the 7-eleven, we watched the anime sitting on the bed. But I couldn’t focus on it. My eyes kept stealing glances at Katsura, the girl who liked me and became like me. Who lent me her loneliness to accompany mine. Who gifted me foolish memories I would never forget.

Should I ask her to stay over so we could watch all the episodes of Tokyo Ghoul? After that, we could become friends, a couple, or anything we wanted.

“What’s wrong?” Katsura asked me, noticing my straying eyes. “You don’t like the anime?”

“No, I like it a lot.” Without unlocking my eyes from hers, I added, “Actually, I fell in love with it.”

Writer of fictional words. Admirer of Haruki Murakami. To be notified of his upcoming novel, click here: https://mailchi.mp/6b5f800d7eb0/alexandrochen

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