“And the million-dollar question is, will Matt end up divorced next year because of hunting” – said Justin sarcastically – “Here we are, at this awesome bar, the four college buddies on our traditional pre-Christmas reunion. Does this topic have to dominate our conversation all evening?”
Francesco gave Justin an exterminating look and patted Matt over the shoulder. Simon put his empty beer mug down with a bang, signaled to the waitress, and turned to Matt:
“Let’s go through this from the beginning. When did it start to get suspicious?”
“At the small game opening day” – said Matt – “the one I missed again. She raided the closet with my hunting gear. Looking at this and that, asking questions like “what’s that for? Is this still good?”
“Wanted to clear out some closet space, I see” – said Francesco. – “Did you let her throw anything away?”
“Not a chance! My stuff is good stuff. I don’t have a whole lot of gear, but with what I have, I can handle anything from Siberian bear to a buffalo in Botswana.”
“How does she feel about hunting in general?” – asked Simon.
“Well, she doesn’t say anything against it when I’m around. But… I picked her up from a pub where she was hanging out with the girls a few weeks ago. There was Flo – you know Flo?”
“The vegan activist who still has ‘I am Cecil’ profile pic on Facebook?” – asked Justin.
“Exactly. So, Flo was going on a long rant about how people who paid so much money to kill African wildlife were compensating and everything.”
“And your wife?”
“I think she was taking notes!”
“But she didn’t mind your hunting before, did she?”
“No, she didn’t. The thing is, ‘before’ was so long ago. I used to hunt a whole lot when we first met, and she was all for it. Then we moved, had children, the mortgage, the new job… Hunting is much harder to do over here than back home, anyway. I tried to take out a small lease a couple of years ago, but she was totally against it”
“Women!” – said Francesco with an elegant gesture that said even more than his intonation.
“No, in fact I think she was right, we’d just bought a new house, there was that issue with the private school, I wasn’t sure I was going to hold on that new job, much less get promoted. It was just too risky back then. Things have changed now, of course. You won’t catch me at the governors tags auction just yet, but otherwise…”
“Then why don’t you go hunting more often?” – asked Simon.
“I tried to talk to her about it, but she kinda acted strange”
“Of course, she’s used to having you near her at all times, now she doesn’t want to let you go.” – said Justin
“Just how strange exactly?” – asked Simon.
“She started asking me about what trophies I killed, and it was like, ‘oh, you’ve killed so many animals already’, and if I wanted to kill this and that. Like, we’d watch TV, and there’s an ad with a cheetah, and she goes, ‘would you want to kill that?’”
“Would you?” – asked Francesco.
“Not really. I’d consider hunting a leopard or lion, but cheetah – what’s the point?”
“I don’t get it.” – said Justin – “Why is leopard hunting OK for you, but cheetah hunting isn’t”.
“That’s irrelevant.” – said Simon. – “Was that how you answered?”
“Yup, and she looked like she just got a vomit-flavored Bertie Bott’s Bean. But the worst thing was that time I caught her talking with her Mom on the phone.”
“What did you hear?”
“I missed the beginning, but she was very angry, she mentioned me, said she’s tired of everything, it’s impossible, and then she just yelled into the receiver ‘I don’t even wanna hear the word ‘hunting’ ever again!’”
Matt took a sip of beer.
“She’s been sulky ever since. Sometimes it looks like she’s about to say something, but then she just looks away and tells me she’s tired and needs a rest…”
“I hate to say it” – said Simon – “But it sure looks like you’re headed into ‘it’s me or hunting’ situation. If you trust my expertise at risk analysis, choose hunting. This way there’s about a 25% probability of keeping both your family and hunting, whereas, if you pick her, you run a 100% risk of losing yourself.”
“Bummer if you’ll end up divorcing” – said Justin – “She’s such a treasure otherwise. Good-looking, smart, cooks like a chef…”
“Don’t give in, man” – said Francesco. “Stand up and fight. Like my old man used to say, put on your pants and…” – his telephone rang, and he rushed to answer the call – “Yes, honey… No honey, of course I didn’t… Yeah, I’m basically on my way home, just waiting for the bill. Love ya!”
Simon waved to the waitress, Justin opened the Uber app on his phone, Matt sighed and finished his beer.
On Christmas night, when the children gave up on waiting for Santa and were sleeping in their beds, Matt sneaked into the living room to put the presents under the tree. There was an envelope there. A long, white, expensive and formal envelope. He turned around and saw his wife in the doorway.
“Go ahead. Open it” – she said.
“Is it… a gift card?”
“You don’t like it?” – she asked.
“You know… I know how much hunting means to you, and I know how you sacrificed it all these years, and I know you’ve been missing it, so I thought I should give something to you for Christmas that would tell you that I want you to hunt more. I was going to give you some hunting gear, but you said you didn’t need anything.
“Then I figured what you’d love most would be a hunt somewhere, and I tried to get it out of you what hunt you’d love to do, but whatever I mentioned, you’ve been there, or didn’t want to, or it was too expensive. I felt so stupid. I even thought I could get some useful hints from Flo, she sounded like such an expert on African trophy hunting… what a fool, for god’s sake.
“Christmas was so near, and I still didn’t know what to get, I was just so desperate and frustrated, and then when my Mom hinted me about these, I just told her to shut the hell up. But then I thought, here’s a website where there are thousands of hunts, and you can choose any one and pay for it with this gift card… If you don’t like it, there may be a refund, or…”
“The best gift I ever got in my entire life” – said Matt as he held her in his arms – “is you!”