It had already started to get dark when Jake returned home, the familiar trail of smoke making its way out of his house’s chimney. No doubt his wife would be fretting around the house mumbling her worried thoughts aloud. He smiled at the thought and finally killed the engine to his rusty, old pickup. It gave a last sputtering breath before settling down for the night.
The crunch of snow below Jake’s feet filled the crisp air, echoing through his ears. The forest surrounding him was alive with sounds. Twigs snapped, an owl’s wings shuttered against the wind, a deer walked against the same crunchy snow just as he had. Jake’s hearing was always heightened after hunting, the pure rush of adrenaline coursing through his veins as if he himself had escaped an encounter with a gun pointed right at the soft spot in the back of his head.
Puffs of breath escaped past his cracked lips in short bursts, the frigid air sharp against his lungs as he lowered the door to the bed of his truck. The spoils of a good hunt lay just to the right, a heap of wounded flesh and bones hidden under a white sack. Careful not to touch areas where the blood had started to seep through, he dragged the bag until it landed with a sickeningly pleasing thud in the snow, leaving behind blood stains on the pure white surface. Jake smiled at the red trail fanning out behind him.
Inside, the house was filled with the delicious smells of dinner; steamed vegetables like baby carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower, pasta boiling in water, and the tangy sauce simmering in a pan nearby. The only thing missing was the smell of meat, which Jake couldn’t wait to add to the array of aromas.
“There you are,” Emma let out, her thin eyebrows knit together and she pursed her lips, the ever familiar crease on her forehead was present, just like it always was when he came back from hunting. “I was getting worried.”
“You’re always worried,” he said, falling right into the routine of their recurring conversation.
A loose strand of her corkscrew curls fell to the side of her face as she asked, “Well, whose fault is that, mister?” Her forehead slowly smoothed out, her bottom lip plumped from the straight line it had been in, blood rushing to it so that the pale pink faded away, and the faint blush on her cheeks from standing over the pot of boiling water made her seem disheveled, but Jake could see peace in her jade eyes.
A laugh erupted from deep in his chest and he shook his head jokingly. “I got a big one for us tonight,” he said, the laugh still present in his voice.
She leaned over on her right leg, hair spilling out underneath her head as she did so, just to get a better view of the sack behind him. “Don’t just let it sit there! You’re getting blood all over my carpet! Go back and get it ready for me.” She pointed down the hall, a wooden spoon clasped in her hand.
Jake left, lifting the bag off the floor like his wife had wanted, and slung it onto his back. The insides of the bag sunk against him and made squishing sounds with each step he took. He could feel the head of his kill lull from side to side against his shoulders, could almost feel each individual feature from the eyes to the nose to the mouth of the dead mass.
It took him no more than 30 proficient minutes to get everything ready for his wife. He brought it to her in a plastic container, the deep red of the flesh pushed against the sides, begging for an escape. Some of the juices even tumbled over the sides, wanting that short breath of freedom before getting tossed onto the stove.
It was all routine from there. Jake set the table, Emma finished cooking dinner. The smell that filled the small kitchen was ravishing; Jake couldn’t wait to dig in.
They clasped hands, said a prayer, and finally started to eat. The first bite Jake took was so tender, he chewed slowly in order to make the meal last longer.
“So,” Emma started, “where did you get it tonight?”
Jake swallowed and said, “Near town.”
Her eyes bulged, her fork teetering on the inside of her mouth. “Jake!”
“Relax, it’s fine.”
She rushed on. “It’s going to be just like last time! And we just got settled in.” She took a sweeping look at the kitchen. Jake knew that she held especially endearing feelings for the window that was set over the sink. From it she could see the landscape for miles and when the sun came up every morning she was there watching it as it was framed with the precariously placed trees.
“I said relax!” he boomed over his frantic wife.
She cringed back, averting her eyes to somewhere over his shoulder. “It’s just…I don’t understand. Why do you take such risks? Someone else could’ve gotten hurt…like before,” she said, breaking her stare to look down at her plate and play with a piece of broccoli.
“Because,” he said, taking another bite of the meat he himself provided for the two. “I’m good and won’t make that mistake again.”
“Haven’t you ever heard the saying, ‘It’s better to be safe than sorry’?”
“Are you saying that you don’t think tonight’s dinner is delicious?” he asked.
She sighed. “No.”
“See? It was worth it.”
The two sat in silence, eating away at the food in front of them. With each bite Emma became more nervous, and just as she always does she asked, “What’s its name?”
Jake smiled crookedly. “Dan.”
“Dan Thomas?” She asked. When he nodded her shoulders slouched forward. “I was starting to like him.”
“I liked him,” Jake said, “a lot.” His smile still plastered on his face as he took another bite.
-- Roslyn Summerville is a sophomore at Lewis University. She is majoring in Mass Communications with a minor in Creative Writing. She comes from a little town called Wauconda (never heard of it? not really surprising). She is very dedicated to her Track and Field team and is working hard to make it to Nationals in order to become an All-American. Her work has been seen in Teen Ink.