How could a grown man spend so much time playing with - he called it working with - puffballs on legs that slept all day and pounded around a wheel all night? Stupid hamsters. Mary wouuldn't have them in the house. So John set them up in the garage, which meant he was out there with them instead of indoors with her.
This had only started after they were married. He'd simply brought a pair home. She didn't argue, but looks speak volumes and she gave him one that had him hastily promising they'd be no trouble for her. Generations of hamsters slept and squeaked and died out there without Mary having even one proper baby to play or work with inside.
Mary asked her married girl friends what they thought of this hamster-induced apartheid. They all told her to get over it. Compared with car nuts or football freaks or Friday night poker players, a husband who got off on garage parties with a few furry rodents was to keep.
It wasn't that they did nothing together, simply that whenever there was a conflict of interest, the hamsters won. One Saturday, as John was getting ready to leave, she said, "You haven't forgotten Ted and Lorraine tonight?"
"So you'll be back for six ."
"I don't want that we should let them down again. Lorraine was pretty ticked off when we missed Ted's birthday dinner."
"Six sounds fine."
Just what did they do at hamster shows? John had once tried to explain: different varieties - Djungarian, Syrian, Teddy Bear; coats; confirmation...Mary hadn't really listened. "It'd better be."
"I'll be back."
He wasn't. Not by six. Mary was nodding over the eleven o'clock news when he edged in. "Hi."
"You did it again, didn't you?"
"I'm really sorry. Something came up. I had to stay back for an emergency and..."
How the hell could hamsters have an emergency? "So, my evening's down the bowl, as usual."
"Mine; you had yours. Screw it. Screw you."
"Is it too late to ring Ted and Lorraine?"
"I'll do it tomorrow. They'll either not be back or they'll be in bed. Together." Mary emphasised the last word. "Anyway, they aren't the point."
When John came cautiously back from his morning cage-cleaning session, Mary homed in like a Scud missile. "I just talked with them. Like a dope, I tried to cover for you. They let me yadder about flat tires and phones on the fritz before Lorraine said there was nothing on their machine and how come they'd seen you on a sidewalk with some woman? I said no way, but Lorraine didn't sound any too convinced, then Ted came on sniggering that he hoped so for my sake, that woman was sure a looker, so I just made myself laugh and rang off. I'll never be able to face them again."
"Some friends. Listen, I can explain."
"You didn't last night."
"No, because you said your piece and stomped off before I could say much of anything. The woman was Glenda Wood, the Hamster Society President. It was her made me stay back. Apparently some guy is complaining about the judging, plans to make a stink with the National Association, so Glenda figured we'd better work out how to head him off at the pass. By the time we'd done, she said I must be hungry, why don't we grab a bite some place, so we did."
"Don't they have phones in that part of town?"
"Of course, but I knew you'd be steaming, so I thought I'd just take my lumps when I got home."
"That's a crock, and even if it isn't, it still makes you a thoughtless bastard, so we end up where we were."
For the first time ever, John stood on his dignity in a hamster-fuelled spat. "If that's what you think, that's what you think. I'll pack a few things and be out of your hair. I can sack out at the office tonight. I'll collect the rest of my stuff tomorrow."
Had she wanted him to leave or stay? Mary prowled around, at one point leaving the house for a few minutes before retreating into its silence. Then she made a call.
Around midnight, Mary's hand was on the switch, when she heard the back door being carefully opened: what with everything, she'd forgotten the dead-bolt. She was about to wet herself when John's voice came up.
"It's only me."
"So what brings you back?" "No, don't tell me, what else but the late-night hamster patrol?"
"I...I ought to take a quick look at them, but I wanted to see you first. I feel so bad about everything. You were right to let me have it. Can't we make it right between us?"
Mary didn't, couldn't, answer his question, but said, "I was too quick on the draw over Glenda Wood. I found her number in your desk and gave her a line about how you were missing some Society file and had she seen you with it last night, you'd been called into the office, two emergency meetings in a row, what a life, and it was obvious from what she said that you'd told me the truth. Okay?"
John didn't answer either. He got onto the bed. They had a long hug. "I'm deep-sixing the hamsters. At least, after next month's big show, that's the Fur Bowl and a cash prize, if I win we could take a weekend away, kind of a second honeymoon."
He might mean it. After all their previous fights, he'd not once promised to give them up. But now, what did it matter? Genuine or not, his good intentions would never survive, nor to judge by the look on his face when he got back and the way he moved towards the bed would she, his going into the garage and finding the hamsters with their stupid little heads cut off.
BIO: Born (1937) and educated in England; college-university lecturer in England/Australia/Canada. Now Emeritus Professor of Classics, University of Calgary, and Fellow of The Royal Society of Canada. Published 12 books and c. 600 articles on Greece, Rome, Byzantium, 18th-Century History & Literature, and Albanian History/Language/Literature. As freelance writer, have contributed many magazine and newspaper articles on many subjects in various countries. Did a 2-year stint as regular columnist for the British daily newspaper Morning Star. Currently write regular columns for (e.g.) Catholic Insight (Canada); Fortean Times (UK/USA); Presbyterian Record (Canada); Stitches (Canada); Verbatim (USA/UK).