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Recent Work By Meghan Hunt

It feels like you appeared overnight

And before I knew what had happened

I’d let you in.

I can’t explain it, except that you’re like that.

You’re hard to push away…

*

You became this thing on a pedestal

And I tried so hard to achieve,

To reach for the goal that was presented in you.

Sometimes, what we want most is best viewed from afar.

Sometimes, it breaks your heart when you finally have it.

* *

The distance was as wide as the ocean

And no amount of convincing you otherwise

Would have changed your mind.

You’re stubborn like that.

* * *

I believe that you believe what you said

And maybe it’s harsh to think it was all

Just a well kept, well intentioned, well dressed lie,

But being cold and distant makes the memories fade faster…

And you’re beginning to fade away…slowly…like winter

One icicle at a time.

* * * *

Someday when I am older and wiser

I will be able to think of you without the sharp,

Twisting ache in my chest.

But for now, I can’t be the me you used to know

I need to learn how to be a different me

One who doesn’t miss you so much…

Because I’m stubborn like that.

1

At six, the old man teaches her to play poker.

They sit at the kitchen table while her grandmother cooks dinner and her baby brother watches intently as he teaches her the basics of cards. Aces are the highest, then kings, and so on. She likes the face cards best because they seem to wink at her and whenever she has them in her tiny hands, she always wins. She picks up on it quickly and by the time dinner finds its way to worn tabletop, she’s beaten him ten times over and has accumulated a somewhat large pile of pennies.

He lets her keep the pennies, much to her mother’s chagrin. Her father, on the other hand, thinks it’s the funniest thing he’s ever seen.

2

At eight, almost nine, her grandmother passes away and the house changes. The old man’s smiles become rarer and it takes him longer to acknowledge things than it had before her grandmother had gone into the hospital and never came home. It lasts a little over a year and then, suddenly, he is himself again.

Well, almost himself.

Even at nine, she knows he’s different. He has to be, her child mind reasons, because she is. Maybe no one notices it, maybe she never makes a show of it, but she is different. Slightly cracked in the same way a beloved China teacup often is.

By the time she turns ten, it’s like the tide has come in and washed it all away. They move on.

3

She’s twelve when he teaches her how to bet perceptively during a poker game. They sit at the kitchen table with a deck of cards between them and a pile of pennies and he teaches her how to win.

‘Don’t bet too high outright, they’ll know your hand is big and they’ll fold. You won’t get anywhere.’

He picks up his cards and, after considering them for a few seconds, tosses three pennies into the center.

She consults her cards – three sixes, a two, and a misplaced jack – and matches his bet.

‘Dad says you were shot, back in the war.’ She doesn’t really know what the war was, but she knows it wasn’t Vietnam. Her dad was in Vietnam and the old man is much older than her dad.

He tosses out three cards, waits for her to toss out her two, and then deals them each a set of replacements. ‘Yep, in the leg.’

Her two new cards – another two and a new seven – don’t really help, but she adds three more pennies to the pile anyway. ‘Did it hurt?’

He matches her three pennies. ‘Yep.’

‘Who shot you?’

‘Germans.’

‘Did they know you?’

She doesn’t mean the question to be sarcastic, but that’s how it comes out and she freezes. The old man looks at her over the tops of his glasses and she feels herself blush.

‘Grandpa,’ she starts, hoping to apologize for her momentary lapse in respect.

He begins to laugh, loud and hard, and she blushes a little more. ‘Nope, they didn’t,’ he says once he regains his breath. ‘Probably a good thing, too.’ He tosses his cards down – four eights – and leans back a little in his chair.

She puts her cards down. ‘Because if they had, they’d have shot you twice?’

He laughs even louder this time and pulls the pile of pennies toward him.

‘Been talkin’ to your dad, have you?’

She thinks back to what he said about keeping her cards to herself. She looks at him with what she hopes is a good poker face and shrugs. ‘Maybe.’

4

She’s nineteen and she knows something is off.

It’s Christmas Eve and they’re up at the house to exchange gifts and visit. This is her second Christmas in college and she’s glad to be home. The old man is happy to see her and he’s moving around fairly well, despite the fact his leg has gotten more arthritic and he’s a year older than he was last Christmas. They’ve gotten him a new cane and a really warm flannel shirt that she picked out and his favorite candy. It’s a simple Christmas, but he’s a simple man and she knows he’ll love his simple gifts.

‘How’s college?’ he asks her when she sits down next to him and kisses his cheek.

He smells clean and his cheek is scratchy from a five o’clock shadow he forgot to shave off.

‘It’s good. I’m glad to be home.’

He looks at her and his eyes can’t seem to focus and for a minute the world stops spinning.

‘Liz?’ he asks in a soft voice.

Liz was her grandmother, a woman who died ten years earlier.

She shakes her head very slowly. ‘No, grandpa. It’s Meg.’

His eyes come back to rest on her face and he smiles, reaches out and pats her cheek. ‘You look good, kid,’ he says.

She smiles. ‘Thanks. You look pretty good, too, old man.’

He laughs and she tells herself that she imagined the earlier moment. It’s easier than accepting the old man is finally getting old.

5

She’s twenty-one when they move him into a home.

It’s a combination of Alzheimer’s and a stroke no one knew he’d had and the realization that they just can’t take care of him anymore. To her, it feels like they’re abandoning him, though she’d never speak those words aloud to her family. It isn’t her place and she doesn’t know everything, just the bits and pieces that filter down from her mom.

She decides to visit him on her next trip home. She drives to the nursing home and tries not to hyperventilate in the parking lot. She isn’t good with sick people, isn’t good with hospitals and what they mean. It’s hard when it’s someone she knows and it’s terrifying when it’s someone she loves.

She asks for his room at the front desk and is led to it by a nurse she knows, the mother of a boy she went to high school with and who she sees occasionally when she’s home. The nurse tries to prepare her for it, tries to comfort her before the door even opens, but she very gently pushes her away. This is something she needs to do on her own – she hasn’t told anyone she’s here for the fear they would have wanted to come with her.

She opens the door and says hello.

He is positioned on the bed, sitting upright and staring at his hands. At the sound of her voice, he looks up and a wide smile crosses his leprechaun face. It makes her happy to see him smile and she returns it with one of her own.

‘Hi, Liz.’

Her smile falters slightly.

‘It isn’t Elizabeth, grandpa. It’s Meg. Your granddaughter.’

He looks at her and his demeanor changes. He isn’t smiling at her anymore and the expression on his face isn’t one she’s ever seen. She imagines it’s the same expression he turned on the Germans all those years ago and it makes her heart stop.

‘I don’t have a granddaughter,’ he says, his voice cold and confused.

She backs out, closes the door, and runs to her car. She doesn’t speak for a day and when she finally does, she tells her father and it is the hardest conversation they’ve ever had. The doctors ask her not to come back and she can’t help but feel like it’s her turn to abandon the man who taught her how to bluff and what fresh blueberries taste like straight from the bush.

It breaks her heart.

6

She’s twenty-five when the old man passes away.

She flies home for the funeral and a very somber Thanksgiving meal and she spends two days trying very hard to be strong for her dad. Her brother helps, as does her mom, and she manages to make it through her stay without too much sadness.

In the middle, there is laughter and alcohol and the opportunity to spend time with family members she does not see often enough and they all wonder if the old man knew this would happen, that his death would finally bring them all together for a holiday dinner.

It’s two weeks later, when she is back in Maryland and she has a chance to slow down, that it hits her. She’s on the commuter train, on her way home from a long day at work, and she’s reading a book about baseball – the old man’s favorite game. She thinks about her memories, about the million little things he taught her. Before she can stop herself, his memory invades her senses completely and she’s overwhelmed by his death, by the fact his mind was gone for so many years before his body joined it.

Surrounded by people she does not know, she cries heavy, salty tears for the memory of her grandfather and for the memory of the old man he once was.

In loving memory of my grandfather, Winston Hunt, the best old man a silly girl like me could have ever asked for.

I have always loved Halloween.

There are the visuals: monster movies, baskets of brightly colored candy bars, costumes that amaze, confuse, and seduce, a full moon that shines like a spotlight upon tiny towns with gothic spires and picket fences, scarecrows and jack-o-lanterns.

Picture

Single girls – especially independent single girls – are not supposed to want a significant other.

It’s written somewhere in the Independent Single Girls’ Handbook – “thou shalt be self-sufficient”.

I have rationalized this by repeatedly stating to myself the following mantra: If I can catch a fish by myself, then I obviously don’t need a man in my life.

There’s a serious flaw in this logic, by the way, and I’m not just talking about the fact that I’ve been fishing for close to six years now and I’ve only managed to catch 2 fish.

No, the flaw is much simpler than not catching fish.

It’s about human contact.

Practically every human being on this planet craves touch, affection, tenderness. Even the Maslow baby monkeys needed affection and touch to develop into adult monkeys.

Unfortunately, these are not things that come easily if it’s just you and your cat, Gunther.

Gunther is nice and all, but he’s just not your type.

Why, you ask?

Well, for one thing, his name is Gunther.

For another, he’s a different species and I’m not even going to get into how wrong that is.

So let’s move on to the point of all this rambling, shall we?

I’m falling for a guy.

Gasp!

Shock and awe!

The self-sufficient, happily independent girl is falling for a guy.

What’s his name, you ask?

His name isn’t important, mostly because I think that names can ruin a good story.

Like a sappy love story with a guy named Hansel.

It’s just plain ridiculous.

Or, better yet, who’s going to believe that a guy named Buster is the hero of some madcap, international spy adventure?

Names are just nonsense, anyway.

It’s not like you’re going to remember it or even know who he is, so what’s the point?

Anyway, I’m falling for him.

I have been for what seems like years, mostly because we’ve been really good at ignoring the Pink Elephant that moved into the living room when we met.

I don’t even notice the trumpeting anymore.

I’ve forgotten what a real relationship looks like.

I’ve also forgotten how to seek out a real relationship, which is, I think, even more sad.

It’s all as elusive as Bigfoot – I have a feeling it’s there, but I just can’t see it.

He’s not as hairy as Bigfoot, in case you were wondering.

I didn’t want you to get the wrong impression, that I might have fallen for the Wolfman, because I didn’t…and now I’m rambling.

Right.

Moving on.

The problem with all of this, though, is that this is falling in the good sense.

At least if you compare it to falling in the bad sense then it’s falling in the good sense.

I know it isn’t falling in the bad sense – the “Oh my god, my parachute won’t open and I’m going to – SPLAT!” sense.

And, in all honesty, it could be worse.

He could actually know that I’m falling for him.

That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I haven’t told him.

Maybe it’s self-preservation, a just-in-case scenario.

Like carrying around my galoshes, an umbrella, and a baseball cap – just in case the skies open and the next apocalyptic flood rains down upon us all.

I’m not a fan of full blown, in-your-face rejection.

You know, the kind of rejection where the guy doesn’t even have to say anything; he just looks at you and you feel like you’ve been sucker-punched in the gut by Andre the Giant.

I’ve been there before, when I was younger.

I’d rather not go back, thank you very much.

So, for right now, I’m content to stay in the holding pattern we’ve so quaintly established and maneuver my way around the Pink Elephant.

Of course, I’m hoping the elephant doesn’t decide to stampede and run me into the ground.

Then again, if it did, I wouldn’t have to tell him how I feel so it might be nice all around.

“I hear they’re selling houses in Denial and I think I’d like to sign up for a nice 2-bedroom with a garage where I can store my guilt when I’m not using it.”

Right, holding pattern it is, then.

I’d order a drink but I’m afraid the Elephant might resent the implication…