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'Playing the Hunch' by Shane Huey


Hunches—those intuitive, born-in-the-gut sensations that can't be verbalized or rightly said to be based upon any observed fact, yet they feel as though they couldn't be otherwise. "You just see these things coming and when you have 'em, you got to play 'em." At least that’s what Mama used to say about her hunches. But, then again, Mama liked to gamble.


I can remember Mama having a lot of hunches. There was the hunch that she was just one scratch, and only another $100, away from hitting the lotto each and every week. There was the hunch that, if she bought enough of those candy bars or donuts, that shiny, new car would be hers. Never mind that she didn't even like the car, couldn't afford to pay taxes on it in the event she did happen to win it, not to mention the minor fact that she couldn’t drive. My sister and I enjoyed the candy bars and donuts though.


Then there were the get-rich-quick hunches. These hunches were emphatic that this late night informercial course was the one and then, after it wasn’t, surely it must be the next. She never thought to ask that, if one can buy a house with no money down, then, "Why am I paying so much for this goddamn trailer?" Perhaps there was a better course just around the corner that she could buy with no money down and pay the creator back after making her millions rather than spending that social security check so quickly it made her hungry children's heads spin (and we would have starved too if not for Nana’s credit cards).


So many hunches.


Mama also had, I don't know; let's call them reverse hunches. You know what I’m talking about—when something bad lurks beneath the surface of damn near everything benign. Some such “hunches” Mama had: Every bump we hit in a car ride was a person; having to put a chair under the already locked doors at night because she had a feeling someone or some thing was bound and determined to get us—like a kitchen chair could stop such evil; never fly because that plane will crash; all boats sink; we are all going to die—not eventually, but soon, as in probably today; I have a headache, most likely brain cancer; and so on.


Older and out on our own, though we clearly didn’t approve of her behaviors, we knew there was nothing that we could do to change Mama. She was already taking medications for mood disorder and depression as my stepdad, "Good Ol' Pops" he referred to himself, though we never did, had left her for another woman, one with fewer teeth and a wooden leg, which didn’t make Mama feel great. On top of this, her general gravy train, our Nana, had passed and that hurt her, to be fair, more than just financially. The doctor said that the medication might help with the obsessive and compulsive behaviors, such as pissing away money, buying and hanging so many things on the wall that you could no longer see the wall itself, that family pack of meat at the discount mart big enough to feed a family of twelve though she lived alone and it would get freezer burn before she ever got around to cooking it, and so forth. We hoped for the best but it never seemed to come.


Mama called us both the other night as she had figured out how to use the three-way option on her new cellphone. God only knows how she paid for that.


"I have a hunch—a good, solid, can’t lose hunch this time..." she told us.


"Mmm...hmmm."


"It’s just that, well, could I borrow $250 from the each of you? I need $500 for the bingo tournament. Big money to be made you know...pay you both back with a little extra."


We got the money to Mama next day. Don't judge us—she hadn't asked for anything directly in a while and she was getting older. This was all she had.


Mama went to bingo the evening after, downtown at the defunct Hawk's Supermarket, now a large bingo hall where the elderly go to socialize and give their government money away. She called us before she left the bingo hall to tell us the good news. She had won $2500. It wasn't the first-place $5000 she had hoped for but, well, her hunch had paid off.


We didn't see that coming.


Mama said goodbye to all of her bingo friends except for Pauline, Janny, and Susan, all of whom she invited out to eat at Moore Hawg’s BBQ Buffet to celebrate. On her, she said.