The Hoagie Man
Winnie’s a smart girl. Smart and rambunctious. She’s shy sometimes sure, but she’s young and just started school so it’s understandable. She’s very imaginative too.
It’s funny because she has this “friend”, at least I call him a friend, even though they haven’t truly met. She calls him “The Hoagie Man”, she must see him every day.
Her school is located a bit downtown, you see. How the children learn anything over the hustle and bustle of the big city I’ll never know. I think he stops there regularly every day, there’s a big internet company across the street and the lunch rush must be quite large.
He owns a food truck, I don’t recall the name. I’ve seen him once or twice while I was dropping Winnie off when she misses the bus. The first time she was very excited to show off every detail of her new school. I met all her friends from Art class, she called it Heart class, and all her teachers. Before I left I spotted him out of the corner of my eye. She must have noticed because she hiccuped and exclaimed “That’s The Hoagie Man!” before rushing inside with the rest of her classmates. The second time I saw him was after.
Like I said my daughter is very imaginative. She kept on talking about The Hoagie Man, and how she saw him. He started coming home with her, at least that’s how she put it. She must have spotted his truck alongside the bus as they make their way home. Her imagination took off from there. Soon, The Hoagie Man was following her every time she was in a moving vehicle. It became like a game to her, where even going out to the lake for a long weekend she would would spot “The Hoagie Man”. And I’d be darned because there would be a truck selling hot dogs or tacos right on the sidewalk of the public beach!
More-so than just the truck, she started seeing the man too. She would go out and play in our half-acre backyard, collecting shiny stones or colorful flowers and come in with her sweet, shy smile and say she was out playing with Hoagie Man. He became the voice when she read her books, she called them “hooks”. He was sitting next to when she was doing homework, helping with answers. He was always there with her, had helped her make sense of the things she couldn’t comprehend.
One night, she had a nightmare. She told me that The Hoagie Man had promised her something, she wouldn’t tell me what, but it made her very anxious, I could tell. She had said he was acting different from before, less friendly. Demanding things. She cried and held me tight as she whispered in my ear that he had “floated up” and hovered there, staring at her.
Things were different after that, she stopped talking about The Hoagie Man. She had gotten sick soon thereafter, a fever that ran for almost a week. She didn’t sleep, I could hear her whining through my own bouts of insomnia. Our car games were over as we would both spot a “Hoagie Man” and she would turn away from the windows.
The next time I saw “The Hoagie Man”, the real one beside her school, it was outside my work. I came outside after a stressful board meeting to get some fresh air, and there he was. I could smell that aroma, a mix of grilled onions and propane. I was hungry so I figured, “why not”? He looked at me and smiled. We stood there for a bit, me staring and him smiling, then he excused himself and asked for my order… I don’t remember what I ordered. I don’t even really remember what he looked like, I just remember that moment of us looking at each other.. And his expression, this plain smile and behind it… nothingness.
I hope you find my Winnie, and I hope you find the son of bitch who took her, officer.
But you won’t.
She called books, “hooks”. She called books, “HOOKS”
Don’t you understand?
She wasn’t saying Hoagie Man.
She was saying Bogieman.