One of this week’s assignments was to create a 1000(ish)-word story that was inspired by one of six famous works of art. I chose the one below.
Yes. Nighthawks by Edward Hopper.
The draft I’ve submitted DEFINITELY needs work. I’m trying some new stylistic things and playing around with voice. It might be a little hard to follow, but do try to make it to the ending. I welcome all criticism, but please remember it’s a very rough draft of something.
It’s well after midnight. What is this place even doing being open? They can’t see me, but I can’t stand here across the street in the night wind under this glaring light post all night either. Coffee would be good right now since I’m so cold, but I don’t want to talk. The lone woman inside the coffee shop looks familiar. Like, maybe she was at the house last New Year’s or something. Dolly was always putting on these holiday parties right at the last minute. Well, like a few days before the day, of course, but she never really planned them out. Sends me to the grocery with a list longer than my arm this year on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
Maybe that’s why I had to get out.
A scribble. “What were you describing just now, John?”
What do you mean?
“The coffee shop. And the, uh, light post?”
I shift my body around which makes the whole couch squeak. I scratch my head and feel one of those eerie little ball fragments that sometimes rest on your head without you knowing. I’m always paranoid it’s lice because once when I was little, everyone at school blamed me for bringing lice to school, and I had no idea what the fuck they were talking about.
I don’t answer.
“Well, John.” He clears his throat and almost begins gagging. It must be in the therapist’s handbook to clear your throat in the most annoying way. “Now, I can’t be sure, of course. But didn’t you tell me your wife’s father had an art collection?”
A couple prints. One lithograph he’s really proud of.
“Who did it?”
Doc, I never remember the names of those artists. Why?
I shiver, then inhale and get a huge whiff of meat loaf. Bright yellow light runs the perimeter of the door that separates this office from the rest of this guy’s house. I begin thinking what his wife must look like, dress like, and if she runs her hands through her hair when they bang.
“It just sounded a little like a very famous painting. Nighthawks. I believe. Hopper.”
The drunk from Hoosiers? I smile toward my feet. I hear him switch and re-cross his legs.
“No, John. Edward, I believe. You mentioned a coffee shop. Nighttime. Only a few customers.”
There’s a famous painting of that? Sounds dull.
But he’s not biting. He knows my tricks. I want water, but last time I asked, he gave me the tiniest bottled water any company makes. I reach for one of the individually wrapped mints on the coffee table between us without really looking for it.
“Well,” he clears his throat again. “Dull or not, it’s widely known. Now, I was thinking that your father-in-law, the art fan, might have shown you this painting. Perhaps in a collection book. A coffee table book.”
When he asks these types of questions, I always make it look or sound like I’m thinking he’s onto something. Sometimes, I’ll ponder-hum; other times, I’ll just crinkle my brow and shift around. Maybe fold and unfold my arms. This time, I just suck on the peppermint and think about farting. I know it’s immature and embarrassing, but I really kind of want to. It’s so damn cold in here. I almost have to, to give myself a reprieve from the frigidity. Right here. Right on this cliché burgundy leather couch. But I refrain from the temptation and bite the mint hard instead.
Doc, I know Nighthawks. You must think I’m a fuckin’ moron if—
I launch forward. My feet are stuck though, so I can only turn my head toward him.
He holds up a hand—the one bearing the fifty-dollar pen I’d like to steal. “Now, John. Of course–”
You want me to talk about the night I left my wife. I can’t do it.
I grab another mint but just hold it in my hand and talk to it instead of looking at his pasty, scared face.
You want me to explain how someone who had it so well could just up and leave. That’s not going to happen.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to come off condescending.” He tells me to go on and lie back some more. “Just relax,” he says. I suck on the mint and watch two revolutions of the second hand on the gaudy iron sunburst wall clock his wife probably picked out.
So her dad was an art fan. What of it?
I can’t see him anymore because I’m facing away again—toward my shoes now—and I sort of slide against the inside panel of this godforsaken sofa. It’s soft but I know he overpaid.
“It’s this, John.” Another throat clear. I’m sure he pushed his glasses back toward his sticky face as well. “Our sessions are meant for you to get some….some closure with your wife.”
“Excuse me, John. Yes. Your ex-wife.” He scratches something down on the legal pad. “And when you waste time …”
He leans in. “May I be frank?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “It could suggest that you want me or anyone to think you want to discuss the past, but in reality it’s the last thing you want to do.”
He’s never shown his hand to me like this before. I hear a soft click, then the heated air from the two vents in the room begin blowing. I’ll bet the meat loaf is done and the wife is starting on the pinot. Pissed her husband isn’t done with me yet.
What can I say, Doc? It’s going to be a while before I can even understand it all myself.
“That’s fine, John. I’ve got time.”
I feel him look at the sunburst and I’m right.
“Let’s pick up here next time, okay?”
I take another few mints. He watches me, but he doesn’t seem to care enough to say anything.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
“Inmate Fourteen Eleven Twenty-three! On your feet!”
“He was doing it again, Sir,” a voice calls from above.
“Doing what?” Sir bellows.
“His dreams, Sir.” Wiry, orange legs are now dangling near my head. Suddenly, he jumps down. Slides, really. “I thought he was awake, so I asked him if he liked any art and he just started carrying on like last time.”
“Uh-huh,” Sir says gruffly. “Anything new?”
“Naw.” The voice stops and clears his throat. “Still callin’ me ‘Doc’ and shit. Said somethin’ about some night time and coffee. Then meat loaf.”
“Yeah.” He sniffs long and hard. Longer than someone whose rickety body wobbles when he talks. “I smell it too though.”
Sir laughs. “Son, everything in the joint smells like meatloaf. Did he say anything his lawyer should know?”
A more casual sniff this time. “Naw, sir. Nothin’ about why he killed his wife.”