Staten Island, New York, USA
St. Joseph Hill Academy
Based on Nighthawks by Edward Hopper
The lights… dear God, the lights… they hummed endlessly as if they were flat-lines. If it weren't for the bartender’s ministrations filling the quiet, blind men would be forgiven for thinking they were in the ICU. And they were glaring down on me with such intensity it was as if they were trying to interrogate me. Not exactly what you’d call a comforting atmosphere, and being confined in that tight suit certainly wasn’t helping to take the edge off.
No, I wasn’t nervous about the job; even in the beginning, I rarely faltered. Head down, hands steady, eyes forward. Then, enough money to snuff out the guilt. A livelihood for any man with enough nerve and no other options.
And I was such a man, and so was my partner, the one four years my senior and four seats down. Midway through a cigarette, he tensely scanned about the room (eyes forward, Rodney), as he tried desperately to avoid looking at me or at… her, the rather lovely young woman seated right beside him. Caucasian, mid-thirties, brown-eyed… she was clad in crimson in every which place, from her mane, to her dress, to those full lips. Though a delicate beauty, there was no innocence in her eyes; she wasn’t one of those broads who tottered out of shady pubs, stupefied and grasping onto any “gentleman,” nor was she a sheltered mouse who only went where she was told. Those eyes, they held experiences which had surely hardened her, molding her philosophy into one halfway between practicality and cynicism. Even her posture said as much, as she leaned over the counter with a confidence just as easy as she was on the eyes. Had I met her mere days ago, I would not have thought twice about buying her a drink.
As for Rodney, this job was his first. And you could tell from the furrowing of his brows, the locking of his shoulders, and the bob of his Adam’s apple. Father to three, husband to no one, and until very recently, employee to none—knowing this, one could understand the fatigue he emitted, and how he carried himself as if he were sustaining the weight of the cross to Golgotha. He seemed more burnt out than the cigarette in his hand as he offered the woman one from his pack; she accepted with little to no hesitation. It could have been something to draw her in, but an observant man such as myself could see it was merely out of that damned guilt.
The barkeep was closing up, but this did not faze me. We would not be there much longer, after all; I knew Rodney was waiting for the signal, for when I finished my glass and set it down on the counter. Just as I swallowed the final swig of my gin, I could not help but look at the woman once more, as she stared at the cigarette she had received so eagerly before with eyes that were now unreadable, even for me. Maybe she knew, in some subconscious way, how this night was going to end. But it should not—no, it did not—matter to me either way. This was the job, and there were no other options for any of them.
So, I set my glass down. Rodney flinched (hands steady), and the two of us asked if we could walk the woman home. She remained motionless, her eyes still trained on that cigarette, as if she failed to hear us entirely. Before I dared to repeat myself, however, those eyes pierced my own, her gaze so sharp I could feel it nick my brain. Thankfully, that serrated stare slowly dulled into blunt consideration.
“How generous of you boys,” she said with a sarcastic air she quickly betrayed, as she took Rodney’s hand in her own to help her out of her seat. The sound of her heels resounding against the floor was akin to that of a gavel… so much so, in fact, that a chill creeped up my spine.
As we left, I looked back before I could check myself, and as I did, those damned lights were finally shut. I then peered up at the sky to see that the dim luminescence of the moon was all that was left to illuminate our path. The chill that had wrapped itself around my spine had then sheathed my lungs, my breath narrowly able to escape them. With every shallow inhale and even shallower exhale, all I could think about was the light… and not the ones which had brightened that God-forsaken bar, but the one Rodney and I were leading this woman towards. A light that could never be put out. A light in which, when you finally see it, it extinguishes you.
The light… dear God, that light…!
I should have remembered… head down.
There is something magical about the combination of light, the cold truth, and the surreality of "Nighthawks: An Illumination." At first glance, it's a simple story about an ordinary narrator and their observations; with every read though, we learn something new about each other's characters, and about our collective humanity.
Cristina Fico is a senior (Class of 2021) at St. Joseph Hill Academy in Staten Island, New York. Previously published by Creative Communications, she has loved to write since she was little and believes that literature, as well as art and music, are celebrations of life. She experiences immense joy when she is able to reach people through her stories and is incredibly honored to be featured in Polyphony Lit. Besides writing, Cristina enjoys listening to music, watching every sitcom under the sun, and taking care of her four dogs.
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