I made myself do a writing prompt today. I noticed short stories were one of the top votes for what people wanted more of, so here’s a short story in dedication of this weeks Daily Post Writing Challenge:
Write a new piece using Nighthawks by Edward Hopper as your inspiration.
So here’s my response to the challenge. Decided to just take my own thoughts on it and roll with it to create a short story.
Closing the Door
The door hasn’t opened since I’ve arrived. It’s a lonely night at Phillies, my typical haunt on quiet nights like these. The cold October air makes a nice cup of coffee in hand a welcome treat. I sip at the bitter drink with relish, glad of the distracting nip the heat gives my tongue. Makes it easier to forget the long work week I’ve had and the emptiness back home waiting for Annie to get back. Ill mothers in New York sure don’t make anything any easier. I’m getting sick of it to be honest.
Hal is working busily behind the counter. He turns and gives me a smile, obviously glad of the company on this lonely fall evening, only the pelting rain on the window giving any noise in the little room.
“Your dame gone again?” he asks curiously, wiping off the counter yet again til it shines. I almost pity the man, forced to try to find work to keep him busy. I hope business doesn’t stay too slow for long.
I smile at the question nonetheless. He always asks after Annie, even though they’ve never made acquaintance. Still, it’s nice to have someone to talk to about it.
“Yes. Caught a train sometime yesterday morning. Thinking maybe we ought to convince the mother to move closer. Can’t keep this traveling going every weekend. It’s not working.”
Hal nods understandingly, probably thinking of his own wife Linda back home with the kids. He’s a lucky man Hal. A wife. A family. I suppose it’s why I worry so for Phillies, not only for my own comfort but to keep this good man employed bringing back bread to put on the table. I often envy him, til I see how empty the place is.
I sip at my drink reflecting on that. I’m just thinking of getting something to eat when the door opens, a bell jingling merrily in its wake. I turn and glance, only to have my jaw drop at the sight before me.
A red-haired woman waltzes in, a man in a smart suit tagging after, holding the door ajar so she can saunter up to the counter and drop into a seat. My jaw is hanging half open, unable to believe it.
She leans against the dark wood, her arms in pale contrast. I gaze cautiously at the red dress adorning her slim form, the wide neckline, short sleeves, the flirty skirt riding up slightly as she sits down. Her dark heels click as she situates herself, turning the briefest glance to her companion beside her, his eyes darting anxiously back as though to ensure all is well.
The tension in every muscle of his broad shoulders is visible beneath the neat tailored lines of his suit, a puppy on the verge of doing some trick, trying to ensure he does it to perfection. His large hand reaches to join hers, swallowing it up. He sits calmly, tall frame hunching comfortably over the counter like his companion, knees folding up neatly to rest on the lower rung of the bar stool. He smiles, lips flitting up as his blue eyes journey back towards the woman who has so captivated his attention.
I sit there unsure how to even react. The cup of coffee in my hand has paused in its journey midway to my mouth, the harsh smell invading my nostrils, wafting into my mouth I’ve left ajar allowing me to taste the teasing steam. A basic instinct of wanting to flee happens first, then a second to rise and take action against events unfolding. But I do neither. Merely shut my trap with a loud clap and sit there gazing on at the scene playing out before me.
“What’s buzzin’ cousin?” Hal cheerfully addresses the man. “You and the girl having a nice night on the town?”
The man gives a crooked grin showing pearly white teeth, looking back at his companion for just an instant before settling into more easy conversation. “Sure are, aren’t we, doll?”
She gives a polite smile, hand moving to smooth the fabric of her dress. “Never better.”
“You two goin’ steady then?” Hal asks.
The man just shrugs, shoulders rising noncommittally to only semi-affirm anything. Hal chuckles seemingly pleased with this answer.
“The usual? Cup of joe?”
She nods and he answers for them both. I sit there feeling invisible for a brief moment, though it suits me well enough. I lean over my cup that’s redescended to the bar, sitting hunched with my fedora partly obscuring my face. Thankfully the couple is completely focused on Hal now handing over two steaming orders, smiling all the while.
“You sure are all decked out,” Hal says, still eager to make conversation as always in spite of the way the couple seems to be looking at each other as though asking for privacy. They seem caught in each other’s gazes, as two lovebirds too often are. “Special occasion?”
A rumbling chuckle comes from the man. “Just treating my baby. I’ve always loved spoiling her.”
“He sure is stuck on you,” Hal says. “Best wishes to you both.”
He turns towards me, but I’ve grabbed a newspaper and am taking to perusing it, though mostly my gaze is moving back and forth, not really paying attention to anything in print. The story in front of me is much more interesting. And I’m not giving up my observation for anything. Not when it seems so apparent that I’ve become utterly invisible to them both, able to view everything I normally wouldn’t.
They chat a bit, quietly amongst themselves, fingers lingering together against the dark wood, his large ones caressing hers. There’s a moment where I think perhaps I’ve been noticed, but curiously familiar eyes seem oblivious, focused only on the sight of love. Hal has busied himself again. He shoots me strange looks every now and then, but I’m just focused on the newspaper, my fedora low over my face.
After what seems an eternity the couple rises. The man thanks Hal with a bright smile, and takes the woman on his arm. She grasps it all too eagerly, clutching her purse in the other hand while looking ready to race out the door. To go home I can only assume, though to what I try not to let my imagination wander too far.
Hal bids them farewell. “Come again Andrew. Nice having you round the place again.”
He smiles and tips his hat to reveal the sandy blond hair underneath. For just a moment I fear he’ll turn and see me, but he doesn’t. And neither does his date, still hanging on his arm. Then the bell rings again as the door opens for the second time before shutting firmly behind them. I glance into the dark street and watch their shadowed forms disappear into the night.
“What’s wrong with you? You look like you’ve seen a ghost?” Hal questions, reaching over to grab their cups and clear the empty counter once more.
“I suppose I did,” I whisper, my voice breaking in spite of my desire to keep it together. I can’t help it. My throat clenches, eyes sting as tears attempt ruthlessly to break free from well designed barriers. “I suppose this means one thing…that Annie is dead to me.”
Hal blanches suddenly. “That’s Annie? You’re joking!”
I shake my head, unable to voice the truth in my broken state. Something in me feels like it’s been torn out. My chest aches, my stomach clenches painfully. I suddenly don’t even want to think of food let alone consume it, no matter how hungry I am.
“Oh Tom, I’m so sorry,” he whispers.
“How long have they been coming here?” I asked, though I’m unsure I want the answer. Everything is adding up now. The weekends in New York. The excuses. The phone calls to give reason for absence. It’d been becoming more and more. I suppose I always should have known.
“A few months,” Hal whispers. “I mean Andrew comes in here all the time with girls. But this one seems to be a keeper. I don’t usually bother to learn their names…I mean…it just isn’t practical. But if I’d known…I swear Tom I would have told you.”
I shake my head. I know full well it’s not his fault. He could never have figured it out. Not with how much he remains in the dark. I always should have known it wasn’t real. It’s me who should have shut the door long ago when I had a chance, when I first thought maybe Annie wasn’t really in love with me.
“What can I do?” Hal asks.
I push my coffee away and put a few bills down. “Take this. That’s it. I…I’ll figure something out myself.”
Hal nods, though he is still looking at me with lines in his usually youthful energetic face. I push off the bar stool, head towards the door, not eager to look towards him again to see the mixture of shocked emotions.
“I’m so sorry, Tom.”
“So am I.”
The bell tingles again overhead and I’m stepping out the door that opened only twice in my hour at Phillies. I shut it slowly behind me, and the sound echoes in the empty air. I wonder suddenly if this is the last time I’ll ever shut it. I don’t see why not. I walk down the same dark street their shadows traversed moments earlier. I walk into the night not looking back. Only knowing that the further I get from the light of the restaurant, the darker things will get. But perhaps that’s alright. I’ll let the night swallow me up, let myself forget awhile. Take my time and figure out how to face the reality, that nothing will ever quite be the same again.