This story is based off of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks.
If I hear that damn song one more time I might blow this entire setup.
Well, I was going to blow the entire setup anyway, just not in the way that we planned.
“I’ve got you, under my skin…” Frank Sinatra’s voice carries throughout the diner for what to me seems like the thirtieth time that night. It’s actually more like the fourth, but one of these people must really have someone under their skin all right because they keep choosing the song on that stupid, chintzy jukebox.
I’ve got nothing to do but wait for the signal so this whole time I’ve been trying to figure out who it is.
The diner’s got one short order cook left in the back, one guy with a huge schnoz and stained white uniform tending the counter, and one waitress taking care of all the tables. It’s not any of them. The glassy look in each of their eyes says they’ve been here almost eight hours and the only thing under their skin is bacon grease and the remarks of impolite customers. They’re probably sicker of the song than me.
“I’ve got you, deep in the heart of me…”
Maybe it’s that couple sharing the oreo milkshake in the corner booth, one of his hands on her knee under the table like they think no one can see. But I think they’re too busy staring deep into each other’s eyes to care who’s deep in the heart of whatever.
I’d think it was the three kids sitting at the counter but the cowlicks in their hair and ratty jeans with the three root beer floats between them gives me the hint that they don’t have a leftover twenty five cents a pop to be sticking into the machine.
The mother with the bags under her eyes with her two twin boys at the middle table? I think trying to force her kids to eat their grilled cheese and stop pulling at each other’s hair is higher up on her agenda than whatever song is playing incessantly in the background.
The group of twenty somethings by the window probably don’t even know what song this is. The family outside on the patio with the German Shepard tied to the table don’t even get the pleasure of hearing it play.
Well it’s a mystery then because that leaves Ralph and me and it sure as hell isn’t me and Ralph hasn’t budged an inch in the barstool next to me the whole time.
Ralph got under my skin the very first time he walked up to me in that bar and asked, “Can I buy you a drink?” Since I was wearing my favorite A-line red dress and the job at the airline didn’t go through, I said, “Why not.”
I’d said “why not” to a lot of things after that, but after I learned he’d walked up to a different girl a few months later and asked “Can I buy you a drink” to her too, all I can say is, why.
I’d said why not the first time we skipped out on a tab while I distracted the doe-eyed waiter. I’d said why not when we smuggled out some of the local liquor store’s choice stuff under my coat. I’d said why not at the jewelry store, the gas station, anything that would make us a few bucks. Or in some cases maybe more than a few bucks.
I was always asking why not, but I knew exactly why. At first it was just because he was the first man to offer me a drink that wasn’t wearing a clip on tie. At first it was because at home all I had waiting for me was my fourteen year old cat who thought the leather couch in front of the TV was just for him.
Then it was because he would pick me up for dates in a black cadillac convertible and the confidence in his voice when he told the waiter to keep the change. Because we would walk holding hands and whispering down the sidewalk even though we were parked right there. It was because when I got home at night my lamp by my bedside only worked half the time and the other half I would think about how alone I was in a big city. Why? Because I liked the way his eyes looked under his hat when he pulled me close. He called me breathtaking.
Why, why, why not why not. Why not. That one two word phrase could sum up a lot.
Another two word phrase that could sum up a lot and I pictured myself saying one of these days was “I do.”
But now I don’t.
One one of the nights where my lamp did actually work, he said he had some business to attend to, I was sitting watching the city life go by outside the window. Well I saw my life go by out the window too because there he was in his black Cadillac convertible. They drove by in less than a second down the street but it was long enough for me to see that he had one hand on the steering wheel and another on her thigh. She was wearing a red dress, too. I bet her told her she looked breathtaking in it.
The diner was emptying out now. A shame it had to happen here. There’s no other word for the town but quaint, and the little diner fits right in like peanuts at a baseball game.
They serve the kids meals in cardboard cutouts of fancy old cars heaping with french fries and the red and white vinyl tablecloths are sticky from ketchup and grease and who knows what else. They’ve got more license plates on the walls than they’ve got room for people in the seats, and I half expect a barbershop quartet to come out of nowhere and strike up a song. A quarter of the place sells little odds and ends that I think my grandma would like if she were still alive, beaded coin purses and black and white postcards. I don’t know if the smell of hamburger will ever wash out of my hair. And of course there is that damn jukebox that won’t shut up.
“Don’t you know, little fool, you never can win?”
Watson’s, says a humble blue canopy sign above the entrance. I don’t know who Watson is but I think he’ll find it in his heart to forgive me.
It’s clearing out now. People are setting out their tabs. I can feel him tense next to me, one eye fixed on the cash register. Simple job, really. In a second he’s going to tap my leg and go over to the jukebox and keep it playing, just to make sure there’s some background noise. As long as he doesn’t choose the same song. I’d even take “What’s New Pussycat.”
He’s got a revolver tucked into the inside of his trousers. He’s not going to fire it, it’s just to speed the process up a little. But he’s got his little secret with the other girl in the red dress, well I have a secret too. Mine’s tucked into the top of my tights. The metal was cold against my skin but now it’s warm, the trigger’s pressing into my stomach, but I can’t feel it anymore. I can’t feel anything. His secret ruined my life, my secret’s about to do the same to his.