The Nighthawks

Nighthawk in Flight
Nighthawk in Flight


Author's Note: The following piece of fiction was written about New Orleans, a lovely, romantic city that is sometimes referred to as the "Big Easy". This is really a bit of misnomer, since nothing is really easy, especially in New Orleans.

The Nighthawks

Heat from the vanquished sun lingers long into the August night.

Everything is hot in this Creole town. Even the night air that hangs over the place like the misty smoke from a Cajun cabin.

I am riding on the trolley that runs down beautiful St. Charles Avenue in old New Orleans. This is the last of city’s overhead electric lines. The famous “Streetcar Named Desire” is long defunct, replaced in modern times by the Desire Projects, a unique place with its own mystique and attitude.

The car stops at the corner of St. Charles and Napoleon and the driver waits for the light to change.

Everywhere there is stillness, except overhead, where the nighthawks are busy at work procuring an evening meal of entomological delights. Their chirping breaks the silence of a darkened sky.

The light turns green and the car moves forward again. Uptown New Orleans is a very different world, where mysterious old Southern homes line both sides of the boulevard and almost every building sports a fresh coat of paint and a manicured lawn. Stately live oaks draped with flowing strands of Spanish moss cover both sides of the street.

There is a wide, fertile median where the Oleander grows and the trolley tracks run. The steel rails disappear into the near distance towards an imaginary vanishing point.

Riding the line is like traveling in a green tunnel that cuts a swath through the heavy night air.

At Robert E. Lee Circle the streetcar leaves the tree-lined thoroughfare and enters a barren landscape of old stone buildings and aging, iron storefronts.

There is music in the air. The sound comes traveling down the street, filtering into the streetcar, as if born upon some lavishly, decorated magic carpet. The sad song comes from a small, yet popular watering hole, called the “Velvet Rose”.

Her name was Genevieve and she came into my life and then vanished like a wisp of thin air.”

“Sometimes, I think of her and her long blonde air and pale green eyes.”

“We were on our way back from Mexico, where we met by chance on a train. A journey that left the capitol on a bright and sunny, spring morning and ended in Laredo twenty-four hours later.”

I can see the lights of the “Velvet Rose”, for they pierce the night like a Hopper painting.The neon sign that sits above the doorway glistens in the heat of the late evening. Theintense color and patterns that radiate from the sculptured tubing are reflected in the large plate-glass window that covers the front of the building. Behind the colorful mirage, I can see people mingling, like silhouettes in a painting.

The ride across old Mexico was sheer magic, as we watched the dry panorama roll by. From time to time the train would stop at small, dusty towns, where enterprising young children would sell us tasty tamales and cold refreshcos, which they would pass right through the open train window.”

We talked all night, sometimes stopping to listen to the clickety-clack of the hard metal wheels, whining down the tracks.”

The band is called the Whip-poor-wills. I recognize them immediately by the reverberating blue notes mixed in with the syncopated drums and the heavy backbeat. They are from Lake Charles, but still they are popular here in the Crescent City.

“She came to see me in New Orleans, but she would not stay.”

“We even went to the Velvet Rose, but she did not like the club and she was upset that I took her there.”


Like many of their fine, feathered friends, the Whip-poor-wills are a band of the night. The small club is packed with hot, sweaty bodies, dancing, talking and drinking longnecks. I know this because I have been there a time or two myself. Not tonight, though, it is too warm for my taste. I keep riding.

I tried to stay in touch, but the phone got disconnected and the letters came back unanswered.”

She was only a passing memory, much like the journey we took to the border.”

Finally, I come to my stop, get out and walk the couple of blocks to my apartment building. Next there is a steep set of stairs at the end of a long, empty hallway that takes me to the second floor.

Upon entering my place, I open all the windows, turn on the fans and prepare a cold bath in an attempt to beat the heat that never seems to go away at this time of year. Even cold water comes out of the tap lukewarm, but still it helps to immerse myself in the clear liquid that slowly fills my old iron tub. Outside the window I can still hear the nighthawks, above the din of the cicadas and crickets, as they coolly glide above the sweltering city.

The End

For more of my short fiction check out my Smashwords author page, where I write under the name of Henri Bauhaus.

The Night Cafe, a painting by Vincent Van Gogh
The Night Cafe, a painting by Vincent Van Gogh | Source

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