by Jack Bates
When I was an undergrad, I did an assignment for a poetry class that I based on the paintings of Edward Hopper. The poems were sharp, brief, and cut to the quick of the emotion of the subject. It coincided with an earlier assignment I’d had in an acting class where we had to study a painting and do improvised scenes based on what we saw or imagined we saw within the borders of the frame. I never forgot how both of those exercises opened and strengthened my creativity.
Earlier this past spring, Jim Harrington from Apollo’s Lyre asked me to contribute to a special summer post of writers from our crime fiction writing group. I went back to my book of Hopper paintings. I chose Four Lane Road, altering the title to Four Lanes, to be the foundation of my story. If you’ve ever looked at Hopper’s work, I’m sure you’ve noticed the stark images of people lost in thought or just lost. Nighthawks, which I recently saw ‘live’ on a trip to Chicago, is the picture of noir for me: lonely souls in an isolated location at night and no one talks but everyone has something on his or her mind and it’s probably troubling.
Four Lane Road depicts a man sitting on the back porch of a 1930’s era filling station as he stares absently down an empty stretch of divided highway. Leaning out a window behind him is a woman, presumably his wife, who appears to be giving him an earful about something he’s heard all too often from her. For me, that became the genesis of the story. The man had dreams of cars filling his pockets with cash as he filled the tanks. Unfortunately, that reality has been slow in happening and she’s not shy about letting him know it. Pushed to his breaking point by an eroding dream and a nagging spouse, he takes matters into his own hands and it is definitely troubling.