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  • by Janet St. John

Art & Soul Short #8

Western Motel. Edward Hopper, American, 1882–1967. 1957 Oil on canvas

77.8 x 128.3 cm (30 5/8 x 50 1/2 in). Bequest of Stephen Carlton Clark, B.A. 1903

Courtesy of Yale University Art Gallery (open access images)

Madge the Mysterious, what he called her when they met, waits stiff-backed in red dress on red bed in room with red chair. Viking bones could conquer his pasty freckled skin, towering insecurity about her towering height. Instead, she wears low heels, slouches beside him. She hopes he will admire her from the west-facing windows when he returns with another pack of cigarettes. He yelled last night. Because she needed a restroom? Because she turned the radio dial? They didn’t speak for miles. Didn’t speak even when he took her from behind in the night, then rolled over. He’s a good man, mostly, she had told her friend Lena. He just gets mad sometimes, over details. He likes order. Likes his way more like, Lena said, having seen blood flush his face on their double date when Madge ordered another drink. They walked behind the men after dinner. Madge whispered, I hate how he tastes after a smoke. She didn’t smoke but always kissed Hank back, not saying anything, not since a few weeks after they met. Wealthy, well-traveled Hank made her want to abandon her hometown, secretarial job, family, her life. Madge wants to be irresistible so Hank will take her farther in his peacock-proud green car. He said they’d see red-pink-beige mesas; mountains; canyons. But all she’s seen is miles of crop fields, crosses, red-white-blue flags, cattle, ranches, so many star symbols, barbed wire. She said, This isn’t what I thought the West would look like. Hank flicked the burned down Camel bud out his open window, the window that let wind in to whip her ash-blonde hair into her eyes. This ain’t the West yet, honey. She’d never been this far from Baltimore, thought, This must be the middle-west, or thereabouts, a godforsaken place of tornados raging, tossing, tearing, taking at whim. Hank talked nuptials but hadn’t proposed, had wandering eyes that glue-stuck on other women. Madge formulated the plan while he drove, while she pretended to sleep. She had money in her suitcase lining. She would leave where and when he least expects. Not Vegas or Hollywood. Not that far. Madge will disappear in some city with a bus or train to take her to a place that shows a shade of red she recognizes in herself; a place that cannot own her; a place that will save her life.

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News: Ekphrastic Review just published this piece! Click here for its posting on 3/22/17. Thank you Lorette C. Luzajic!!

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