Nighthawk Blues

Nighthawk Blues by Peter Guralnick Read Free Book Online

Book: Nighthawk Blues by Peter Guralnick Read Free Book Online
Authors: Peter Guralnick
Remedial Reading Enrichment Course when Hawk had settled down for a few months one spring in Chicago. Hawk had no patience with any of it, though. The alphabet meant nothing to him. “Ain’t nothing but a bunch of ignorant old fools anyway,” he complained to Jerry. So Jerry finally gave up and tried political influence, but he could never get Hawk to stay still long enough to establish a place of residence anywhere his political influence might extend. Once Jerry had tried to school Hawk himself, but he had quickly given it up as an impossible task, for Hawk—who could spend hours patching up an antique exhaust with baling wire, then see the whole thing fall apart a hundred yards up the street, and roll back under the car again with scarcely a murmur of complaint—would practically explode with frustration within moments of confronting these useless abstractions.
    When Jerry thought of Hawk, he always had two images. One was of that big bulky form bearing down angrily upon him, furious over some imagined slight or insult or imposition upon his time or attention. The other image was of Hawk teaching Lori how to play the guitar, answering the questions of some innocent fan, usually female, with the same gentleness and patience that he showed working on one of his jalopies or patching together that homemade wreck of a guitar, which, Jerry suspected, was held together with little more than Scotch tape at this point. Everything that Hawk owned was ready to fall apart, and yet it all had a stability and permanence to it—nothing had changed since Jerry first met Hawk more than ten years ago—that made Jerry feel as if it would go on forever. Until this, Jerry thought, removing his clothes, not even able to remember anymore where the day had begun. He turned out the light, feeling weary in every bone of his body and reminded once again that he was not the one who was cut out for traveling. Then he fell into a fitful sleep.

    W HEN HE got to the hospital in the morning, Hawk already had a visitor. He was sitting up in bed, leaning on one elbow, conversing in unintelligible grunts confirmed by vigorous nods of the head. The visitor was a frail-looking, white-haired old lady whose expression seemed to be fixed in a kind and understanding smile and who was dressed as if she had just come from church. She wore rhinestone-studded glasses which glinted merrily when she tilted her head, a pink pillbox hat, and a worn gray suit that hung loosely on her body. Though she and Hawk maintained their animated conversation, even close up Jerry still couldn’t make out a word of it. Hawk nodded curtly at him when he handed back the wallet. His color was still bad, but he looked better than he had the day before. Jerry stood uncomfortably to one side, not sure if he was supposed to politely ignore this colloquy, as discretion dictated, or step right in and introduce himself. Either way he knew Hawk would find fault.
    Finally the woman stood up to go. “Now you remember what I tole you,” said Hawk in a voice that was closer to his booming rasp than the hoarse whisper in which he had conversed yesterday.
    The woman nodded. “Pleased to make your acquaintance,” she said as she edged past Jerry, smiling with grandmotherly tenderness all the while.
    “You seen Slim,” Hawk said flatly.
    Jerry nodded. Hawk patted the wallet, not even looking at it but picking through it with gnarled black fingers which touched the cracked leather as if they were greeting a long-lost friend. “He know he better keep his distance.”
    Jerry stared at the man in the hospital bed, the Screamin’ Nighthawk, and for the first time felt sorry for him. Why should Teenochie fear this weak, helpless old man? “Boy from the newspaper come by to see if he could do an interview. I ask him, You gonna pay me what I usually get? He say, How much is that? I told him he better talk to my manager.” Hawk chortled to himself.
    “You didn’t feel like talking?” said

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