The Zero Hour

The Zero Hour

Just past the zero hour and the stars are out and I’m cradled in the arms of a worn fake-leather desk chair, having just leaned back through the drawn-out metallic shriek at the hinge. My boots are crossed at the ankles and propped up on the desk inside this shack, and aside from the boots I’m dressed in a sharp-collared shirt, synthetic gray pants, and a knit cap with the word SECURITY embroidered where it stretches across my forehead.

This shack stands at the divide between a wild field of grass and a wider plain of cement. A long and winding two-lane driveway leads to the steel mill. Though there are no employees inside, the machinery runs and spurts steam and churns and rumbles and hums with furnace fire—it seems alive, eighteen buildings with towering rooftops and silos and smokestacks breathing. I listen all night.

This chair is the center of my universe, at least until my shift ends at noon. This beat up, wobbly, tired old chair—this was the launch pad I’d jumped from the first time I heard a chorus of coyotes baying from the scrap metal hills, from somewhere near the wetlands; this is also the chair where I’ve sat and let eternal voices of dead writers soak in through squinted eyelids, and at times where I’ve scribbled a few words of my own… Like yesterday morning, after the geese had landed and I’d watched them quietly graze— a page of handwriting and early light silence.

I lean forward an inch or so sometimes just to hear the hinge recognize my weight, my existence, and then I fully recline again to create and hear this experimental music of wear—forward and back, repeated, until I realize that this squeak-rocking is not music but its antithesis. This is the sound of insomnia, cultivated by the faint buzz of these fluorescent rods, and there will be no harmony until after some hours of sleep.

Hours have passed by the pace of turning pages. I think of her and my eyes react, like snapped window shades. My boots slip from the desktop and the chair’s joints seem to cheer my decision to stand; the chair wheels roll as tiny thunder in the floorboards. The seatback hits the wall. I open the shack door, greeted by fire rippling along the horizon and the faraway bluish outline of the still snowcapped Mount Hood.

A deer prances by, then another, and then the awkward steps of the fawn. Even as I watch all of this life waking up, I am thinking of her, of her smile, thinking also of the dreams she has been having without me. I look inside the shack and see the empty chair. I can’t call her at 5am, so I turn back to the field. I whisper sweet urgencies, not to myself but to the perked ears of these curiously staring deer. And headlights are approaching. And so the dayshift begins.



About Jason Allen

Jason is currently living in upstate New York and pursuing a PhD in creative writing at Binghamton University, where he is an editor for Harpur Palate. His work has been published or is forthcoming in: Passages North, Paterson Literary Review, Contemporary American Voices, Cream City Review, The Molotov Cocktail, Oregon Literary Review, Spilt Infinitive, and other venues. He hopes to one day meet Tom Waits and buy him a cup of coffee.
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