Small hours

Words by:
Maxim Griffin
Featured in:
March 2024

By Maxim Griffin.

March, just – all quiet, everyone sleeps apart from the night people – the clocks will be moving forward and soon we’ll bask in British Summer Time – the slates are still wet from the evening squalls but it’s clear now – moon’s in play, waning, bright, low – there’ll be one more frost but it won’t last.

Orion rules the sky – Jupiter bright in the west – Monoceros rising – the light from our distant neighbours is flint sharp across Wold and marsh – on the Humber, big ships wait for the next tide to drive them to port – breakfast in Immingham is on the cards – the red beacons of Belmont mast shimmer – a single bell chimes from the clock in the market hall – one and all’s well.

Steam rises from the vents of the plastic factory – the machines run 24/7, such is the hunger for polystyrene and cling film – it’s a simple pack up tonight – a round of cheese and a round of ham, a flask of thick coffee – the bright lights and noise from the machines are enough to keep you on your toes – he’s been here for 10 years – split shifts, days and nights – four on four off – shift change at six then home to walk the dog – he looks out on the dark – Jupiter and his reflection.

All the streetlights are off apart from on the main road and the terraces are dark – no cars moving – the quietness is a space in itself – the space between sounds – somewhere there is a blackbird who won’t quit, a little breeze to move a single luminous cloud from east to west.

The bread lorry is late – crash on the M180 – two men from the night shift of the supermarket vape furiously and pace around the bottle bank – there are four cherry trees in full blossom as though they were in a Japanese woodcut – Jupiter heads out of sight and the men in their sweet clouds will be waiting for a good while yet – late bread holds everything up – time to kill, another puff, another grumble.

Witching hour
The horizon is occupied with Anglican architecture – stone that was once the bed of a nameless ocean now points straight up thanks to the skills of medieval artisans – someone forgot to set the timer and the lights are still on – pink gobos on the spotlights for one of the cancers send long shadows from the parapets upward – here peregrines nest and exploit the elevation as any sniper would.

Elsewhere – another place – there are always two on at night – a sleep in and a waking night – support work, blind lads – most nights are quiet until three or four – witching hour – the TV drifts from repeats to teleshopping – Talking Pictures has become reliable company – Stanley Baker in Hell Drivers, nice – adverts for funeral plans, peace of mind with Judith Chalmers – there’s movement upstairs – so it begins, once he’s up, he’s up – blind since infancy y’see – he feels time differently.

Nature calls
That blackbird is still going – miles away but the sound carries – a jet passes from west to east – a chalk line with moonlight – a couple more voices pitch in – a single sky lantern lifts from the edge of town – in the old days they used a firework, sky lanterns are perhaps a more subtle way of signalling that the county lines are still functional – same as it ever was.

The petrol station hasn’t had a customer since 0234hrs – the lady on shift has Bobby Gentry’s hair – she waits for the fox to appear but since the new builds started they haven’t been around so much – in January she heard their mating yells and the other week she saw the vixen by the bins at the carpet place across the road, but only just – she’s left a Scotch egg by the logs but she doubts a fox would be bold enough – a badger maybe – she used to see badgers at the back of the care home and watch them between rounds.

Mare’s tails across the east – first light – a sudden lift in song – the first major gear shift of the day – blackbirds, robins and wood pigeons – the gulls come next, drifting from the big river – then the jackdaws, geese, owls – the same cast putting on a different performance each day – clear mornings seem to be best – a visible sunrise is something to sing for.

The dog always wakes him early – the quiet streets make for a peaceful walk and it’s better for her – his head torch is on and she’s at his heel – gingerly they step around the debris of what looks as though it was a spectacular end to a Friday night out – she’d snaffle that half-eaten kebab if he’d let her – a little pull on the lead, go on, please – they walk on down to the river and see the head torch of that other dog walker – good, far enough ahead – they don’t get on, the dogs.

Distant stars fade – blackness turns to blue – the newborn has yet to sleep through – the feeds and changes of the small hours are taking their toll on her parents – they’ve been told this is just a phase, just colic – the tune of the mobile does not calm her – Peppa Pig dangles solemnly above the cot – 15 silent minutes at most – the mother drifts into dreams and the child stirs again – he goes this time, picks her up and coos – the bread lorry hurries down the road.

Blue getting brighter – Saturday – shift change – night people are turning in – an edge of ice in the dew – more gulls arrive – shore leave in Immingham, a plate of meats and eggy things, far from home but it’ll do.

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