If midnight was the Witching Hour, then 3AM was the Hour of Self Loathing. A litany of conditioning and doubt – stupid, ugly, worthless. Coward. Flagellating myself in the darkness, the list marched circles in my head.
The red glowing numbers on the alarm clock ticked forward with agonizing slowness. More time to dissect the minutia of my life. To review every bad decision and awkward encounter. I groaned and flipped the pillow over to the cool side.
For the hundredth time I advised the ceiling that tomorrow – today in fact – would be the day I quit my crappy job. Divorced, underemployed, and constantly dodging that creepy guy in sales, I needed a change.
I’d polished my resignation letter weeks ago. It had taken up permanent residence in my purse.
3:05AM. The night was endless.
The alarm shrilled in my ear, insistent. I shuffled through my morning routine in a sleep deprived fog. By habit I set out two coffee mugs. I stared at the heavy Buffalo china for a few moments before putting one away. Plates rattled as the cabinet door slammed.
I put on the blue dress my ex had hated so much and headed to work. Rebelling against a memory.
“Hi Amy! What can I do for you?” The boss’s receptionist chirped. Saccharine and assumed, her cheer made my teeth hurt.
“It’s Angie. From accounting?” I hated that it came out sounding like a question. Two years on the job and she still couldn’t get my name right.
“That’s right. Alice.” She stared at me with unblinking eyes. They were an unnatural shade of green. Contacts then. I wasn’t the only one pretending to be someone else.
Silence stretched. A corner of her brightly painted lips turned down, bubbly veneer starting to tarnish. In the cross-hairs of her disdain, I struggled to form the words.
“I’m not feeling well. Perhaps I’ll take a sick day.” Envelope crushed in my fist, I mumbled my excuses and fled. I spent the ride home luxuriating in self pity.
I fished the crumpled letter from my purse in disgust. Hands shaking, I flipped it over and over. A corner sliced my finger, striking like a parchment viper. Furious at my cowardice, I flung it across the kitchen counter.
A drop of crimson marred the creamy paper, staring up at me in accusation. Mocking. I swallowed hard against the acrid taste of failure and poured myself a beer.
Settling into a threadbare loveseat, I surfed the channels. There was never anything worth watching, but it distracted me from reality. TV problems were tidily resolved in 30 minutes or less, wrapped in Hollywood tinsel. Happy endings all around. I snorted, halfhearted, at the sitcom tomfoolery. Three seconds behind the laugh track, it echoed isolated and hollow. The noise drowned out my thoughts. For the moment.
It was late. Or perhaps early. I refused to check. If the clock read 3AM I would scream, rip it from the wall. Antsy, I paced. Even that was frustrating – the house was too small for my restlessness. I flicked on the kitchen light, resigned to another sleepless night.
A creased, stained rectangle of paper caught my eye. The resignation letter lay forgotten on the counter. I stared at it, considering.
In a flurry, I dashed into the bedroom, yanking on a pair of jeans. My shirt was rumpled. I didn’t notice. I shoved bare feet into sneakers, no time for socks – if I loitered I’d lose my nerve. Back in the kitchen I rummaged through a drawer in search of a stamp. Slapping it to the corner of the envelope, I shoved the letter in my pocket. I didn’t bother locking the front door on my way out.
The street was quiet, the neighborhood pregnant with expectation. Approaching the mailbox on the corner, I fished the letter from my pocket. I held it for a moment, smoothing the wrinkled envelope. The power of words on paper felt almost tangible, severing the ties to a life I didn’t want to live anymore.
A smudge of predawn violet fought the darkness. The street light flickered and went out. I opened the mailbox and let go. The scrap of paper disappeared into the depths of the blue gullet. The door snapped shut, metal clanging. Shackles being released.
I glanced at my watch. 5AM. The Hour of New Beginnings.
(Names have been changed for the illusion of anonymity.)