Zero Words | by Dustin Heron

The sirens were raging in the train. Voluptuous, caped, red lips clinging to fangs, cascading curls ropy with sweat. No, the vibration. Screeching in our ears. Green flashing lights. We came out of the tunnel and the lights came back on, yellow and warm and familiar. The police had made an arrest. The train chugged and slowed and whined and then, slowly, picked up speed and we were on our way. We pulled ourselves off the ground and found our seats. When our stop was next we pulled the chain.

     The party was in an old house atop one of the tumbling hills. We climbed the switch-backing streets. Below, the fog was settling over the city, whose lights were fading yellow flashes in the blue-wet atmosphere. The streets were quiet, but we weren’t. The air, clean and moist, filled our lungs, and we filled the air with song; shanties, rhymes, nationalistic pop, the like. Here among the cold houses and trees the sensors were less watchful. We were poets but clerks and machinists and assembly workers, we were poor, we were unnoticed, we were young and the nights never seemed to end.

     It was a wedding, or its aftermath. It was all soju cocktails and sweets and floor-stomping dances. The walls were padded and the windows stuffed with towels. Still, a blue warning light flared at one point and we quieted, slunk to the floor, reminisced. How we knew one another! Such-and-such a factory, such-and-such a university, such-and-such a project. The cities were larger in those days but the communities just as small. So it all came out.

     “They arrested Juan,” said Aloise.

     For most of us, in our corner of the once-upon-a-dance-floor, this was not news. We’d been there. A few of us hadn’t been, of course, but we hadn’t asked, not until Aloise offered it, because there was an already an assumption, which she simply proved true.
We nodded. Warren said, “He’d made that zine.”

     “A pamphlet,” said Tara.

     “Either way,” said Warren. “A polemic.”

     “It was art,” said Vina and Aloise at once.

     Warren shrugged. Eric laughed.

     “It wasn’t Lawful.”

     Well, no. That was true. But it never sat right, no matter how often we said it.

     There wasn’t much else to say about it at that point. An argument, or any sense of passion, would alert the sensors, and, even if it wasn’t arrest, there would be jobs on the line. Anyway there was nothing to say. Juan had made something UnLawful and he’d been arrested on the train. Now we were on the floor, full of white cake and soju-screwdrivers. But just this short conversation killed all subsequent conversation, and since the dancing was done, the night took on a sad, blue tone, and we all grew quiet, and, quickly, left.

     The train home racked and bucked and squealed, but no lights flashed, no sirens shrieked. As the night grew stale the fog hung lower. It curled around our legs as we walked home, to this flat, and that flat, and the other. In the morning the work whistles would blow and we’d go where we were supposed to go. The CEO’s would have a chance to review our tapes of the night before. An arrest in our midst, a blue warning, a slightly rambunctious reception. In those days, that wasn’t enough for censure. It was a simple, beautiful time.



Dustin Heron holds an MA and an MFA from San Francisco State University. His work has appeared most recently in Watershed Review and Craft Literary, and is forthcoming from Long Island Literary Journal. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net, and his nonfiction has won the Mary Tanenbaum Award. His first book, Paradise Stories, was published by Small Desk Press.