Taylor Kahn Perry

Juliette felt the Tired in the backs of her knees. It was a dull and constant ache that had lived with her for some time now, though she had been working at the local high school for years and couldn’t quite place when the throbbing had begun. She supposed it must have started when the school first began to swallow her, first pulling on her fingers and toes, later straining the whole of her extremities. The Tired filled the building like it was a swimming pool, reached every corner and crevice and submerged the bodies of every person inside. There was no shallow end to the Tired; not one person could feel air above their heads.

When she finally made it home on Friday afternoons, the Tired crept into the house before she could shut the door behind her. It sat across the table from her at dinner, interrupting her between bites of food and slowing her thoughts to a lull so slowed and dimmed and dull she felt outside herself. She drank wine in the evenings, and the Tired would sneak into her glass and push itself down her throat and settle into her stomach where it tried to spend the night, stretching and rolling over and turning sideways while Juliette watched the evening news.

The Tired tugged at the skin beneath her eyes as she watched the film unfold, the too-bright images of the silly people in smart jobs whose money and carelessness and fear made the Tired spread to her students, to their parents and families, to the people she passed on the street each time she walked home from the school. Sometimes, when the Tired got to be too much, Juliette wished she could invite the whole world to her house for a meal, like if she could just give that comfortable warmth and ease that only the nicest toasted piece of bread brings then the Tired would relent for just a moment.

She had this small memory, just a glimpse, from before the Tired, where the sun bled through every window in the high school and soaked the building in warm amber light. She couldn’t figure out if was real or imagined, and she supposed that was the fault of the Tired too, the way the days ran together like watercolors.

Most Friday evenings, she let the Tired by all her limbs so completely that her body sunk completely into her bed at night. Most Friday evenings, she welcomed rest, and sometimes the Tired was cooperative and led her into beautiful dreams of skies the color of July peaches and smiling school children rolling down grassy hills in the summertime, greening their backs and shoulders at ease.

This Friday, though, Juliette laid down to rest and felt her body grow red and angry. She sat up in bed and felt the Tired spill from her eyes in sizzling heat, and she wanted to scream at the Tired like a young child, but it had reached into her throat and stolen her tongue and her words with it and so she just sat there, forcing exhales and inhales to keep her afloat. She sprung from her bed and ran out of her house and down the block and in and out of neighborhoods, with each step trying to shake the Tired, but it was like trying to shake her own shadow.

She had been running for long enough that the ache behind her knees had spread to her shins, ankles, calves, and so she reached the top of a final hill before slowing to a stop. She saw from the corner of her eye something pale and glowing in a strange sort of fog. A few more steps revealed a lake. She jumped in. She opened her eyes beneath the water and felt her hair expand behind her. Beneath the water were people, submerged under the surface and perfectly still. She heard a quiet tapping sound and wondered if there was an animal or fish or if the Tired had followed her, but then she put her hand on her chest and felt the tapping sound coming from inside her. She looked around. At once, she realized the sound was a dozen hearts beating in unison, that the bodies she heard, perfectly still, were oh, so awake.