“I’m tired,” Laura said after eating.
“You and everyone else. We’re all tired.”
“No, not like this. I’m truly exhausted.”
As David washed the breakfast dishes, Laura sat on the couch and rested her head against its spine. She draped an old magazine over her face. Faint traces of sample perfume soured her lips. “When I used to lifeguard back in college,” she began, her words partially muffled, “I remember running out into the surf to pull out a little girl. There were some other kids trapped in the current also. She needed the most help though — she was drowning. I got to her and pulled her up onto my float. But the rest of the group swam to me and started hanging on. They had their arms around my neck, my arms, everything. One bigger kid had his legs around my stomach. It felt like they were squeezing everything out of me. I thought we were all going to die.”
“Well you got out alive, didn’t you?”
She let the magazine fall to her lap as she looked up at him. “I blacked out. Someone else saved us — another lifeguard or two on a boat. Anyway, that’s how I feel right now — like there’s someone else’s limbs wrapped around me and if I don’t save myself we’ll all drown.”
“If it were me, I’d break those kids’ fingers,” he said, snapping an apple core in half and forcing it into the drain.
“You would not,” Laura laughed, but he ran the disposal so he could pretend not to hear her. “Dave? What’s the most tired you’ve ever been?”
“I don’t know if I can point to one specific event. Nothing sticks out in my mind. I guess … I guess working my last job was tiring, but that’s not really the same thing as yours.”
“Doesn’t have to be. Maybe it’ll be closer than you think.”
He sighed and rubbed his neck. “Those years felt like growing up again. You wake up sore and angry and depressed. You work and work and work and you come home every night and wonder when it will ever be enough, when you’ll have enough to find some grain of happiness or accomplishment. None of your work is ever enough. I wanted so bad to just fall asleep forever. I didn’t even want to dream, I just wanted to sleep, devoid of thought, devoid of feeling. Then you wake up the next morning and you have to do it all over again. Day in and day out you wonder if you’ll ever get away. And if you wait long enough, you don’t care. It’s like sheets of the thinnest, threadbare fabric keep draping over you in layers. The first few don’t bother you because everything’s still light and you can still move easily enough. Soon though, even the little things feel heavy and burdensome.”
“I’m glad you got out alive.”
“I wonder what you’d be like if you were still working there today.”
It wasn’t a question, but David felt compelled to keep talking. “There wouldn’t be any light. There’d only be a dark reserved for the bottom of a well, or the deepest part of the ocean. You wouldn’t have to close your eyes then. It wouldn’t make any difference.”
—Mason Schoen is a creative writing graduate student.