This story is one of the May Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.

She was tired of running.

Tired was rather a plain word, one that didn’t entirely cover the extremity of the situation, but it seemed as if that single word had become the mantra of her life. It was the perfect adjective — her tired fingers ached from dancing across so many piano keys, and her tired eyelids hung exhausted from long nights of staying wide awake. Tired clothes, a tired shoe for each tired foot, tired luggage, tired songs, a tired soul.

And she was oh, so tired of running.

But she was late. Though her heavy bag thumped awkwardly against her back with each jolting step, she didn’t stop. Though she knew her hair would be a wild mess by the time she got to the stage, her shirt wrinkled, her body sweaty, she forced herself to keep running.

One more night behind schedule, and she’d lose this gig as well. That, she certainly couldn’t afford to do.

1301. A flickering lamp just barely revealed the peeling black numerals marking the address. She let herself in the side door. It let out a squeak of delight, announcing her presence as if with a trumpet. Her breath came in heaves, but when she checked her watch, she felt a twinge of satisfaction. 9:59. She’d made it. With hardly a second to spare, she flew to the sad little stage. The room it opened up to was dim. The thick scent of smoke hung in the air, barely masking the sour smells of the crowd of sad little people who came to forget their sad little problems. The only life-sized object was the shiny baby grand with its worn keys and sagging bench. She set herself upon it, placed her hands on the notes, and let the tired be forgotten in the exhale of a single, mournful note.

She let the symphony pour from her.

In moments such as these, she was transformed. Her scrawny frame was filled out by melodies; her whole body quaked with power, right along with the wobbly piano. The dissonance of the room around her died away, as if she’d cast a spell to draw in each person listening, no matter their sorrows. The air itself shone with the radiance of the music, as if a warm, golden glow was spread out from corner to corner.

Up and down it went, its rhythm ebbing and flowing through every inch of every person, until they were all filled up with feeling. When it was soft, it whispered like a breeze. When it thundered through the small space, lightning seemed to be the accompaniment. It was pain and beauty, dreams and regrets, destruction, loss, and renewal all woven into one.

When at last she paused for a sip of water, she was breathless and awake. The awestruck faces peered up at her. They seemed to mirror her own wonder, for it was a new experience each time the music swelled up within her. This wasn’t quite the life she’d imagined. It wasn’t the fame and glory she’d once dreamed of. All she had was herself, her music, and the joy that welled up in the eyes of each person who heard her play.

But these alone were worth all the tired in the world.



Jessica Zimmerman

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