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  • The Dreamers
  • Brenda Peynado (bio)

In my 10:00 pm class, I keep my eyes wide on the streetlamps outside, humming their flickering lights over Bayview. I'll never sleep, not for years, not for decades if I can help it. When I'm at my worst, eyes bloodshot, thoughts racing, I'll excuse myself to the bathroom, slap my face and pinch the insides of my arms, and sometimes when I'm studying I tape my eyelids open. At the beach, I let the salt burn my eyes.

Prom is tonight, all of us soon to be tweaking and twerking manically on the dance floor in dresses and tuxes. I'm running over the plan in my head, how I'm going to break my boyfriend Joaquin out of his glass sleeper coffin so he can come with me to prom.

In the desk in front of me, a girl from the track team bobs her head, not like the small head twitches of the rest of us, but a slow descent, and then she jerks herself up. Surely she's thinking of dancing. Beside me another girl rolls a quarter between her fingers too fast to see any more than a blur of silver. A boy pulls his hair in frustration. My ex–best friend Karina, sitting at the front of the classroom, is the only one relaxed, leaning back with her arm over her chair; she's also the only one of us who's ever slept. Sister Olivera, oblivious at the chalkboard, drones on about quadratic equations. I look back to the streetlamps, the dark of the bay just beyond the football field. My heart pulses so fast I could dance to it.

But then my eyes skip back to the track girl, nodding her head lower. Right in front of me, BAM! Her head hits the desk and doesn't rise again. She rests facedown in her own drool.

I don't know what to do, and it's shock that calms my jumpy hands. What just happened? Sister Olivera doesn't even notice. It's Karina who sends the old nun into hysterics and signs of the cross by raising her hand and saying, "Sister, she's fallen asleep."


The nuns are followers of Santa Acostara the Sleepless, the first person able to stay awake for her whole life. After years of wakefulness, she fell into a coma for [End Page 186] twenty-two years. There was a vigil for every day of those twenty-two years, everyone thinking she would wake up again, but instead she just died in her sleep. They sainted her, celebrated her forty-four years of wakefulness, taught the importance of her example—sleep is weakness, and weakness leads to death. Her following grew. But then other nuns and people outside the convent, people godless and unbelieving, started being able to stay awake for decades, live their whole lives before their final sleeps. Now, all of us can do it. Still, the nuns—they cling to wakefulness like it's a sacrament. Guard against the heavy eyelids, they say. It's a sin to choose sleep before your time. You teens are especially vulnerable. We must pray for the sleepers' souls.

And yet, some people—heretics, sinners, people from other religions—still choose to go to sleep before their time, to close their eyes like a door shutting into darkness.


Sister Olivera phones the office, and an announcement shudders over the speaker system. Grief counseling, by which they mean sin shaming, which they always do when someone falls asleep, will be held in the gymnasium.

We crowd into the gym, and by some ill luck, I'm pushed into the bleacher line behind Karina. When our elbows touch, my eyelids droop and I feel tired, so tired. I pinch the inside of my upper arm as I walk behind her. We're told sleep is something we naturally resist in this day and age (except for teens who, during puberty, start to feel both manic and drowsy). But if I've never fallen asleep, how do I know when I'm doing it until it's...


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pp. 186-197
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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