In the dream the warm rain changed to pelting slivers of hail, and he was running, running, but there was no shelter anywhere and the hail was embedding itself into the skin on his hands and arms...
He woke, but not "up" — more a sinking into consciousness, like a drowning man sinks into the water one last time. His alarm clock was jangling off hard little pellets of sound, and he flinched as he swung one long, bloodless arm from under the warm duvet into the cold air, turning the clock off without having to look. In the ensuing silence he noticed another sound and grimaced. Gusts of wind were throwing sleet against his bedroom window.
He counted in his head, and determined it had been eight months, one week, and four days since the last time he had booked off sick. He was entitled to five days a year without a doctor's note. But it was month end, and his co-workers would resent his absence for weeks. He threw the covers off and got out of bed in one motion, then stumbled to the washroom.
Since the morning commute was bound to be longer in this weather, he poured the timer-brewed coffee into a travel mug, pulled his lunch bag from the fridge, and headed to the car.
He pushed a CD of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony into the car stereo and trundled onto the highway. Sure enough, traffic was slow, every car a separate little bubble of existence, drifting through the weather on a path that felt like it was preordained by a greater force, like gravity or thermodynamics, than by something as arbitrary as lines painted on asphalt.
He didn't recognise anyone in the elevator from the parking garage to his office. Two floors before his, the doors opened to let someone else out and he recognised a co-worker waiting for an elevator going down. There was just enough time to nod and smile the equivalent of a "good morning" before the doors shut and he continued his ascent.
Although his position was relatively lowly, his work required a high degree of confidentiality, so much so that a previous manager had had the bright idea of not labelling the office doors with surnames. His door simply said "Gill" in accordance with this old and forgotten policy.
His work was waiting in a locked cabinet — long columns of numbers cascading down the balance sheet. He retrieved his pencil, adding machine, and fountain pen from a drawer and set to completing the monthly report.
He worked through lunch, half a sandwich in one hand, pencil in the other. So did all his colleagues. It was normal at month end.
By going-home time the sleet had turned to heavy rain. His car skidded a few feet once or twice as he stopped for red lights. He'd chosen more Beethoven for the commute, Symphony No. 2 this time, and the skidding synched disconcertingly with the tempo of the first movement.
Normally he turned on the TV and watched the news as soon as he got home, but this evening he was very tired. He undressed and went straight to bed.
In the dream he was sitting in his car in a traffic jam. Thousands of cars filled the roads, all of them at a standstill. It was cold, very cold, and the sleet was rat-a-tat-tattling on the other side of the driver-side window.
The Second Symphony was playing over the car stereo, but it was distorted, as if whales were singing it. His feet felt colder than the rest of him, and he looked down with abstracted curiosity to see that his car was slowly filling with water.
The sides of his neck were itchy, and when he reached up to scratch them he discovered his skin was splitting open to expose gills. He considered panicking, but chose not to. The water was around his chest now, and he would get to adapt soon enough.
It was only when the water reached his chin that it occurred to him that a human voice wasn't made to work properly underwater, and that he'd squandered his time in the air.
He hadn't spoken aloud at all the entire day.