The sound of dripping.
It wakes me up suddenly, breathlessly, as loud as an enhanced echo meant for my ears and no one else’s. I first assume the babysitter left the water faucet on. I grow irritated—how many times have I told her to be careful with utilities? I sit up, but the frustration quickly vanishes.
I’m not home.
This isn’t my bed. It’s… a bunk bed. Like the iron ones they have in the army, except there’s no top mattress above my head and I can spot the yellow-stained ceiling through the holes in the bed springs. I shift in place, and the rusty frame whines in response. I pat myself subconsciously, perhaps to look for my keys, perhaps because it feels like a dream, or at least, something far away from my plane of reality. Regardless, I find nothing but the clothes on my back—the same suit I went to work with this morning, minus the jacket and, for some ominous reason, my socks, and shoes. I blink, rub my eyes, glance around.
It looks like I’m in someone’s basement. It’s sparse. The floor is made of cement—it’s shockingly cold when I press my foot down, and it makes my hair stand on end. I can spot one of those tiny windows, located right above the ground and too small to actually open or climb through. There’s no natural light pouring in from it. Only darkness.
A neon light buzzes, a rocking chair sits in the corner of the room, its fabric worn out, overlooking my bed in such a way that I can’t help but find disquieting. Without warning, I’m reminded of my younger self swaying Sophie to sleep in one of those, back when she was no older than twelve months and I was still figuring out how to be a half-decent paternal figure. The image begs me to let go, like it’s too good a memory to be revisited here, like it doesn’t belong in such a place. It’s probably right.
Instead, I comb through my surroundings in search of my belongings. I look under the bed, beneath the mattress, inside the thin-as-a-sheet pillow. Nothing. No sign of my wallet, my phone, my briefcase.
I deflate, if only a little. My breathing quickens as I start to consider the list of possible explanations for my predicament, from most to least likely. I try to convince myself any one of those options might be plausible, but ultimately, it’s futile. I know better.
Mentally, I start to retrace my steps. Six o’clock this morning—assuming today is still today—my internal alarm clock rings, I get up, hit the shower. Stephanie calls from LA; we argue for approximately fifteen minutes before I decide I had enough and hang up. I smoke a quick cigarette on the balcony to decompress. I wake Sophie up, helping her get dressed, brush her teeth, and we head downstairs for cereal. Frosted Flakes, but it’s a Friday, and on Fridays we deserve sweets. Seven thirty, I drop Sophie off at daycare, dry her crocodile tears as the worker pulls her little fist away from my jacket. My heart aches as usual, but I can’t be late for work, so I kiss her goodbye and leave before I can change my mind. Eight o’clock. I get to work, coffee deprived, and pass Joan at the reception desk on my way to my cubicle.