He awoke in the shower, becoming conscious of standing in a sweet ceaseless downpour of hot water. He had neither memory nor desire to remember leaving bed or making the short trek to the bathroom, but then, there would be no utility in such remembering. It was the same journey every day and enough that he was there, upright, in the first stage of preparation for a day of work.
The towel was as fresh and dry as the shower had been fresh and wet: it was a trade of one good sensation for another, comfort following comfort, soon to flow into the routines of shaving and clothes as the day became solid with requirements.
He found his razor where it ought to be in the medicine cabinet and a can of lather on the shelf below. He saw himself shaving before the act began; in fact saw himself finish before starting the ritual but hesitated to imagine himself further beyond in the series of duties that lay in the waiting hours. Shaving needed the first precision movements of his day and was so unlike the comfortable shower and toweling as to form a solid break, the final border between sleep and wakefulness.
He was several strokes into the lather on his cheek and turned the tap to clear the razor before continuing. It was then that he saw the water emerge and flow over the tool and his fingers—not the clear sparkling liquid of this dimension but a strange fluid the exact shade of orange soda.
It was then he knew that he was dreaming.
The realization was unpleasant because it meant that he was not in fact on the way to accomplishing a day's routines but still asleep, a failure unpleasant to contemplate in a dream. Worse was knowing that he would be thrust headlong into an unbuffered day whose schedule was largely devoid of safe routines. Even so, the only thing worse than a bad day is dreaming of a bad day, and so he awoke.
Knowing that he should not fall again asleep he sat himself up using muscles whose strength did not seem to extend above his shoulders. His head hung downward as he stood himself upright and made for the bathroom down the hall.
He found his face in the mirror but viewed it without faith or trust, not only based on the experience of the moments prior but with the skepticism born of many such episodes. He had passed through entire days only to discover the cheat at the end: that he had dreamt them and in the dreaming passed away time for which he would receive neither credit nor income. The only proof he had, the sole unimpeachable guarantee of actual presence in the waking world, was the sound of the radio. He reached for a dial, gave its dial a twist and heard a voice, crisp, clear and reassuring. It was Tuesday, the seventh of October, and he was indeed grounded in reality and honestly awake.
With the routine of shaving over he reached into the crowded cabinet behind the glass, found the plastic jar with the yellow pills; thrust a licked finger into the container and retrieving one, placed it in his mouth.
It was a medicine with a difficult name for a disease that was merely the distillation of sadness, a disorder he had known all his life but which had almost gained the upper hand, threatening to blot him out, nearly doing so on some occasions.
The disease was a hard thing but the medicine took its worst away, lightened his step, made the sky turn blue and brought the taste back to food. On a functional level, which is to say, on that plateau of expectations one occupies during adulthood, he was able to perform useful work. Better put, he was able to work and moreover to display the appearance of strength and efficiency, which is not work itself but is taken for it by the people who matter.
And so he took the pills: the sky most often appeared blue, breakfast was usually appealing and he slept like a stone. But a stone with dreams. And such dreams! The medicine turned his unconscious hours into an almost perfect replication of real life. There was nothing of the gauzy implausible about the dreams. They were simply scenes which had occurred, or which might have occurred, period. No dragons, no mermaids; neither avalanche nor earthquake, and certainly no fair maidens populated his slumber. It was simply life in detail as if a camera had been mounted to his shoulder to record every scene—but a camera that could reach forward to the likely future.
And thus it was that he could wake without waking, or wonder in the midst of a particular dream if he were in fact awake. Often he would dream of being at work, and often at work wonder if he were not in fact dreaming. Worst of all was that he became doubtful of whether he had in fact done or said particular things, occasionally discovering that he had only dreamt them, whole or in part. He became unreliable to himself.
Sometimes he would go to sleep desiring that a particular set of circumstances were different, that his day might not have included a visit from some obnoxious person. He might then dream the day without that person's unfortunate appearance. On the other hand, he might dream the day without the assignment of a particular piece of work, or without an essential phone message, erasing a truth upon which some persons had relied. He became unreliable to others.
On that morning, a real, absolute and verified morning, he wondered as he had wondered many times before, in reality and in the reality of dreams: was his new habitation, this many-roomed hall of glass and mirrors, merely the way others lived? Was this happiness? He spun the tap closed, the stream of ordinary water ceased, and he moved toward the other duties of the day.