Metal. He could taste it on the back of his tongue, a dull knife’s blade of copper pressing down, making him swallow, making him wince.
Awake. He needed to be awake. He gritted his teeth and frowned, struggling to try to open his eyes and sit up. Everything felt like lead and cotton, like dirty oil and broken glass.
Nothing yet made any sense.
Something important was happening. He couldn’t remember what, only its existence, as he struggled to pull himself out from under the crush of sluggish consciousness — the desire to lose himself in the soft blank darkness again was overwhelming. His eyes felt gummed shut, and he reached to rub them, but nothing happened.
His throat felt full of mud, and he tried to clear it, but it didn’t seem to work. It occurred to him suddenly that he wasn’t breathing. That he couldn’t breathe. That he was suffocating, and in those moments, as adrenaline began to dump into his veins, and his synapses began to fire faster and faster, he thought he could hear a distant noise of struggle, of shouting and alarms.
Dizzied by the brief panic, he felt himself lightheaded; he was breathing fine enough — it just felt strange.
Something important was happening, and he wasn’t able to participate; the whole world made no sense whatsoever.
Think, Colson, he told himself. Wake up and think. What’s the last thing you remember? What’s the last thing you know?
Everything was a fuzzy haze, and trying to look back through it was proving to be about as easy as rubbing his eyes had been. Nothing was coming, nothing was resolving. Sifting through the murky memories was like trying to look up someone number from the pages of a phone book that was still sitting in a puddle of maple syrup.
Tiny flashes, hints began to come through, and with it, the sounds around him slowly began to become clarified. He could smell something familiar and almost comforting, warm and somehow nearby, and with it was the memory of a woman’s face. Pamela. Her name was Pamela.
With that memory came the flood:
David Colson, new on the job, fresh-faced and excited, wide-eyed and still unable to believe his luck at landing such a posh position in the company, had been standing in front of the receptionist’s desk when the bomb went off. He watched Pamela, the courier, become one, two, ten, fifty, fifty-thousand pieces, a rain of herself, her new jacket, the package. She was running late — it should have been inside, with him already. She should have dropped it off an hour before, but for some reason, she’d been delayed.
He remembered, as his vision began to clear, the smell of her perfume, and how she’d only faintly protested. He was why she’d been late. If he hadn’t asked her to sneak into the stockroom of the Starbucks where they’d met up by chance, and hadn’t spent thirty minutes doing things that would make any customer think twice about getting a venti that morning, she’d have dropped that package off and have been on her way, and he’d be just arriving, picking it up, and taking it into the elevator with him.
He finally managed to find his bearings, and sat up looking around at the destruction, and the way the emergency crews were running around. Sight, sound, smell, the whole world was coming back to him, and he felt more alive than he ever remembered. Fumbling in his jacket pocket, he pulled out a small notepad, the one in which he recorded all his dreams. He flipped it open to last night’s entry, that he’d made this morning, and reread the hastily scribbled words:
Get coffee. Screw the redhead.
He nodded to himself, tore off the paper, and ate it, while no one was watching.