3.16.2007

Time Bank

Autumn found this in her email, apparently a short story I started writing and never finished or edited. It was written Oct. 29, 2000, and the only reason I'm posting it is because Autumn said she would let me have one of her Thin Mints if I did.

Nathaniel Arthur Banks never had the opportunity to contemplate the irony of his name, even though he had plenty of time, all the time in the world, at a mere 7% interest. But, given a chance to go back, he probably wouldn't. The novelty of the experience proved to wear off quite quickly.
It seems that when matters of extreme consequence happen, the world on a whole is grossly negligent in the awareness department. A man kills his wife and daughter, than takes his own life, but you wouldn't know it to glance at the wall socket in his bedroom. The American culture is horribly romantic in this respect; we expect the planet to stop and bounce on its springs every time the smallest tragedy or joy befalls us. In fact, there have been very few man-made events that have had a truly global impact, and most of these occur very slowly over a period of great time, and/or require the combined efforts of large numbers of the earth's "best and brightest." There are two exceptions. The first is when a man named Leo Szilard developed an idea that allowed a single nation, taking a mere three years, to create a device that tore apart the very particles of existence, in the name of war. The second was when the aforementioned Mr. Banks tore apart the timelines of history and future, and lodged himself permanently in his own personal present, when he miswrote a withdraw slip at Hamilton County Bank, in the name of expedience.

This error should have been innocuous enough, and even understandable given Banks' state of mind. He was forty-five minutes late to a lunch date, his first real date with the attractive girl from the apartment across the hall. It had taken him two solid years of romancing and carefully chosen phrases, well-timed bumping into's and flattery to get her to agree to this small rendezvous. Unaware of the inappropriateness of the song, his radio was happily filling his Geo Tracker with the Rolling Stones' "Time is on My Side" while he waited for the vacuum tube to deliver the canister containing the sixty dollars he withdrew; without which he would not be able to pay for the meal at Schmalley's.

Reaching to turn off the offending appliance, he was interrupted by a staticy voice dripping with practiced courtesy, "Will that be A.M. or P.M. sir?"

Turning towards the intercom next to the delivery chute, so struck by the absurdity of the question, he was only able to answer with a confused: "Er, what, I…. What???"

"You wrote six o'clock as a withdraw amount, sir, and did not specify whether you wanted A.M. or P.M. We no longer use military time as a standard for loans, sir, since…" continued the voice patiently, as if reading straight from the manual, but a befuddled Nathaniel stopped listening entirely.

He was too busy having his train of thought being derailed and spilling its shipment of possible excuses for Rebecca all over his mental tracks. There were a few minutes of empty air, save a snippet here and there of Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper.

"What?" repeated Nathaniel, still completely lost.

"I need to know whether you want 6:00 A.M. or 6:00 P.M. in order to complete the transaction…"

"I heard that, but I think I, no, I did mean $60. I'm kind of in a rush and I, I, wait. 6:00. Six o'clock. What?"

"So you won't be making a time withdrawal today?"

"Er, now look here. I didn't mean to make a mistake and I don't see how such a small thing would set you off and make you give me a hard time," Banks was beginning to go through the natural human transition from confusion to annoyance, "I just want my sixty dollars, send me another slip and I'll rewrite it if you want."

"I am sorry, sir, I thought you wanted to make a withdrawal of time and…" the voice was developing a certain offended tone.

"You know what? Screw it. Give me the damn 6:00. A freakin M. Put that in the tube and send it straight over, and then I'll think about staying with this bank. What the hell did I do to deserve…"

"Here you go sir," the voice was now definitely surly, "have a nice morning."

"What the heck are you talking about?" yelled Banks, now completely upset at the situation, "It's 12:50 and I'm… I'm…where did the sun go?"

Quite suddenly, but with a frightening nonchalance, the sun had dropped back towards the eastern horizon and the radio had cut from For the Longest Time to a rather obnoxious early morning DJ. Banks absentmindedly switched him off in the middle of some suggestive joke about rabbits and priests.



Banks sat there for a full fifteen minutes, unbothered by the teller simply because the bank hadn't opened yet.  His mind was occupied by various dangerous ideas and concepts. Eventually, adapting more from shock than acceptance, he decided to head off to work, again. He thought bemusedly of how boring Crusher's staff meeting would be now that it really was the same spiel over again. At least he would know ahead of time the definition of the word of the day from the calendar of "Awful" Adrien's, the most officious secretary to walk the earth. The look on her face would be priceless.

Nathaniel toyed with the napkin on the table of the small outdoor café, while a smiling and efficient waitress took Rebecca's order.  The almost disgustingly happy shade of yellow cast by the table's umbrella had the annoying effect of making Bank's pale skin a jaundiced yellow.  This added to the overall annoyance he felt at a day that did not quite turn out as fun as he would have expected.

As a kid, hell even now, as a 28-year-old cubicle rat, he used to daydream about this kind of stuff. Superpowers, magic, aliens, time travel. And while a 7 hour trip backwards maybe didn't have the romantic intrigue of going back to the days of the dinosaurs or the Crusades, it was nevertheless undeniably unusual. Not to mention the means; no high tech portal made of unstable quantum particles, no Jules Vernian vehicle, not astral projection; just a withdrawal for Christ sakes. went to a bank and wrote the time he wanted on a simple piece of paper, albeit accidentally. He had already figured the only reason he hadn't gone to 6:00 AM tomorrow or yesterday was because he had correctly filled in the date in the upper left hand corner.

But it hadn't turned out all excitement and riches from betting on horses or the stock market. And while he might have been able to impress some people with his simple predictions the day had slowly but surely diverged from the day he remembered. Mostly it had to do with the fact that even when things happened the same, like Adrian's stiletto heel breaking, causing her to spill her coffee on Tom's desk; it appeared entirely different from whatever angle he was standing at. He simply couldn't walk through the day exactly as he had before; while he was just another creature of habit, he always was a second ahead or behind, a foot to the left or right, the paperwork in the other hand.

That and the shock that had set in around eleven thirty, just when he was finishing up the GPS report so he could run to the bank (he never had gotten the money, another thing he should have predicted but didn't) and meet Rebecca at Schmalley's. He had simply dropped the pile of graphs and double-speak, sank into his chair, and stared at the little clock ticking away the minutes in the corner of his computer monitor. For five straight minutes. It was almost like culture shock, this over-inundation of déjà vu, but not because it was different, not because it was the same, but because it was the same thing differently. Anti-double-culture shock. He almost lost it there. He had gone through time with a damn bank slip!

When he had regained what he could of his composure and turned in the reports he still felt kind of numb. The bank was just handing out time. How many people used this to cheat on their wives, prevent accidents, win wars? Was it just his bank? Why didn't Dateline know, the CIA? Was it just him? Was he insane?

He had to tell Rebecca, or Jared, the same coworker he had run drunkenly from the cops last New Years, after their combined pissing had finally set off the boss's car alarm. Jared would support him in any case, hell if one of them showed up at the other's door covered in blood holding a body they'd help each other out and, only afterward, covered in mud and holding a shovel, would the other ask questions. He'd known Jared since college, they were about as close as two heterosexual men could get.

But Rebecca, she had something about her. It wasn't just the little boy trying to show the pretty little girl the dirty little secret, "Come her, you gotta see this, it's so cool, my Dad would kill me if he found out…"

It wasn't just the need to impress, it was the need to confide. He hadn't even gone on a date with her yet and he still felt like he could tell her anything.

Which is why he sat there silently now, staring blankly at her as they waited for their drinks, watching her trying to ignore the uncomfortable silence.  She looked him in the eye, and she knew. He could tell. No, not about the time travel. But that something big, very big, had happened. Something he didn't know what to make of yet. But she didn't ask. She just waited, settling down, no longer uncomfortable, a patient and understanding smile playing on her lips. She reminded him of his kindergarten teacher, whom he had developed a strong puppy love for. She could, and would wait till he was ready. Which for some reason made him want to simultaneously blurt out his soul and keep his secret locked away forever. He simply didn't know what to do.

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