When realities collide

My days are still spent at the rehab center with Jim, so I am cheating and also doing some Shameless Self-Promotion by sharing an excerpt from “A Question of Time.” Nathan has been propelled from 1898 Washington, D.C., in which the United States is a monarchy, to Times Square in 1960. He learns that the currency there isn’t all that has changed.

Nathan retraced his steps. Minutes later he was seated on a round stool in front of a long bar. The day’s fare was scrawled on a chalkboard attached to the wall. When an oversized woman in a dirty white apron asked for his order, he managed to say, “Bacon, eggs, coffee, and toast,” as if he ordered such fare every day for his dinner.

“How ya want yer eggs?”

“Scrambled.”

Pushing a cup in his general direction, the woman poured a stream of coffee into it. “Cream?”

“No, thank you.” Nathan took a sip. It was dark and rich and steadied his nerves. While he waited for his meal, he surreptitiously removed the bills from his pocket. Two of them pictured a gaunt-faced, bearded man on one side and the number five. The other had, to his astonishment, a likeness of Alexander Hamilton, the first Secretary of the Exchequer. In that moment, he felt histories collide. No, collide was the wrong word. They brushed by each other, touching briefly and then hurtling onward on their separate paths.

The food filled his belly and he accepted another cup of coffee, more for its warmth than anything else. He gave the waitress one of his five-dollar bills and received some coins and another bill in exchange. This one had a picture of General Washington on it. So currency in the future featured heroes of the past, although he wouldn’t have considered Hamilton a hero. Political figures, then?

“Gotta problem?”

“No, I just—” He held out the bill and the other five. “I’m afraid I’m not familiar with your currency. I recognize General Washington, but this man…” He let his words end in a question.

“Abraham Lincoln. President during the Civil War.”

Civil War? He filed this fact away. “And Hamilton? Was he a president?”

“Nah. Him and Benjamin Franklin on the hundred-dollar bill weren’t presidents. Grant was a president. He was president after the Civil War. You’ve heard of him?”

“No, but I know Franklin was an inventor.”

“Grant’s on the fifty-dollar bill. I never seen any bills higher than the hundred. Say, where ya from, anyway?” Her eyes lit with curiosity. “We get a lot of furrin tourists. Last week we had a whole party of Japs. Never ate a scrambled egg in their lives. Ya shulda heard ’em cluck, like a brood of hens.” She tittered.

“Really.”

He stood and touched the space where his hat brim should have been. “Thank you. Good evening.” He tucked the bills into his waistcoat pocket and left the coins on the counter, not knowing if tipping was still a custom. If not, she would think him absentminded, at best.

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