Fate. Time. Occasion. Chance. Change.
To these all things are subject.
–– Percy Bysshe Shelley
By Michael Keith
Emil Barry had the usual debate with himself at the gym–whether to use the treadmill or elliptical machine. Each had its benefits, but the treadmill was less demanding, at least the way he used it, so he tended to opt for it. He knew he’d be better off going the more strenuous route, especially since his goal was to lose the twenty pounds that had gathered at his midsection in recent months. He rationalized using the treadmill by spending five minutes more on it than on the elliptical machine. Emil knew that the results were better when the physical expenditure was greater, so he felt conflicted by his choice. It had become the existential issue of his otherwise serene, if unexceptional, life.
On the last couple of visits to the gym, however, a fellow exerciser had aroused Emil’s curiosity. The man on the treadmill in front of him sported a haircut of the type John Travolta wore in the movie Grease. It was called a DA––Duck’s Ass––Emil had learned. The man’s T-shirt sleeves were also rolled up to the tops of his shoulders revealing well-toned biceps. A real 50s look, thought Emil. All he needs is a pack of Camels rolled up in one of those sleeves to complete the picture. Emil could just make out what the guy was reading. It was a tabloid newspaper with the headline, “First US Satellite Launched.” He’s reading a 60 year-old newspaper? wondered Emil, now with growing interest.
On his return to the gym two days later, he encountered the man again. This time he was reading a Silver Screen Magazine with a very young Debbie Reynolds on the cover, captioned “Debbie is Tammy.” What’s up with this guy? He in a time warp? Emil reflected. When the Fifties Man, as he now thought of him, left the gym, Emil followed. He watched as the man walked to a 1950s Ford coup and climbed in. Whoa, this gets better, Emil thought, as he climbed into his Toyota Corolla and followed the shiny, mint condition fifties vehicle out onto the main road.
* * *
Keeping his distance so as not to be detected, Emil had decided to see where this peculiar character lived. It did not particularly surprise him when the classic car pulled into the driveway of a single level ranch with three plastic pink flamingos decorating the lawn. Jeez, this dude stays in character, concluded Emil, as he pulled up across the street from the house. The Fifties Man was slow in climbing from his car, and Emil began to wonder if he had been spotted. He quickly got his answer.
“Hey, Daddy-O, you following me?”
At first, Emil was at a loss for words, and the Fifties Man’s intimidating “Rebel Without a Cause” look put him on edge. Finally he was able to muster a reply.
“We go to the same gym, and I saw your cool ride and just ended up following it.”
This caused the man’s expression to soften.
“Yeah, I saw you there, man. You into 50s cars?”
Emil could feel his tension decrease. “Love vintage cars of all ages, but I got a real soft spot for cars from that period. There’s just something really magical about them.”
“Hey, lay it on me, cat. That’s the word . . . magical. That’s what it’s all about. Come on over and check it out up close.”
Emil climbed from his car and crossed the street to the Fifties Man’s driveway.
“I’m Ricky Carter. What’s your label, Clyde?”
“Huh? Oh, Emil . . . Emil Barry.”
“Keen. So you wanna’ see under the hood?” asked Carter. “All original. Took me forever to track down the parts I needed. Big V8 with 348 cubic inches and 305 horsepower. Lays rubber for a mile. A real smoker. The inside has been completely restored, too. Although it wasn’t in too bad a shape when I bought it.”
“It’s awesome,” said Emily, marveling at how incredibly new the old car looked.
“Awesome?” asked Carter. “Oh, yeah, awesome. That’s a good one. “Awesome,” he repeated, growing more pleased with the term that had initially seemed to confuse him.
“I love it. It rocks,” added Emil
“Rocks? Yeah . . . yeah, cat. It does rock ‘n’ roll. Got some really fab stuff in my house you might dig, too. Want to check it out?”
“Sure,” said Emil, warming up to the Fifties Man, and wondering what other old treasures he might see.
Emil was blown away by what was inside the modest ranch.
“Holy moly!” he blurted as he beheld what looked to him like the set of Leave it to Beaver or perhaps Father Knows Best. Everything––furniture, curtains, rugs, wall decor, and appliances––looked as though it had been beamed in from the middle of the 20th century.
“How . . . where? Why’d you do this, Ricky?” sputtered Emil.
“Because it’s where I’m from,” he replied, pouring himself what Emil figured was a Martini from a silver decanter. “Want one, Daddy-O?”
“From? You’re from . . . ?”
“Where I live, cat.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” said Emil, waving off a martini glass.
“You will once you step outside.”
“It’s 1958 out there, too.”
Emil began to get the jitters, thinking he might be in the company of a mentally unstable person.
“Okay. Well, thanks, but I better get going.”
“You can stay here if you want until you get adjusted.”
“If you’d rather not, there’s a new Howard Johnson’s motel just two blocks away.”
“Sure, fine. Well, I’ll be seeing you. Thanks, for showing me all your vintage stuff,” said Emil, moving to the door.
“Vintage? Heck, this is all new,” replied the Fifties Man, gesturing at the room’s contents.
“Okay, well good bye.”
“Come back if you need anything,” offered Carter, with a benign, if not calculating, grin.
* * *
Emil went through the front door and immediately froze in his tracks. “What the . . .” he mumbled, peering at the strange scene before him. Where he had parked his car was an old model Hudson. Two young boys skipped passed rolling hula-hoops. Preceding them was a man wearing a fedora and plaid sport shirt. Television antennas adorned the rooftops of every house he could see and the faint sound of Elvis Presley singing “Love Me Tender” drifted from somewhere nearby.
Emil thought he was hallucinating and began to panic. He turned and banged on the Fifties Man’s door.
“Back already?” greeted Carter.
“What’s going on here? Is this some kind of a joke? Am I being punked?”
“Hey . . . cool it, Daddy-O. Don’t call me a punk.”
“Huh? No, I mean all this old time stuff,” said Emil, pointing at the street.
“I told you once you stepped outside you’d be back in the 1950s.”
“That’s nuts. This is all a show. Some kind of crazy prank.”
“No, afraid it’s all very real. C’mon. Let’s take a walk.”
Carter took hold of Emil’s arm and directed him to the street.
“Let’s head into town. You’ll see that everything is . . . well, what it is.”
“A bad episode of Twilight Zone. That’s what this is.”
“Nothing bad about it, and what’s a ‘Twilight Zone?’” replied Carter, waving for Emil as he moved away.
The two men walked for several blocks and arrived at a busy intersection. On their way the price of gas at a Texaco station seized Emil’s attention.
“Holy crap! Nineteen cents a gallon?”
“Three cents cheaper on the other side of town,” remarked the Fifties Man, nonchalantly.
Emil thought of the $40 he’d just paid to fill up his little four-cylinder car.
“Main Street,” announced Carter, nodding in the direction of several stores, among them a Woolworth and Kresge, and a brightly lit theater marquee announcing Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
“Hey, you must be hungry. Want to grab some sliders at White Castle? Cheap and good, cat.”
Emil was slightly hungry despite the anxiety that gripped him.
“I don’t have any money,” he replied, fishing through the pockets of his sweatpants. “Only take my license and ATM card when I go to the gym.”
“I always carry a couple bucks. My treat.”
“Is there an ATM around . . .?” asked Emil, who quickly realized how ridiculous his question was.
And with that, a sudden wave of anxiety overtook him, and he began to hyperventilate.
“You okay, man? Stay cool, Daddy-O. I said I got a deuce with me.”
“How can I get back to the present, Ricky?” asked Emil, distraught.
“This is the present.”
“No, I mean my present . . . 2018.”
“Why would you want to go back to that year? All those terrorist attacks and that virus killing half the world’s population. Better here now.”
“It’s my time no matter how bad it is,” replied Emil.
“You miss your family? You got one? Married? Kids? Have a girlfriend? Dog?”
Emil had none of those things. In fact, his existence had been pretty lonely and rather humdrum.
“No, I’m single. Parents retired to Florida. No sister or brothers or pets,” answered Emil, sheepishly.
Something caught Emil’s eye across the street from where they stood.
“Is that a bank?” asked Emil.
“Well, it says First Citizens Bank, so I guess it is,” replied the Fifties Man, with a note of sarcasm.
Emil removed his ATM ID from his pocket. “That’s my bank,” he said, showing Carter his card.
“Well, go get some money then. You can treat me to lunch instead.”
“Yeah, like they’d know me seventy years ago.”
“Hey, go check it out, cat.”
“Ridiculous,” snapped Emil.
“What’ve you got to lose? You got something better to do?”
“Yeah, get back to my life.”
“C’mon,” said Carter, moving in the direction of the bank. “Just go in and ask them to give you the balance on your account. If you have no money there, they’ll tell you.”
“A waste of time. I want to get back to my world. You got me here, so take me back,” protested Emil.
“What a world. Okay, okay . . . after you see if they have any money of yours.”
“Why would they, and what would it matter?” argued Emil.
“All right, and then you undo this bad dream.”
Emil went into the bank and timidly approached a teller.
“May I help you, sir?” inquired a woman with a beehive hairdo and horn-rimmed glasses.
“Yes, could you tell me if I have any money in this account,” answered Emil, handing the smiling woman his ATM card.
“What is this, sir?”
Noting her confusion, he handed her his license, which she also looked at quizzically.
“It’s something new the Registry is doing. I just got it,” offered Emil, attempting to explain why it looked so different from licenses issued back in the 1950s.
“So, you’re Mr. Emil Barry? Well, let me check our records.”
Emil turned and looked toward the bank’s entrance. The urge to flee the scene was beginning to take over. Carter shot him a reassuring look.
“Ah, yes, Mr. Barry. This is your balance,” said the teller, writing numbers on a piece of paper and sliding it to him.
Emil was stunned to see that the amount was exactly what he had when he’d checked the balance of his savings account just a day ago––$38,542. In a daze, he left the bank.
“So, you got some dough in there?” asked Carter.
Emil handed him the slip of paper with his balance on it.
“Fab, man! You got it made in the shade. You can buy a house, a new car, go on a trip around the world. You’re rich, Daddy-O!”
“Damn straight! Average annual income in 1958 is about $4 grand. You got almost ten times that much.”
Emil fell into a deep, contemplative silence.
“Cheer up, cat. Don’t be such a drag. I know, you want to return to 2018. Okay, let’s get back to my house so we can do it.”
Finally, a smile spread across Emil’s face as he looked up from his bank balance.
“No . . . no,” he uttered. “I think I’ll stay here.”
Michael C. Keith writes stories and teaches college. www.michaelckeith.com
Category: Fiction, Short Story