He was feeling on top of the world. That always sounded like such a stupid phrase before today. Especially since he usually felt he looked at the world through a skewed scope from the ground up. But now he found himself looking at the tops of skyscrapers and ruminating about the shapes of clouds. Things are definitely looking up, he thought to himself.
As he walked, he found he needed some air and some elbow room so he turned off the crowded sidewalk and onto a quieter alley with faded signs and some old cars parked on one side. He looked at the dingy shop windows as he walked. Old books. A record store. A coffee shop. Old suitcases and things. A tailor. Wait. Back up. What was that next to the old suitcase? He stopped and looked in the window. A watch. Why did it look so familiar? He found himself walking into the shop as if his feet were moving of their own volition.
The cozy smell of musty old attic permeated his nostrils. Specks of dust floated in the air like snowflakes. He gave a cursory look to the baubles and umbrellas and books and hats and shoes and pipes and photographs and pennants and scarves and glasses and watches and… there it was. The watch in the window. He looked around for someone to wait on him. He heard some rustling near the rear of the store so he just waited and looked at the watch. It wasn’t moving but somehow he knew how the ticking would sound. He didn’t touch it but somehow he knew the weight of it on his wrist. He could almost recall how the small scratch on the left side of the face had gotten there.
Suddenly the shopkeeper spoke to him, asking if he’d like to try it on. He nodded. The clerk took the watch from the display, held it for a moment, and then handed it over. The man put it on his wrist, fastening the band. The clerk said something about how it looked good on him or he wore it well or something like that. He wasn’t really listening. He was hearing… music? Had Big Band been playing on the radio when he walked in?
He thanked the old shopkeeper and walked out of the shop. It took maybe 35 seconds (the watch had just needed a good winding) for the man to realize something had shifted. Something was different. When he stopped admiring his wrist accoutrement, he looked up. Holy shit! Was he dreaming? Hallucinating? It was as if he was looking at an old issue of LIFE magazine. Everything looked clean, new. The buildings looked washed. Men wore hats and ties. Women had tailored dresses and heels. The cars looked vintage…1940-something. Was he on a movie set? He looked around for a camera crew, ready to apologize for walking in a shot, possibly ruining a take, but he saw no cameras.
Instead he saw people walking briskly by him, some tipping their hats, some smiling a quick smile. He walked a few paces then turned around. The shop was still there. The shopkeeper was looking at him through the window. Then he was gone. Wait. There he was at the door. The man went to him and raised his eyebrows as if to say, what the hell? Do you see this too? The man spoke.
“Try it on for three days. That’s our policy. You’ve got three days to find if it’s a good fit or all can be returned.”
The man looked again at his wrist. He knew the clerk wasn’t just talking about the watch. He also knew somehow that he was home. Modern living had never appealed to him. He didn’t like the disheveled state of the world he had left behind. He knew there was still hope in this decade. People hadn’t lost hope yet. He at least could hope here.
He nodded again, not finding a voice to ask the myriad questions cropping up in his head. He continued walking, marveling at how familiar the scene looked to him. He knew the shops and could recall most of the owners’ names. He neared the crossroads, not sure what the busy city street he had originally turned off would look like now. It was still busy. But slower. People didn’t seem to be in such a hurry. And it was quieter. The whole atmosphere was more polite.
He went directly to the coffee shop he knew from the next block and sat at the counter. Ordered coffee. When the waitress asked if he wanted pie, he declined. But she added that it was his favorite, apple pie. When he looked into her eyes, he saw a familiar gleam and said yes to the pie.