An Accident In Time

Au Bon Pain

I was sitting by a pane-glass window at the Au Bon Pain, which looks out on the Chipotle Mexican Grill, directly across the street. From it extends a modest high-rise, with an ugly beige façade, punctuated with rectangular balconies, painted white.

I’d brought along a paperback. Perched on a barstool with a backrest, I was reading “Sketches from a Hunter’s Album,” by Ivan Turgenev—but without much concentration.

That day, I hadn’t brought along my tablet.

In the week prior to that, I was doing what I usually did when at the café. I’d switched on my Kindle, and waited for to it to shake hands with the store’s Wi-Fi. Usually, the process, though slow, took no more than three minutes.

On that afternoon, I waited and waited and waited. It’d detected no electronic signals. Not an odd occurrence. The Internet does fail now and then. I looked around at the tables around me. There were more laptops open than there were open wrappers on trays. Evidently, everyone was surfing merrily.

I got up, walked over restlessly to the cashier, and asked her if they were experiencing a temporary glitch, hoping she’d say that they were, but all along suspecting that there weren’t. My conjecture turned into grim certainly, when she said that her iPhone was working fine.

Back at my seat, I turned my device on and off again, a few more times to no avail. From the corner of my eye, that’s when I espied the time on the screen. It said 7:24 p.m. Instinctively, I looked at my analog wristwatch. Its hands rested at 3:04 p.m. The two clocks were off by over four hours and 20 minutes.

The date took me ever father back—to January 7, 1970, a day about 44 years in the past. I felt a strange momentary disorientation before a wave of anxiety washed over me. What had just happened? For reasons that are beyond my reach, the clock had turned back of its own accord.

A ripple of fright shuddered through my mind. Did my device conk out? I had to find out. Almost running, I schlepped over to the McDonald’s in the next block, and hit the power button even before I grabbed a booth.

To my inexpressible relief, the date reverted to the present—March 5, 2014. A temporal accident is what it was.


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