The Time Bank
Noting that he was blinking was actually his first conscious thought.
The light was bright and startling.
“That’s probably why I’m blinking,” he thought.
Then he spoke out loud but under his breath
“What a silly thought. Who spends time thinking about their own blinking?”
A young man in the corner sat up.
“What was that?”
“I noticed I was blinking and thought about blinking and then said that it was a silly thought.”
“What’s this place?”
Grady humphed at that.
He did seem to recall the moment just before he blinked.
His last memory was a large tourist bus bearing down on him. Silly things those tourism busses, filled with ninnies just wasting time. He didn’t recall the impact. He’d been cutting diagonally across an intersection and it had come out of nowhere.
“Did I make it?”
“Am I in heaven?”
“There isn’t a purgatory.”
“Oh. I guess the Catholics got that one wrong.”
“To be quite honest, the Catholics didn’t get much right.”
Grady guffawed. He loved a good Catholic joke.
“Now don’t get self-righteous about it. Christianity went off the rails right after Constantine adopted it as a state religion. Pretty much everything after that was a wash.”
“It’s ironic when you think about it.”
“Jesus went out of his way to point out the difference between the realms of god and government and then Constantine merged the two.”
“Yeah. The Coptics did a pretty good job with it.”
“It helped to live in Egypt. There really wasn’t room for a Christian government once the Muslims came along. Kept them from getting too big for their own good.”
“Interesting. I honestly don’t know much about them.”
“All the major world religions got parts of it right, even the Catholics.”
“What did the Catholics get right?”
“Nope. Indulgences were essentially fulfilling what some of the Eastern religions call Karma. In the balance, if you paid more into charity than you took through misdeeds you were more or less good to go to heaven.”
“So is there reincarnation?”
“No. They got the basic idea of karma right but it’s not as if you come back as a fruit fly for being an asshole.”
“I don’t make the rules.”
“Way before my time here. I never met her.”
“So, I’m not in heaven?”
“Didn’t I lead a good life?”
“Better than most.”
Grady felt some satisfaction at that.
He’d always felt there were some inherent flaws in organized religion and was ultimately concerned with his mark on the world and less on paying attention to the finer points of theology.
He’d been raised as a Quaker in upstate Pennsylvania but had largely abandoned that when he joined the army. He’d had to kill in uniform but spent the rest of his life trying to make up for it with various civic engagement. He never missed a Rotary meeting and had been on his way to pitch an idea for charity when he’d been hit by the bus. He figured that anyone who was more than halfway decent should get a fair shot at heaven if there was such a place. He wasn’t quite sure he’d believed in it if he was being honest. Yet here he was… Not quite in heaven but somewhere after dying.
“So, what am I doing here?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re killing time.”
Grady looked down at his clothes. They were clean. He’d been meaning to do some laundry but had gotten too busy and kept just hitting his clothes with Febreze on the way out. Smelled okay but he’d been wearing the same shirt for two days and there was a pretty obvious ink stain on the cuff. It was gone now. His entire outfit looked starched and pressed.
He didn’t really understand what killing time meant. He was confused by all of it. He was frustrated by the lack of transparency of this…. hell. He didn’t even have a name for this fellow in the corner.
“I don’t think I got your name.”
“You rarely do.”
“Ask for a name.”
“You’ve always skipped what you like to call ‘perfunctory salutations.’”
“I just like to get on with things.”
“Well, I’m asking now.”
“Actually, you’ve yet to ask. You’ve just passively danced around the subject of asking.”
“Well, what’s your name?”
“Doesn’t seem like the name of a saint.”
“Oh, there are no saints. I told you, the Catholics didn’t get much right. The Coptics didn’t get that one right either.”
“So, you aren’t a saint and this isn’t heaven.”
“Nope and nope.”
“And your name is Rich.”
“So, what is this place?”
“The waiting room.”
“And what do I do here?”
Grady could feel his neck getting warm. He began to suspect that this was hell and they were getting off on messing with him. He’d read a play about that once. Seemed like something they’d do just to mess with you.
“Is this hell? Are you just torturing me with false hope?”
“No. We got rid of hell as a concept more than a thousand years ago.”
“Hmm. So, I’m in the waiting room. What am I waiting for?”
“You’ve got to run down your time bank.”
“What’s my time bank?”
Rich gestured toward the wall behind Grady.
Grady turned around.
For the first time he noticed a large thermometer. It looked identical to one he’d used at a fundraiser for St. Jude’s.
They’d tried to raise $100,000 that year in a concert featuring independent artists. They’d fallen a few thousand short, but it was considered a great success, all things considered. But the thermometer was measuring minutes, not money. As he gazed at it, it ticked down from 854,100 to 857,099.
“It’s your time bank.”
“What’s a time bank?”
Grady was feeling the heat on his neck again and clenched his fists several times.
He’d gone to anger management once and they’d given him that as a relaxing technique. He credited it for his disproportionately large forearms. Clenching his fists over and over to avoid losing his cool.
“Alright. We could get through this a lot more quickly if you’d be more forthcoming.”
“That’s your problem though.”
“You always just want to get through it.”
“Can you please explain some more?”
“What does the time bank do?”
“It saves your time.”
“All the time you saved when you were alive gets stored in the time bank.”
“Whenever you thought to yourself ‘this will save me 5 minutes,’ it got added to your time bank.”
“So that’s all the time I saved?”
As he looked up, the thermometer had ticked down another minute to 857,098.
“How much time is that in years?”
“Good question. Did you ever watch Rent?”
“Yes, with my wife.
“Don’t you remember the song?”
“You were usually multi-tasking during the opening of movies. The song was right after the credits. You were probably making popcorn or checking your portfolio.
“Sounds like me.”
“Well now you can watch the part you missed.”
Rich walked over to a small TV. Grady hadn’t noticed it before. He had a sense that things were just popping up as needed.
The TV was the kind with a VCR in the bottom. Grady had one in his bedroom when he was a kid. It took about 3 minutes to rewind a tape. Five minutes if you tried to rewind it with the movie still on the screen.
Rich tutted with admonishment.
“Looks like someone forgot to rewind.”
“Rent came out in 2006. They didn’t even have tapes then.”
“Rent came out in 2005.”
“Fine, 2005. In any case it didn’t come out on VHS. Hell, DVDs were almost obsolete by then.”
“Actually, they were still producing VHS tapes as late as 2016. And this was recorded from television in 2011.”
Grady could see the rearward scrambling of a Geico gecko commercial. After about 5 seconds he recognized a scene from the cemetery at the funeral for… he couldn’t remember the name.”
“You know, if you press stop and then hit rewind, it will rewind faster.”
“It saves time.”
Rich pointed up at the time bank. The thermometer which had dropped to 857,096 ticked back up a minute to 857,097.
“So even after death my time can go back up?”
“So, when I was making popcorn while my wife started watching the beginning of the movie, that cost me?”
“You understand that movies have like 2 minutes of opening credits and there is really nothing to do at that point?”
“So I was just…”
“You were just about to say it again.”
“You were about to say ‘saving time.’”
“So, I can’t even talk about a time I saved time?”
“Well, you can, but it will get added to your time bank.”
The VCR clicked to a stop and the tape began automatically playing.
Rich sat down next to Grady.
They sat quietly through the opening credits. A piano began playing through the title page as the lights slowly came on revealing a cast singing in their own individual spotlights. It was a simplistic and repetitive tune. Grady impatiently tapped his finger in a beat entirely separated from the 4-4 count of the music. They began singing in unison.
525,600 minutes, 525,000 moments so dear.
525,600 minutes – how do you measure, measure a year?
In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee.
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.
In 525,600 minutes – how do you measure a year in the life?
How about love? How about love? How
about love? Measure in love.
Seasons of love
Grady cut in as the first soloist began singing.
“I get it. 525,600 minutes.”
“Let’s finish the song.”
“It’s just a minute left. I get the point.”
Rich pointed up at the thermometer and Grady saw that it had fallen to 857,094. As he realized it was going to tick back up to 857,095 he shouted.
“Alright! Finish the song.”
“We’ll need to start over since you missed part of it arguing.”
“Okay. Restart it.”
Rich stopped the VCR and hit the rewind button.
Grady tried to relax, hands clenched again as he leaned back into his chair and waited for the music to start again.
He kept his mouth shut as the song played from beginning to end.
Rich began a little sidestepping sashaying dance to the music, snapping his fingers and looking back at Grady.
As the music came to an end, Rich shut off the VCR.
“Well, do you now know how many minutes are in a year?”
“I bet you’ll never forget.”
“So, I have about a year and a half in my time bank?”
Rich slowly waved again to the thermometer. It now said 857,089.
“A little more than that. Right now, it’s just over 595 days. So that’s about a year and 8 months.”
“So, I have to kill off all the time I saved?”
“Yes, and not add more.”
“And when all the time runs out?”
“You get to leave.”
“And go to heaven?”
“We don’t call it that but it’s perhaps your best understanding of it all.”
“Is this normal?”
“Is what normal?”
Grady glanced at the thermometer again.
“This 857,088 minutes that I have?”
“Oh, it’s a little below average.”
“Shouldn’t have cut the corner.”
“I was jaywalking when I got hit by a bus. Figured it was a minute I wouldn’t be at the light.”
“Oh yes, not crossing at crosswalks saved you nearly 6 hours over the course of your life.”
“Multi-tasking is a big one too.”
“Remember when you started brushing your teeth during your morning pee?”
“Oh yeah! That was hilarious. Figured about the time I was done with one I’d be done with the other.”
“That cost you extra.”
“Well, you got 45 seconds on the thermometer for all the time you saved but you got another 30 seconds on the thermometer every time your wife had to wipe the seat.”
“She never said anything.”
“No, she wasn’t the type. She never worried about time or inconvenience.”
“No. She didn’t. Hell, I think she was five minutes late to everything. Biggest time waster I ever knew.”
“Well, she’ll be waiting for you.”
“She’ll be on the other side after you’ve used up all the time you saved.”
“Oh. I didn’t know she died.”
“She hasn’t yet.”
“Why would she be waiting then?”
“She’ll die a year from now.”
“Oh, but I have…”
He looked up at the thermometer again.
“857,085 minutes to go…”
“How much waiting time does she have.”
“About 14,000 minutes.”
“That’s it. Other than the whole ‘cleaning as you go’ while cooking, your wife wasn’t known for saving time.”
“Well, what can I do?”
“Anything you want, as long as you resist the temptation to save time.”
“Napping helps. You never napped enough.”
“Will I get tired?”
“You don’t need to be tired to take a nap.”
“Just close your eyes and take a nap.”
“Oh. Well, what else?”
“I think any sort of thing that has numerical counting up and down can be helpful. Treadmills, laundry, things of that nature.”
“Laundry! I hardly ever did laundry.”
“Yes, I know. We cleaned your clothes on your way in. Dreadful condition you keep yourself in.”
“I just got too busy.”
“Yes, well now you get to make up for it.”
“What do I wash besides my own clothes?”
“I’d start with that pile over there.”
Grady looked over at a pile of clothes next to a washing machine he hadn’t noticed.
“What are those from?”
“Oh, it’s those ridiculous dresses used to baptize babies. They show up here for some reason. We’ve never figured out why. Just a glitch I guess.”
“Heaven has a landfill?”
“We don’t call it heaven. And sometimes yes, it can get quite cluttered around here. All the missing baby socks end up here too.”
“I guess I better get started.”
“I wouldn’t rush… you’ve got plenty of time.”
“Try using the pre-wash setting.”
“But that takes lo—”
“Careful now. We don’t want to add another 15 minutes to your counter”
Rich was gone. The thermometer dipped to 857,083.
Grady sat down.
He resisted getting to the laundry right away.
He had time to kill.
And no time left to save.
The above story is in a collection that comes out on November 27, 2023. You can preorder at the link below.