When the inhabitants of the parallel dimension suddenly begin slicing off large pieces of the Earth, like the lower third of Manhattan, only Robert can try to communicate with them and figure out what’s going on. But crossing over is becoming increasingly unpredictable, disturbing, and dangerous; he returns screaming.
[Robert] stood shivering, literally blue with cold, gasping for air and looking so ill and exhausted that [his mother] stifled a cry and Hank leaped across to catch his arm before he fell. “Robert! What happened? What did they do to you?” The boy shook his head numbly as Hank eased him to the floor and loosened his jacket. “Easy, fella,” Hank said softly. “Just get your breath and rest a minute.”
And the reader finally discovers, in a last-paragraph “tomato surprise,” that the parallel dimension is really our own world; Robert is the one who lives in a parallel world, where America never broke away from Britain, there were no Presidents Lincoln or Kennedy, and democracy was never invented, nor capitalism, nor freedom On one of his crossing-over expeditions, Robert falls in love with someone from our democratic, capitalist, free United States, a girl named Sharnan, “beautiful, with violet eyes.”
He decides to cross over permanently to be with her. He tells Hank “I’ll be in touch,” but no doubt he means that he will send an occasional postcard. Hank has no place on the other side; only Robert has the capacity to look at the intertwining of democracy and heterosexual destiny without a blindfold. So he must reject his buddy for the girl: “Sharnan was waiting for him there. As he had known she would be.”