“Mama! You need to start drinking coffee,” Annie insisted loudly as she burst through the door after tennis practice.
“Coffee stains your teeth,” Mama replied quietly from her spot in the lounge, ” and God save the world if you ever start drinking the stuff.”
“But it’s not fair,” Annie insisted. “I need a coffee can. Everyone else in class has a…Nana!” She raced to give her grandmother a hug.
“Why does it have to be a coffee can?” Mama asked.
“It’s for homework. We have to make a time capsule.”
Mama looked up from her reading. Annie dropped her backpack on the floor and plopped exasperated onto the sofa next to her grandmother. Mama’s eyebrows raised. “Is that where your books belong?”
Annie ignored her. “How can I make a time capsule if I don’t have a coffee can?”
“A coffee can isn’t the best vessel for a time capsule,” Mama said. “It would rust in a couple of years and everything inside it would be ruined.”
“What would you use to make a time capsule, Nana?” Annie asked.
“Well, glass is probably as durable as anything else you can find, although sealing it is still a problem, but… Go on take your books up to your room and I’ll show you something.”
Annie took her backpack upstairs and tossed it unceremoniously on her bed. When she returned, Nana was waiting at the bottom of the stairs with a glass bottle in hand. She led Annie out to the back porch and sat at the top of the steps, handing Annie the bottle.
“What do you suppose the idea behind a time capsule is?” she asked.
“So people in the future can learn about the past?”
“There are lots of ways we can learn about the past. A time capsule is supposed to preserve a day, the way a photograph preserves a moment. What do you see in the bottle?”
“Nothing?” Annie observed dubiously. “It’s empty.”
Nana smiled. “Look harder.”
Annie was confused. “I don’t know. A reflection of what’s on the other side, I guess.”
“A reflection of a reflection… as if it was inside the bottle itself! You see a perfect image of this very moment, captured right there in the glass… but what happens when someone looks at this same bottle 25, 50, or 100 years from now?”
“They’d see whatever was on the other side of it then?”
“Of course they would,” Nana agreed.
She took the bottle and held it up to the setting sun. The colors of the sky filled the bottle with an image both as real and as surreal as the tiny model ships hobbyists erect within the same confine.
“There are lots of things you can put into the bottle that won’t change,” Nana went on, “but there’s one thing you can never put in there, and that’s a memory. So even if the glass lasts 1,000 years, which it might, the things you put inside it will eventually lose their meaning. They will become as much a mystery to the people who would find them as the things our archaeologists discover today.”
“But archaeologists could learn a lot if they were digging up time capsules, couldn’t they?”
“Perhaps. Or perhaps they would only be confused by a collection of things that make less sense together without their memories than the fossil remains of a garbage heap.”
Annie puzzled on that for a while, while her grandmother enjoyed the darkening image in the bottle. Finally, her patience got the better of her. “Well, I suppose it doesn’t matter what I put in it, since I don’t have a coffee can,” she grumbled.
“Oh, but it does matter! You see there is no way to capture a day and put it in a bottle, and so the longer before you open it, the more a time capsule becomes an exercise in futility.” She handed the bottle back to Annie. “What little we held in this one is already gone.”
Annie turned the cold, empty glass back and forth in her fingers.
“The things we put in a time capsule may mean less and less without their memories as time goes by,” Nana continued, “but there is a way to capture the memories those things inspired. There is a grand way to capture a day and save it for tomorrow.”
“In a bottle?” Annie asked, bored entirely with it now.
“In a diary,” Nana answered. “Write them.”
The bottle, the glowing sunset it had captured a minute before, Mama’s disinterest from her spot in the lounge… everything disappeared in a jumble of mental mayhem. For a brief moment, Annie felt betrayed, as if Nana had sneaked into her room and read hers.
Nana watched Annie’s morphing expressions quietly. When her granddaughter’s face finally stopped stoically upon her own imagination, she reached out and placed a hand on hers. “You didn’t think your mother thought to give you one on her own, did you?”
Annie looked up into Nana’s eyes.
“Write, child,” Nana said. “Save the day.”
Confusion ate Annie up. Nana had been responsible for her diary? But when had Mama ever listened to anything Nana said? That was a year ago… why was Nana only saying this now?
Nana stood slowly from the porch. “Let’s go,” she said.
Annie followed after her bewildered. “Where are we going, Nana?” she asked.
“Why, to get you a coffee can, of course!”
© 2013 Anne Schilde