It was an ordinary Thursday when Emily discovered the secret of time travel. She had been sitting by a window, watching the rain, when she noticed a red umbrella moving along the sidewalk below. In a moment, she was transported into a memory.
The umbrella was the same color as the red geraniums that her grandmother grew in pots along her window sill. Emily remembered sitting backwards on the living room couch to watch the rain out the window, with the red geraniums on the windowsill below, just at the edge of her vision. The memory was sharp and powerful, but seeing it in her mind was not the same as time travel.
And yet, Emily could remember her grandmother’s house as though she was there. Mentally, she could walk the rooms as they were, even though it had been at least a decade since her grandmother’s death. The rooms were not the same now. The house was not the same.
However, Emily could remember just how her grandmother’s house smelled. It didn’t take much thought to remember the taste of the raspberries in the bushes that were once behind the house and were no longer there. In her memories, everything was still just as it once was.
Emily sat up in her chair, confused. Surely she couldn’t remember something so completely and well if it no longer existed at all. Something so solid and real that she could close her eyes and it was there, as real as anything she could see with her eyes open, was surely something greater than any other more ephemeral thought.
If it existed in the past, and she could visit it in her memory, surely memories held the key to time travel. But how could you physically visit a memory? If you remembered it perfectly would you somehow be able to step inside the memory?
If you remembered the memory perfectly enough to feel like it was real, would it matter if you were physically there again or not? Emily frowned and drew a geranium on the budget proposal she was working on. Then she erased it.
If you were really, physically there in the memory, would you be replacing your younger self? If you changed something, would you be stuck there? What would happen to the future, if it was already there, the same as the past? Would it change too?
And what about other times? Once you learned the trick of traveling through time, assuming you didn’t get stuck, could you travel there too? Could you learn enough about a historical time to create a memory to visit?
Emily filled out the budget proposal. When it was time to present it, She stood at the front of the conference room, and the room began to shake. Everyone dove under the tables. There were cracking and creaking sounds from all sides. Somebody screamed.
Without any conscious effort, Emily suddenly recalled sitting at her breakfast table that morning. She was sitting at the table in her pajamas, eating oatmeal with a little milk and raspberry jam. Eyes wide open, Emily recalled every detail of that moment.
She could no longer hear the creaking or screaming. She could no longer see the conference room. She was there, in that moment, eating the last bite of oatmeal.
Strangely enough, when she got up to rinse her bowl, she was still there, sitting in her chair. She watched herself walk away to get ready for the day without looking back. Uncertain of what to do, Emily hid in the guest room until she heard the front door close.
It didn’t take much research to discover that it really was six hours earlier. She’d gone back in time. Or she was in a coma somewhere. She pinched her arm. It hurt.
She got dressed, picked up an old purse and gathered all the change from the jar. Then she went to the corner store. Everyone could see her. She could see and pick up things that she hadn’t seen in her memory.
Grabbing a few apples, she headed to the check out. On her way, there was a display of odds and ends. She picked up a red umbrella.
Hours later, she walked along the sidewalk, protected from the rain by that red umbrella. She knew that this was the time she’d looked out the window, but there were no other red umbrellas to be seen. She entered a cafe further along the street and watched for another half hour.
There were no other red umbrellas. Had she seen herself? Was that proof of her time travel? What would happen if she tried to change something else? What would happen if she traveled back even further? She looked at the red umbrella, folded closed like a flower bud, and thought of red geraniums.
Emily disappeared that day, in the middle of the terrible earthquake that leveled the office building where she worked. Authorities assumed she died during the collapse or during the fire that swept the area soon after. The secret of time travel was lost to the world yet again.
But Emily still knew it, whenever she was.