Otohime – means luminous jewel. In Japanese myth, Otohime is one of the beautiful daughters of the god Ryûjin, who symbolized the power of the ocean. After giving birth Otohime is said to have transformed to a dragon. She is famous for a legend in which she contains time in a box.
That’s all the note said. There were no clues about who wrote it or why. What happened in 1952? And what exactly about time?
Otohime couldn’t stop thinking about the scrap of paper with those words. She found it yesterday in a box of old things that once belonged to her grandmother. It was out in the garage with all of the other memories she wanted to get back to at some point. She couldn’t bare to throw any of the things away or donate them to someone else, but she had nowhere to put any of the old but special trinkets inside her too small home.
Time. She read the word again.
Otohime thought a lot about time these days. How quickly it seems to move sometimes. How long ago yesterday seems, but nine years back feels like the night before last. How big her children have gotten now, though she can almost touch their baby cheeks, almost hear their coos if she listens hard enough. The cheeks and coos seem caught in time like ghosts wandering around the house.
How could she sell this house? All her memories of her three babies are here. Over there, where the blue velvet armchair is now, that’s where her oldest fell asleep in a sea of toys mid-play when she was just ten months young. One minute she was babbling to Pooh Bear, the next she was out cold, dreaming. The closet’s trim marks the time from which each could stand, even if with help. Otohime looks at the doorway. How tall the littlest girl was at 18 months compared to her brother at that age. How tall she is now.
Otohime could see how scientists spend their lives pondering how time works, if it can be reverse engineered, if it means anything outside of the constructs of human needs to control something, or at least some sort of marker of control. Sometimes when she sits really still and doesn’t think about anything in particular at 4:34 a.m., she feels like she can see time as layers on top of itself. Right there is yesterday in full color. A shadow of golden light behind that was last year. Over there, Otohime saw the amethyst hue of memories five years gone by.
There’s something to that theory about time existing all at once, she thought. She could see how a quantum physicist could come up with that. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a job that encouraged that kind of thinking? The kind of job where you can sit and stare off into nothingness and it is work. Otohime would be on the clock right now if that was her job. To work at a place that values the craziness in that concept as valued and worthwhile. That would be her dream job.
It’s not that Otohime hated her career or her life. Quite the contrary. She loved working on the university’s alumni magazine. It was a place that valued time and celebrated the good times of years gone by at the university, as well as the time spent learning things for making a better future. And her time was her own in this job, as long as she got her job done by deadline. That left plenty of time to spend with her now elementary school-aged children. Time with them is something she knew she could never get back and she held it dear, more important than anything else.
Maybe that’s where Otohime’s obsession with time came from? Her trying to hold on so hard in some physical way to the fleeting moments, days, weeks. A blink ago they needed her to feed them and bathe them. A few more blinks into the future and they’ll need her to drive them off to college. She wanted to savor each moment and paste it in a journal, even the small stuff that doesn’t matter to anyone else, the minute details that wouldn’t matter to a person reading a story of her life. But then, Otohime liked details. Her sister had nicknamed her spiky details as kids because she just wouldn’t stop asking questions about every little thing. And if there was one thing Otohime had learned, it was that the next moment, the one right after this, could be the moment that changes everything. The thought shook her to her molecules, sending a trembling wave through her whole body. For better or for worse, Otohime wanted to remember the then and now, the now and later. She wanted to appreciate big things and small things. She wanted to appreciate time.
- Otohime looked at the note again. What was it that happened in 1952 that could be so important? Maybe she could find a clue to solve the mystery if she did a little digging. She got out her phone and searched.
“The First Time.” “The Happy Time.” “So Little Time.” These were all films made in 1952, apparently. And Tony Bennett recorded “Have A Good Time” too. Time was clearly on the minds of the people back then. Maybe there is something about “Time 1952” that was going to make sense after all, Otohime thought. She kept looking.
December 8, 1952, the cover of Time magazine was about space pioneering. The cover has an awkward robot trouncing over what are presumably moon or Martian rocks with Saturn in the background. Otohime wondered if our inquires about time travel now will seem as childish as the space travel hopes, thoughts and fears of the fifties? She hoped not. It would be fulfilling to actually see some sort of proof discovered about the multiverse, the edge of time in the universe, or whatever else they are speculating about now in their science labs or on their couches.
She didn’t want to think about what life might be like in 60 some odd years on Earth or how disappointed 1952 would be with 2015’s lack of general interest in space exploration, how budgets for educational pursuits wouldn’t be valued. Though 1952 would be so wrong about our robots and our Martian living, it would really like our phones, Otohime reassured herself. All this power to time travel back to the beginning of recorded thought in image and words as far as had been digitized. Just to look at the cover of Time magazine from the fifties with a click of a button. That was pretty cool, she thought, they’d give us that.
Time magazine of 1952 also disclosed that this is when Princess Elizabeth became Queen Elizabeth at only 25-years-old, landing her the woman of the year spot with the magazine. She’s managed her time well, meeting 11 presidents (and counting) while she’s been singularly at the helm. That same year in the queen’s hometown of London, a deadly fog smothered the city for five days, killing some four thousand people. Another 100,000 were sickened. Otohime stopped to think about her grandmother. She had moved from London to the U.S. just a year before that incident. Time makes all the difference in the lives of people at one particular place, Otohime thought.
The memory of her grandmother was sweet and smelled like bergamot, the key ingredient in Earl Grey tea, which the two of them would have every day in the summer when Otohime would visit.
Tea time. That was a good way to mark the day. Otohime thought about how she wished her children could know her grandmother, have tea with her too. Just one time.
The old dinner party question popped into her head, “If you could meet just one person from any time or place and have a conversation, who would it be?”
For Otohime it was always her grandmother. She had died when Otohime was young, just 16, back when she didn’t know the value of time like she does now, at 40. Now, Otohime had so many questions for her grandmother about where she came from, who she really was, doesn’t she think her children are beautiful, isn’t she so proud, what should she do about this or that. Just one tea time with her grandmother and her children. That’s what she wanted most to capture time for right now.
If only her grandmother’s teapot had been next to the note in the box in the garage.