Time

They were old enough to know that what they were doing was fanciful and childish, but young enough to be enthralled by the appointed wonder of it. Gareth and Clara were born a year apart, and frequently claimed, to playground friends, distant relatives and whoever else they thought would never discover the truth, to be twins  purely because they liked the idea. They liked the idea before they knew that a boy and a girl could be twins at all, and when their father had told them, in passing, they liked the idea even more. It was a novelty, they knew, but a novelty they could make their own.

It was this line of thinking, vague yet firm in their still-developing minds, that led them with a biscuit tin to that spot in the woods. Clara had packed the tin in her backpack and gone with it to school, the secrecy of the project from their parents first one of necessity, then an additional incentive, as if what they were doing required a degree of independence beyond their years. The two had left school ten minutes earlier, and relocated the spot with ease.

They’d found it on a walk with their parents what seemed a lifetime ago. It had never been allowed to gain any real significance to them  their father had brought them to it once after the first time, and they’d visited twice alone in a foray into disobedience  but in their minds it had become their place. It was only a clearing, a rough disc in a sparse woodland five minutes to cross from one end to the other; but to Clara and Gareth, this anomaly was as unknown and fascinating as the possibility of boys and girls being twins.

It had begun to slide into distant memory when Clara had the idea to build a time capsule. The name lasted until they found an empty biscuit tin in a kitchen cupboard, at which point Gareth insisted it be called a time box, which seemed, he attempted to elucidate, more natural and intimate. Clara gave in with little resistance; tin in hand, she was far more interested in what to fill it with.

The scope for their age was impressive. Clara wanted to place within the box trinkets and documents accumulated through all of her and her brother’s life, lives which seemed already to have stretched on for eternity and promised to stretch on for an eternity more; and her brother, although immediately defensive over what he might have to give up, saw the logic in this. It was not just a time box, but their own time box, and in ten or fifty or even one hundred years, someone just like them would find that clearing in the woods, and stumble across the box, and become engrossed in the symbols of another life.

The enthusiasm never left them, but their intentions went far beyond the limits of age; the box, in the end, was filled mostly with the thoughtless and the innocent.

“Have you brought the spade?” Clara asked.

“You saw me pack it this morning,” Gareth replied, as if in response to an accusation, or to shift blame to his sister in the event that he had in fact forgotten it.

He hadn’t; from his backpack a blue plastic spade, part of an archaeological dig playset from a few birthdays ago, was extracted, and without registering the unfairness of the workload Gareth set to work on digging. The ground in the centre of the clearing  the very centre, as Clara had insisted  was dark brown and soft, not damp but easy to shift, even with the tool at hand. Clara might have assisted if not for keeping lookout for both parents and strangers, a concern she’d decided against sharing with her brother. They only had another ten minutes to bury the tin and get home before their mother, if not also their father, promised to deliver an extended reprimand.

She heard the strange scraping before Gareth told her something was there. It sounded to her like plastic on stone, and for a moment her imagination ran wild, until she heard it again and realised it was plastic on metal. Gareth told her to look, pointing to what he’d cleared of debris, and she stared at it, conflicted.

It must have had some deep significance for someone. Inside the box, a biscuit tin much like theirs, lay a series of photographs, notes, and artwork, alongside a cassette tape, a baseball and a key ring. It was the photos that most caught their attention, that of a young man and woman, together in each one and smiling at the camera, as if for eternity. The written and drawn items were harder to place  they seemed fragmented, unfinished  but in those verses and sketches, drawn in one hand, Clara and Gareth saw something vibrant and meaningful, like a promise cut short.

“What kept you?” asked their mother.

“Missed the bus,” Clara replied, exactly as she’d rehearsed in the morning.

The insistence that they be on time for the bus and never walk home alone marked the end of the telling off. The siblings watched television, ate dinner, went into the garden to play, all the while followed by a mutual silence. Later, when the two had been tucked in bed, only Gareth’s nightlight illuminating their shared bedroom, Clara snuck quietly out, to her backpack, and removed their time box. The other, they’d returned to its resting place, covering it with the same dirt that had been removed, until it looked as if it had never been disturbed at all. Their own would be pushed under Clara’s bed, then onto a shelf, and finally into a bin, its contents dispersed through time and space. The idea of burying it came to seem childish.

Hasen Hull lives in London. His work has appeared in Litro, Pure Slush, Flash Fiction Magazine, Praxis Magazine for Arts and Literature, Microfiction Monday Magazine and elsewhere. He enjoys photography and long journeys.

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