A Grievance With Time
“Hey, did I ever tell you how the world is made up of the five ‘-ons’?”
I sighed. I’d heard this a thousand times over; knew what was coming next.
“Protons, neutrons, electrons- and morons!” Grandpa finished. Right on cue, just as the first rays of daylight began to leak through the small garage windows. “Those that don’t believe in the magic of the first three undoubtedly fall under the fourth!”
“Very good, Grandpa. But you’ve— wait! That’s only four. What’s the fifth?”
“Why, that’s the most important of all! The ‘-on’ that really makes the world go round,”
“What is it?” I pressed excitedly; I’d never heard this version before.
Grandpa looked at me, before taking a big bite of his lunch. “Bacon!” he declared with a wink.
I groaned. Not quite the breakthrough I was hoping for.
He smiled, showing me a mouthful of his sandwich. “Did I tell you about the wave—”
That puzzled him; wrinkles deepening on a face already worn and made loose by time. “What about—”
“I’ve heard that too, Grandpa.” I probably sounded ungrateful, irritable. He didn’t understand, I knew that. But if he did, I’m sure he would forgive me.
Muttering under his breath, he turned back to his project. I closed my eyes. The sunlight was slowly moving, and I could feel it fall across my shoes. The timing seemed wrong. It was too soon. Something was different this time. Was it the bacon joke? Despite my doubts, I could feel a small spark of hope begin to grow. The joke was new, and any new event had to mean progress.
It just had to.
I opened my eyes. Grandpa was fiddling away with tools and implements. I made my slow way over to him, tapping my fingers against his workbench. In response he shooed his fingers at me; his way of saying ‘stop doing that’. As he did so, his watch caught the cup perched on the table edge. It wobbled and then tumbled. My hand flashed out, catching it a foot from the floor.
Grandpa’s eyes widened; his mouth opened.
“How’d I do that?” I asked before he could. “Maybe I’m a Jedi!”
He laughed. “Thank you. That cup was—”
“Grandma’s,” I finished. “She gave it to you for your first anniversary. You were poor at the time and weren’t expecting anything, but she had secretly saved her waitress tips to buy it.”
He frowned. “I’ve told you that story before, huh?”
“Something like that,” I mumbled. I was being unfair. Kissing the top of his bald head, I said, “love you grandpa.”
“Love you too, kiddo.”
I knew the gesture was worthless. He wouldn’t remember it. I would though, and that was important. The ray of sunlight was widening, and it seemed all the dust particles in the world had assembled inside it. It was strangely beautiful to watch the flakes twist and swirl within the light; almost as if they were looking to escape.
I knew how they felt.
The scene should have been relaxing; instead it was a reminder time was running out. It would happen soon. And, as I’d found countless times— there was nothing I could do. I picked up a heavy book: The Principles of Quantum Mechanics.
I’d read that thing from cover to cover a dozen times, yet it seemed I knew less now than when I started. What I needed was Quantum Mechanics for Dummies or, How Not to be a Dummy, for Dummies. I laughed at my own joke. Like the dust, I was trapped here. A prisoner of my grandpa’s incomprehension. But I couldn’t hate him— he was trapped too, only he had the luxury of not knowing. Humor quickly drained from my laugh until it became more of a cackle.
Fortunately, Grandpa was too busy humming away to hear, or he might have worried for my sanity. Though he wouldn’t have had to worry for long. About four more minutes, if my guess was right.
Unless the bacon joke really had changed something.
Grandpa’s hum was joined by a familiar vibrating as his machine whirred to life.
Three more minutes, then.
“Kiddo! Quick! I think I have it!”
Not likely, but I kept the thought to myself. Resting my hands on the back of his chair, I stared down at the transparent container. It was the size of a shoebox and contained the last thirty years of my grandpa’s life. Two gravity coils burst into life, powered by a much larger liquid thorium fluoride reactor.
Grandpa jumped up so fast his chair fell back. I was already bracing for the sound of the heavy steel cannoning against the concrete floor. It hit with a clatter that was drowned out by Grandpa’s yell, “It’s working! Can you believe it?”
I could. It was tough to feign surprise and excitement after the hundredth time. Or was it the thousandth? Who could say. Time is relative, after all.
As the gravity inside the box began to decrease and weaken, so too did the time within begin to speed up; a yellow banana inside the apparatus blackened and died.
“It’s a miracle! Do you have any idea what we’ve done here?”
I didn’t. But then nor did he.
“Now, watch as we increase the gravity!” Grandpa shouted, turning a dial. I resigned myself to letting him do it. The first ten times I’d stopped him. The next ten I’d even turned it myself; left, right, fast, slow. Nothing had made any difference. But maybe the bacon joke had changed something…
There was a bright flash. Spots danced before my eye as the world shimmered.
And then Grandpa was beside me, smiling once more. “Hey, did I ever tell you how the world is made up of the five ‘-ons’?”
I could have sobbed. The first rays of sunlight trickled into the garage.
Things used to be so simple— before my grandpa broke time.