“Don’t you want to sit down for a minute?” Claire asks, motioning to a slatted wooden bench miraculously clear of snow despite the heaping piles surrounding it.
“Nah,” Lucy answers, taking a cautious bite of her croissant, still steaming from the oven.
“Haven’t you been on your feet all day?”
“Sure,” Lucy answers through another buttery bite of pastry, “But it’s stifling in there. I like the cold air, and being able to stretch my legs.”
Claire shrugs, taking a bite of her own croissant. It is tender and warm, the almondy glaze adding the perfect touch of sweetness. “This is delicious. I should join you for breaks more often.”
“Yes, you should,” Lucy states matter-of-factly, “Though I won’t be working much with school starting again.”
She grimaces and takes another large bite as though to help drown out the foul taste of the word school. Claire grins, remembering her own bittersweet memories of high school.
They eat in silence for a time, Claire struggling to keep up with Lucy’s long strides. She leads them through a small residential park and then onto a busy thoroughfare lined with towering offices, restaurants, bars, malls, and movie theatres. Claire’s skyward glances must be more obvious than she realizes because Lucy says:
“You’ve never been to Park Valley before, huh?”
Claire shakes her head, allowing herself to glance around more freely. This neighbourhood isn’t so different from downtown Newport, except that the buildings are newer and the retail offerings a little more upscale. There also seems to be more of an emphasis on evening entertainment; the neon lights of various pubs, clubs, and lounges begin to flicker on in the early evening dimness. Many are still adorned in reindeer and holly, offering New Year’s specials despite the recent passing of the holiday season.
“I come to the malls here a lot with my friends from PVH. That’s Park Valley High,” she explains upon seeing Claire’s upturned eyebrow, “The movie theatres here are nice, but a lot more expensive than the one downtown.”
“Wow,” Claire says distractedly, “I wish I’d had that kind of freedom as a kid.”
Lucy laughs. “It’s not like Opa lets me stay out late. He’s been complaining all day about me working past dark. Besides, aren’t older people supposed to complain about how in their day they could just roam the streets without worry or care and how our generation are coddled into dependence and laziness?”
Claire swallows a grin and forces her lips into a stern pout. “First of all… I am not older people, I am 26. I’m a millennial, so don’t even talk to me about the complaints of older generations. Second of all, the city I grew up in wasn’t even a quarter of the size of this one and the bus didn’t run past six when I was a kid.”
“Okay, okay I get it,” Lucy answers after swallowing her last bite, quickly pulling on a pair of mittens to replace the lost warmth of the croissant. “I just feel like… like he’s overprotective sometimes. Because of mom.”
Claire nods, chewing thoughtfully. She swallows and licks her lips, unsure whether she is prepared for where this conversation may lead. “Your Opa told me she passed away a couple of years ago. I’m sure he’s afraid of losing you too.”
“I know.” Lucy looks at her feet as they walk, though she still seems to navigate their busy surroundings with ease. “It’s just… I spent so much time in the hospice and at home helping Opa…”
“You feel like you finally have a chance to be yourself.”
Lucy’s head shoots up and, though she never misses a step, her eyes widen with surprise before narrowing again defensively. “I miss my mom. Every day. I’d give it all up to see her again.”
“I know. But you can’t.”
Lucy’s brows knit in confusion and grief, so Claire inhales before plunging in.
“I had a little sister named Ginny who was very sick growing up,” she begins, and Lucy’s gaze softens, “She was always in and out of the hospital, or stuck indoors. Our parents worked a lot – because they needed the money and because they were afraid to see what was happening to her – so I tried to fill the gap. I skipped out on after school activities, didn’t go out with friends, went to a local university so I could come home every night. I wanted to do it, because I loved her, but at the same time it ate me up until the only thing I knew about myself was Ginny.”
Lucy’s eyes are glassy, and Claire recognizes the desperate release of meeting someone else who knows. Someone who actually gets it. She recognizes it because she can feel it in the tightness of her own chest and the dampness of her eyes.
As though suddenly recalling their setting, Lucy wipes her face against her sleeve. She turns onto a side street, Claire trotting to keep up. “What… what happened to your sister?”
“She stopped breathing one night, just over a year ago, and by the time we realized and help came she was gone.” It is difficult to steel herself against these words, and the constriction of her throat reminds her that this is the first time she has told this story. Once the moment passes and her muscles relax, she is overcome with a dizzying giddiness she doesn’t expect.
Lucy doesn’t say I’m sorry, and Claire is thankful for that. Instead she asks, “Is that why you moved here?”
“I think so,” Claire answers as honestly as she can, “I just couldn’t stay there any longer.”
“Yeah. Us too. With mom I mean.” There is a moment of silence, broken only by the gentle crunch of the fresh snowfall under their shoes. In the distance Claire can see the sign for Queen Bea’s Bakery; Lucy has taken them full circle.
“You know,” Lucy finally continues, “this might sound weird but… I think a lot of people at Gany know about death. I mean… really know.”
“Hmmm…” Claire says, trying to recall what she has learned about its various residents, “What makes you say that?”
“I dunno. I guess it’s silly really… I mean there’s just me and Opa and you. But sometimes I just feel like Sara and Art… well they’re old and they’ve seen stuff, you know. And I’ve heard Opa say something about Hyun-Sook losing her husband, and then there’s Mr. Alvez. He’s always travelling alone and he never really talks about anyone. I’m sure there’s a story there. The Gallaghers are pretty normal I guess.”
“Maybe…” Claire says, always suspicious of any coincidence at 53 Ganymede.
Outside of Queen Bea’s, they stop, Lucy checking the time on her phone. “So what are you up to after this?”
“Uhh,” Claire starts, having absolutely no plans for the evening, “I’m not sure yet.”
“Well you came all this way, you might as well go shopping or something right?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure I really need anything…”
“Who cares?” Lucy shrugs, raising her eyebrow in a way that makes Claire feel childish despite having almost a decade on her companion. “When’s the last time you went on a date?”
Claire’s face grows hot and she stutters something about being busy.
Lucy’s laughter only makes Claire feel more of an adolescent, “I just mean: when’s the last time you went out for fun? Not because you had to?”
Claire hesitates long enough that Lucy interjects: “Why don’t you go see a movie? You can’t come all this way just to keep me company on my break.”
Without admitting that coming to keep Lucy company was, in fact, her sole purpose in coming here, Claire asks, “By myself?”
“Yes! You should do it. When’s the last time you went to the movies?”
Claire racks her brain trying to remember the last movie she went to see, but all she can remember are blanket forts and popcorn with Ginny. Committing herself to the idea, she nods firmly. “I’ll do it.”
“Spur of the moment. Just walk in and see what’s on,” Lucy instructs, opening the glass door of the bakery and releasing the delicious steam from inside, “And you have to buy popcorn. It’s the rules.”
“Okay,” Claire says, refusing to think too hard about how many excuses she could find to chicken out.
The first movie theatre Claire tries is teeming with rowdy children. Claire squeezes past them to look at the large screen displaying the show times. Aside from a children’s movie that Claire has a strong intuition will be full of noisy kids, nothing begins until at least an hour from now.
Her second try – a smaller, comparably empty theatre inside one of the towering malls – is much more successful. There are several movies to choose from here, enough that she regrets not keeping up to date with current films and their trailers. She uses her phone to search the synopses of a few promising titles and, though her first instinct is to see the action-packed sci-fi thriller (Ginny would have loved that), she instead opts for the witty, black and white comedy that’s playing as part of a classic film series.
Popcorn and drink carefully balanced in one hand, she passes her ticket to an usher who points her in the direction of theatre number seven. Inside, nearly all of the seats are vacant: a young couple in the back row with their legs resting high on the seat in front of them, an older couple nearer the front, and three or four people sitting alone. The presence of the latter relaxes her a little, and she boldly picks a spot in the middle of the theatre with a perfect view.
She crunches popcorn, reminding herself to eat something healthier than almondine croissants and movie theatre fare when she gets home. Snuggling back into the thick cushioning of her seat, she watches the ads as they roll by, waiting for the lights to drop and the previews to begin. Someone sits directly beside her.
Claire shrinks down lower into her seat and sneaks a peak at this thoughtless intruder. She exhales, straightening in the process, when she recognizes the gelled, jet-black hair and sun-baked skin.
“Mr. Alvez?” she prompts, when he pretends to ignore her gaze and begins eating from his own small bag of popcorn.
“Marcus,” he reminds her, and sighs heavily. “And here I thought I was actually going to have a day off.”
Claire tilts her head, trying to better see the expression on his face, still pointed toward the screen. His mouth is upturned playfully, but his heavy brows seem weighted. An electric nervousness courses up Claire’s spine at his close presence and ambiguity, but also an overwhelming sense of curiosity.
He turns his head then and sighs deeply once more. Dark half-moon crescents rest beneath his eyes and Claire realizes for the first time just how many lines creep from their sharp corners. “Sorry,” he says without specifying exactly what he’s apologizing for.
“It’s okay,” Claire says, hoping that it actually is. “Did you just get back?”
“This morning,” he says. “Was hoping to take a day to relax before setting off again.”
“You’re leaving again?” Claire blurts the question without thinking, but she stands by it. This is the third time she’s bumped into Marcus and every time he’s been both arriving and departing.
“Why?” She had meant to ask where, but this seemed somehow more appropriate.
He half-smiles and then half-chuckles. “Work.”
Claire wonders if he’s too tired to do anything whole-heartedly, including have a conversation. “What do you do?”
“I already told you.”
Claire makes a point of frowning, but he only turns away back toward the screen. “I can go, if you want.”
“That’s okay,” Claire says, and realizes she means it this time. In some ways she feels like they’re seeking the same thing here tonight, and maybe it wouldn’t be so bad to have company after all.
“Have you seen this movie before?” He asks, sinking comfortably back into his chair so that his head is level with Claire’s own.
Claire shakes her head. “No. I’ve always wanted to watch the classics–,” but Ginny didn’t like them, “but I never really had the time. Have you seen it?”
His laugh is fuller this time, and his smile too. “Tons of times.”
“It’s one of your favourites?” She asks.
“Not really. It’s good, but… well, I’ve seen a lot of movies.”
“I wouldn’t think you’d have time to be a cinephile,” Claire teases, and he grins.
“I make time.”
“What’s your favourite genre?”
The lights dim and Marcus lowers his voice. “Genre, country, black and white, colour, live-action, animated… it doesn’t matter to me. I’ll take them all.”
“Wow,” Claire whispers, watching the bright hues of the screen play off of his profile in the darkness. It feels so unlikely to be here with this elusive man, learning something she wonders if many of the other residents know. “Wow,” she whispers again, dragging her attention to the screen.
Several minutes later she has forgotten her mysterious companion, immersed in the story playing out on the screen. At first it’s jarring for her – a world stripped of colour – but the characters are so vivid, the dialogue so rapier-sharp that it doesn’t take long before she forgets that she could ever see in anything but monochrome.
The ending is saccharine-sweet, but she forgives the film this transgression on the basis of its age (and because of a deep-rooted desire to believe in happy endings.) When she slowly sinks back into the present, startled for a moment by the brightened lights of the theatre and the spectrum of colour they reveal, she half-expects to find an empty seat beside her. It seems a minor miracle to her that Marcus has remained, and that his eyes are still trained on the screen reading the names slowly scrolling past.
“You like it?” He asks without looking at her.
“Yeah,” she answers, “Yeah, I really did.”
She can’t help but notice his pleased smile. “You have an odd sense of timing you know.”
His eyes, a shade of brown so dark they might be called black, meet hers when he turns his head. Claire hesitates, unsure of what she is meant to say.
“The old lady said so too. I think I bumped into you today to tell you that.”
The old lady? Claire wonders. A sound like distant wind chimes seems to echo throughout the theatre. Oh.
“What… what’s her name?” Claire asks, recalling the previous opportunity she never took.
“Don’t know,” Marcus says, standing to leave as an employee enters and begins sweeping between aisles. Claire follows him out into the lobby.
“That is… wholly unsatisfying.” Her mood begins to deflate, the magic of the film dissipating in the stark fluorescent lighting.
“Most things are,” he says, before adding, “Excuse me for a moment.”
To Claire’s surprise he walks over to the concession booth where a lone woman is waiting for customers to serve. He points to something over the counter and they begin an animated back and forth that Claire can’t quite hear, though she’s certain it has something to do with money. Finally the woman slides something over the countertop, looking around to see that none of her fellow employees is watching, and Marcus withdraws a few bills from a leather wallet he tugs out of his back jeans’ pocket.
When he returns, hands in a leather jacket much to thin for January, he tilts his head for her to follow him out into the mall. Out of sight of the theatre he tosses the object to Claire. The object Claire catches is a woman’s ring – it is some kind of cheap metal with fake green stones running along the entire middle. She turns it around, looking for some sign of why he has shown this to her, but the only detail of note is that one of the crystals is missing.
“Okay…” Claire says, tossing the ring back. Marcus catches it with one hand and puts it in his pocket. “So you bought her costume jewellery?”
“Why?” She asks.
“No idea,” he says, walking past the exit to the now dark street.
“Is it for –” Claire struggles for a name – old lady doesn’t seem polite, “You know, is it for her?”
“Maybe,” he shrugs, “Or someone else. Sometimes they ask and I find, but other times I bring things to them.”
Another shrug. “I call them Collectors.”
“Does that make you a Finder?”
“Guess so,” he says, and it is then that Claire notices the change in the tone of his voice. It’s no longer warm and humorous, but detached and melancholy.
“How come you’re telling me this?”
He doesn’t answer right away, instead continuing to walk a circuitous path through the mall – most stores closed now – looking left and right as though he’s lost something. When he speaks again it’ is even more distracted than before: “Because you’re here I suppose.”
Claire reaches out a hand to grip his shoulder, and he turns, startled. “You’re trying to find something, aren’t you? Right now?”
He nods, turning away with a look of desperation.
“Does it just… happen?”
“Yeah,” he forces himself to look back at her, though the muscles in his face twitch at the effort, “Just like you happen to show up at just the right time. Right place.”
Claire releases her hand from his shoulder, pondering his words. There were a thousand things that lead to her coming to this theatre, to seeing that specific movie, surely there was nothing more to it than coincidence. Besides… who said anything about her timing was right? Her being here didn’t seem to be making a difference with Marcus.
“Do you… do you want to ‘find’ this thing?” She asks, hating how the lines around his eyes deepen with every moment that passes.
His smile is cold this time, defeated. He says nothing except, “I have to go. Get home safely.”
Claire considers asking more questions, but instead nods and says simply: “I will.”
He takes a couple of steps and adds, “Don’t worry. I’m sure I’ll bump into you again soon.”
Claire watches him disappear down an empty hallway and around a corner.
When she returns to 53 Ganymede she picks up Beans from the Gallaghers and, when she runs into Lucy on the stairs, simply thanks her and says she had a good time.
In bed, her mind swims with thoughts of timing, of accidents, and coincidences. Of Marcus’ desperation to find whatever it is he was supposed to find. Was that same force at work within her? Was all of this – her very life – inevitable? Had Ginny’s life been?
Claire’s sleep is light, when it comes, and she awakes easily to the shuffling noise at her front door. Bean’s ears – high and alert – tell her it is not the remnant of a dream.
Slowly she creeps to the door, opening it only enough to peek onto the dark landing. There is a click of a door closing, and she realizes it is only Marcus finally come home.. She sighs and almost closes the door before noticing the object on the ground in front of it. She brings it inside and turns on the kitchen light to better inspect it.
A DVD copy of a black and white film, but not the same title from earlier. A note, scrawled in slanted cursive, is taped to the front.
Thought you might like to borrow this. See you around.
For a moment, Claire had worried that the movie had been the source of his earlier desperation, but reading that it was his own copy came as a relief. He had wanted to lend her this movie because he had thought she might enjoy it. Whatever he had been looking for and had kept him out late into the night, had been something else.
She smiles and sets the movie on the counter for another day. Tucking herself back into the covers and stroking Beans fur until he finally agrees to settle back down, she drifts off to sleep imagining his face when she tells him that she doesn’t have a television.
Thanks for coming back to check out Season 2 of 53 Ganymede. As always feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think. For now I’ll be releasing one episode a month on the third Friday of the month. Thanks again for reading, and hope you enjoyed it!