The sweep of the broom’s coarse bristles against the hardwood echoes through the cold, cavernous rooms of the apartment, emphasizing their emptiness. Claire sighs and, noticing the chilly phantom of her breath rising through the air, pauses to close the nearby window. Reaching for the broom once more, she is overcome by a feeling of disorientation; the silence and vacancy of the room renders it almost unfamiliar. She longs for the perpetual mess of children’s toys, strains to hear the high-pitch wails of a fussy baby, but every indication that the Gallaghers had ever inhabited this space has been systematically removed and sanitized.
Although the results are haunting, Claire can’t help but recall the day spent packing and cleaning with fondness. Everyone from 53 Ganymede Avenue — aside from Marcus — had come to help. Declan had even joined them, taking extra care with fragile items and landing each step as he carried one end of a heavy dresser or awkward chair down the stairs. For the most part his luck had held out, and the only casualties were a wine glass and his own toe when he set down the dresser a moment too early.
Afterwards, when Claire would ask who had helped them, no one seemed to be able to remember. They would scratch their heads and shrug their shoulders, or point vaguely at whoever happened to be nearby.
There were a couple of exceptions to this strange phenomenon, namely the Gallagher children and Lucy. Wesley had given Declan several mistrustful looks until Claire had explained that he was a friend at which point he smiled politely and watched him curiously from a distance. Rory, ever-fascinated by strangers, had actively vied for his attention. This last turn of events had confused the other adults to no end and Claire was fairly certain most had come to the conclusion that “Deck-anne” was simply Rory’s new imaginary friend.
Lucy’s ability to remember Declan was more complicated. Claire had introduced Lucy to Declan one night, had run up and down the stairs to demonstrate the knocking on the ceiling, clearing any of the girl’s doubt about the strange phenomenon of the downstairs attic. And yet she’d had to remind Lucy multiple times today who Declan was.
“Oh right, right,” Lucy would say when Claire had told her who “that strange man” in the kitchen was. Claire would turn a corner to find Lucy examining him from across the room, to which she’d explain, “It takes a minute, but I think I’m getting it now. There’s just something… slippery about him. But I think it’s getting easier.”
Declan hadn’t seemed to mind, he had just seemed happy any time there was an opportunity to help. Claire recalls his warm smiles at finding Rory following him around like an imprinted duckling, and sighs again. If only they could have stayed a while longer.
“Penny for your thoughts?” The deep voice reverberates in the emptiness and Claire startles, clutching her broom to her chest. Marcus chuckles from where he leans against the doorway.
“Don’t sneak up on me like that,” Claire chides, and she can tell by his half-cocked smile that his stealth had been very intentional. She frowns at the wrinkles in his collared shirt and the week or so’s worth of stubble darkening his cheeks and chin. “You coming or going?”
He shrugs, “Both, usually.”
“Are you at least staying long enough for dinner?” Claire asks, noting the savory tang of baking bread and herbs wafting up from the kitchen, “There’s tons of food. Art and Sara insisted on a big dinner. Everyone is going to be there.”
“Nah,” he answers, pulling away from the wall and looking at the floor, “I’m not a family dinner kinda guy. Besides, I have a feeling there’s somewhere I need to be.”
“Maybe you’re already there.”
“Nice thought, kid,” he says.
Claire crosses her arms and raises an eyebrow, frustrated by her own melancholy and determined not to be influenced by Marcus’ dramatics. “So what’s up then? The Gallaghers are downstairs in the kitchen or out by the van if you want to say goodbye.”
“Already done,” he tells her, raising his eyes to meet hers, “I was looking for you, actually.”
“Oh?” Claire asks, not wanting him to see how touched she is by his interest in her.
“The old lady has a job for me. A tough one. I’m leaving tomorrow and I’m not sure when I’ll be back.”
“Oh,” Claire says again, disappointment stacking on disappointment. It wasn’t that she saw Marcus often, she didn’t — especially not lately — but the thought that they could cross paths at any moment, or that she might open her door to find another note and a new DVD was becoming an oddly comforting part of her life. He was becoming a comforting — if not consistent — part of her life. It was the first time she’d had so many people surrounding her whose absences she could feel so keenly. Losing people, even just for a short time, never seemed to get easier for her.
“Yeah,” Marcus says after an awkward pause between them, “If you stop by the book store, maybe tell your friend… maybe tell him I won’t be around much anymore.”
“My friend,” Claire says, and Marcus must read the frustration in her voice because he immediately clarifies:
“Mack. Tell Mack for me. Please.”
“No,” Claire says, crossing her arms again, “You have his number.”
“Damn it, Claire.” Marcus groans, running his hand through his unkempt hair.
She realizes this is possibly the first time she’s every seen Marcus actually ruffled.
“I can’t stop,” he tells her, his eyes pleading for her to understand, “I don’t even think I remember how. And if I did and things didn’t work out? Travelling, searching for things that I don’t even know what they are… those are the risks I know how to take. Not this kind of thing.”
“You’re scared,” Claire realizes aloud.
Marcus’ mouth twitches like he wants to object, but he remains silent.
“That’s not a good reason not to try.”
“I have enough going on in my life,” he begins, but Claire interrupts.
“That stopping and staying awhile seems so bad?”
His gaze drops to the floor again, but a moment later his head twitches to the side as if he hears something. Whatever it is, it does not reach Claire’s ears.
“I have to go,” he tells her. Again there is a twitch of the head and a moment’s distraction.
Swallowing her pride, Claire offers: “I’ll be here when you get back.” She thinks it would be what she’d want to hear if their positions were reversed.
With a nod and a weak smile, Marcus turns and leaves.
Claire wipes her eyes on the back of her sleeve and continues to sweep, though all the dust is already neatly gathered in a pile in the corner. Appetizing smells continue to rise from downstairs, and a mingling of voices along with it; Claire can imagine the warm glow of the kitchen and the contagious smiles of her friends, but she isn’t ready yet. To say goodbye to the Gallaghers. Or to acknowledge the lingering weight of Marcus’ departure.
This time she hears the footsteps as they mount each stair and she doesn’t jump when another figure fills the darkening doorway.
“They’re looking for you downstairs,” Declan tells her, “I said I’d come get you.”
“Thanks.” Still holding the broom, Claire stands and waits. She isn’t sure for what.
Declan takes a step forward, “You okay?”
“Yeah.” It’s barely a mumble, but the room is quiet and her voice carries easily across the empty space, “It’s just weird.” She gestures around her — at the walls divided by bare hardwood, at all the rooms beyond them, at the moving van that she knows waits on the street outside.
“They won’t be too far. Wes said they’ll still be in town,” he offers, but Claire shakes her head. That isn’t the point. But then what is?
Claire glances away, out the window to the fading grey of the oncoming autumn evening. Of course she’s going to miss the Gallaghers, but Declan is right, they aren’t going far. The children have already insisted several times that she visit them with Beans next weekend. Is it Marcus, then? But like she told him, she’ll be here when he gets back. It isn’t even like his leaving is anything out of the ordinary. So why is her chest squeezing tighter and tighter when she catches a glimpse of bare walls and cleared floors? Why is she here holding this broom and not surrounded by friends and food?
When she turns back to face him, she finds Declan has taken another couple of steps forward. “Is there anything I can do?”
Instead of answering, she distracts herself by asking another question. “Doesn’t it bother you? That no one can remember you? You helped so much today and they still couldn’t even tell me your name.”
“A bit, I guess,” he says, walking beside her to look out of the window, “But I know it’s not their fault. And it isn’t everyone.”
He smiles at Claire, and it’s such a rare sight that her chest loosens just a little.
“To be honest, it’s mostly just the people who live here. Don’t get me wrong, ever since my mom passed away, it’s like I’ve become… I don’t know… translucent? Maybe? Easier to pass by. But once someone actually talks to me they don’t forget me. I wouldn’t be able to get a job otherwise.”
“Only people at Ganymede?” The thought is so baffling that it disarms Claire and, for a moment, she lets the loneliness of the apartment dissipate into the rapidly increasing darkness surrounding them.
“Yeah. At first I thought it was just Sara, but then her wife too. And your friend Lucy, she tries but I can tell it’s hard. Today sort of just confirms my theory.”
“But the kids,” Claire points out, “and Marcus. And me. I see you.”
There is a weighty pause after this, and Declan watches her with a lightly furrowed brow and a slight twist to his mouth that is too gentle to be a frown. His eyes are bright despite the lack of light, his reflective gaze trained intently on Claire.
A moment that lasts both a heartbeat and an eternity passes, and he continues, “You haven’t lived here long, right? I mean, compared to the others. And Marcus hardly lives here at all from what you’ve told me. And the kids… well — kids usually seem to be aware of things that adults forget about.”
“Does that mean I’m going to forget you? The longer I live here?” The words spill out; Claire hadn’t meant to voice her fear out loud.
Declan chuckles a little and shakes his head, “I don’t think so. You seem to notice things others don’t. Kinda like Wes and Rory.”
Claire exhales a private sigh of relief but finds herself holding her breath again when he adds:
“I don’t know what I’d do if you did forget me.”
The frightening possibility, and the alluring glimmer of his concern, hang in the air between them, mingling with Claire’s already confusing swirl of emotion.
“I had a weird dream,” he says suddenly, “after I put that egg thing under my pillow. I think that’s what made me want to come help today. Despite… everything.”
“What was it about?” Claire’s heart races as she recalls the shards of the broken mug strewn across her mother’s kitchen floor. The odd fear the dream had evoked. Eggs are for memories. That’s what Alice had said, but in Claire’s case it had seemed more premonition than recollection.
“It was something that happened when I was a kid. Well, kind of. It was a dream so it didn’t make much sense at first, but when I woke up I had this feeling. I don’t know how to describe it, kind of like nostalgia but more specific — more like when you’re trying to remember a word and you can feel it in your head even though you can’t say it out loud?” He looks to Claire for reassurance and when she nods he continues, “I just kept lying there in bed, trying to trace this feeling through my head. More and more of the dream came back, and with each image I started to recall this memory from when I was about eight or nine.’
‘Everything was falling apart. I mean, our lives were always a frantic mess of misfortune and recovery, but this time I remember it was really bad. The antique shop wasn’t doing well, and my mom lost her second job, and the rent on our apartment… You get the idea. And at the same time I started flunking math class. That part wasn’t bad luck or anything, just stress and normal kid stuff I think.’
‘There was a tutor program at my school, but I would have had to stay after hours and then I wouldn’t have been able to help my mom at home. And I didn’t want to add more to her plate so I just kept the whole thing quiet and stayed up late going through the textbook and doing practice problem after practice problem but still never quite figuring out how to get the answers at the back of the book. Looking back, it probably just made things worse because I was so tired all the time.”
“Mom realized something was going on, of course.” Declan chuckles to himself. “They always do, don’t they?”
“Not all of them,” Claire says, weighing sea glass to broken china. Broken china… what about broken china? She recalls her mom’s raised voice, but not her words. Had it been a memory then? Claire tries to follow the feeling of familiarity the way Declan had described, but the only thing she recalls is a pang of loneliness she hasn’t felt in a long time.
When she returns to the present Declan is watching her with concern and so she forces a smile. She wants to know what happens next. “What did your mom do?”
“She told me never to hide when I needed help. That it made her happy to help me, even though it might be difficult sometimes, and that it hurt when she thought of me letting myself suffer to help her. Then she said I could come to the next market with her and see how it made people feel when you thanked them for their help instead of apologizing or hiding your troubles.” Here Declan scratches the back of his head and purses his lips in thought, “That’s when things start to get hazy. Part way through the dream I started seeing the lanterns again. I don’t remember actually going to any market with mom, but I remember people. Faces I can’t place anywhere else. A short man and his daughter giving us a basket of fruits. A young woman with bread so fresh I hugged it to keep me warm. An elderly woman who smelled like citrus and cloves that would give me pieces of spicy chocolate. And there was this feeling that we were a part of something bigger — a community, a family. Every time mom said thank you for one of these gifts they would smile in this way… Like they just couldn’t contain their joy at helping another human being. Somehow, between this helping and accepting, happiness was being created and there just wasn’t room for apologies or guilt.”
“And it made you want to come help today?” Claire asks, her eyes drawn to a contagious passion deep in his silvery eyes.
“It reminded me of how you talked about this place. The people. I wanted to be a part of something like that again,” he says, before hesitating, “And… and I wanted to thank you in some way. I haven’t exactly been gracious in accepting your help and… I needed it. Thank you, Claire.”
Claire can think of nothing to say and so she nods instead.
A third set of footsteps draws both of their attentions to the glowing rectangle of the doorway. A silhouette approaches.
“Hey Claire, they’re already eating downstairs… If you don’t hurry Opa’s going to…”
Lucy, visible now, halts in the doorway and squints. Pointing a finger at Declan she says, “You. Declan. Guy who lives downstairs-upstairs. Got it.”
“That must be a new record,” Claire jokes, pushing herself away from the window and toward the delicious smells which she can no longer ignore.
“We thought we’d sent someone to get you but we couldn’t remember who. I should have known.”
“That’s alright,” Declan assures her, following closely behind Claire.
Just before passing through the apartment door out into the hallway, Claire’s chest tightens again. She stops, and Declan nearly collides with her.
She wants to stare at her feet and hide the tears brimming at the corners of her eyes, but instead she breathes deeply and tells them the truth.
“I’m scared,” she admits, turning back to the dark emptiness and trying not to think of it as a finality, “I don’t know why, but something about seeing it this way. About them moving, even if it isn’t far…”
Declan reaches a hand to her shoulder. “Claire…” he begins, but trails off.
Lucy examines Claire’s distressed expression and offers a gentle smile. “53 Ganymede changes too, Claire. But you’ll be okay.”
Claire’s mouth drops wide in surprise. In a single moment Lucy has helped put her apprehension into words. 53 Ganymede has become a place of safety for Claire, its tenants a source of stability after some of the greatest — and most terrifying– changes in her life. Accepting the departure of the Gallaghers shatters that illusion of stability and raises a horde of unsettling truths. Truths about loss. About growth.
After all, did Claire really plan to stay here forever?
“How did you know?” Claire asks.
“Because I feel the same way every time someone leaves,” Lucy shrugs, turning back to the stairs, “You’ll feel better when the excitement sets in.”
Claire hurries after her, letting Declan close the door behind them.
“Excitement?” She asks.
“Yeah,” Lucy answers over her shoulder, “About the new tenants.”
New tenants? Claire wonders, an inkling of curiosity beginning to compete with her anxieties.
Once in the crowded kitchen, the bustle and cheer drowns everything else out and she is left with only one certainty as she watches the familiar faces talk and laugh and smile. A single word that’s meaning may change over time, but in that moment is absolute: home.
Only one episode left before season 2 of 53 Ganymede is over! I’ve actually been looking forward to writing and sharing this next episode for several months now so I’m quite excited. After its release I’ll be taking a brief hiatus — probably just for the month of December — in order to organize the third (and likely final) season and to work on some other projects. I hope you’ve been enjoying 53 Ganymede so far. You can always let me know what you think in the comments, or you can head on over to Web Fiction Guide and leave a review to help other people discover the series. Thanks for reading!