The morning air is laden with humidity, pulling beads of sweat from Claire’s brow and the back of her neck. Thankfully a cool breeze blows in from the lake whenever she starts to feel too uncomfortable — she only hopes the heavy clouds overhead aren’t a sign of worse weather to come.
Hyun-Sook voices Claire’s concern: “It feels like it’s going to rain.”
“Maybe it will blow over,” Claire says, eyeing the sky skeptically, “Or at least hold off a while longer.”
The two women continue walking in comfortable silence, aside from the gentle scratch and and click of Hyun-Sook’s cane across the sidewalk. Already Claire can make out the banners and tables lining the street ahead, bordered by elegant brick storefronts. They pass a fluorescent orange road block as they enter Juniper Lane — today’s market is for pedestrians only and the clutter and racket of modernity will not be permitted. The ornate iron lamps skirting the sidewalk provide a welcome glow against the threatening darkness. For a moment, Claire aches to be able to show Hyun-Sook this charming scene.
The feeling passes when Hyun-Sook suddenly taps her cane against the heavy iron of a lamp post. “So, that hasn’t changed.”
She points ahead, indicating the three nearest shops: “Let’s see: Juniper General, The Cheese Wheel, and The Bread Shoppe.” She turns, indicating the shops across the street: “Herb Witch, a clock repair shop — I can’t remember the name, and The Top Shelf.”
Claire reads the signs over each shop, surveying the tables as they approach. Juniper General’s table is filled with a variety of goods — fair trade coffee beans and tea leaves, handmade jewellery and pottery, along with some candies and other local goodies — and the window behind reveals shelves filled with much of the same. The Cheese Wheel seems to carry not only cheese but serving boards and fancy knives as well as a variety of artisan crackers and jellies. Claire can smell the Bread Shoppe before she sees the table overflowing with warm breads, flaky pastries, and thickly frosted cakes. She glances across the street, mentally checking off the store names when she notices a discrepancy.
“You got it — everything except The Last Shelf. I don’t see that one.”
Hyun-Sook frowns and leads Claire away from the delicious aroma of baked bread to a table across the street. She squints and lifts her head to the sign there. “It was here.”
“Morning ladies,” a towering hulk of a man welcomes them from behind a long wooden table. His hair and beard are golden and curled, almost disguising the familiar pout of his lips and the strong angles of his cheekbones.
“Good morning,” Claire returns, surveying the carefully curated collection of antiques before her, “Would you happen to be Alice’s father?”
The man — the Mr. Hatter of Hatter’s antiques Claire assumes — chuckles, a sound so warm and full that Claire swears the cloud cover begins to thin above her. “So you know my daughter?”
“Is she working?” Claire asks, remembering the girl’s insistence that she visit again soon. Peeking around the man’s head into the store beyond reveals nothing but some curious shoppers and a middle-aged woman minding the counter.
“Not here. Not today. She has another job she does sometimes — running errands for an older lady. She’s a responsible girl for her age,” he beams with pride, “How do you know her?”
Claire sifts through their past encounters, trying to settle on the most believable. “I came by another day when she was here. She’s quite fond of my dog, Beans.”
“She’s always loved animals,” Mr. Hatter says, before turning to acknowledge a customer waiting to ask about a large, tarnished pocket watch. Claire feels a pang as she recalls how excited Ginny would get whenever a dog walked past the living room window, and their rare neighborhood walks when she would try to entice cats to come home with her.
“Did there used to be a book store here?” Hyun-Sook’s voice pulls her back into the world of the living, and she is surprised to notice the woman still staring up at the sign as if her unseeing gaze could change the letters there.
“I think so,” Mr. Hatter answers while carefully wrapping the watch in brown paper, “Bit before my time though. When I moved in it was a little gift shop. But I think… Yeah I think the last owner said something about books. About these chain stores taking all the business and not leaving any room for people like them to eke out a living.”
Hyun-Sook doesn’t answer, but her attention finally shifts from the sign back to the street. Claire thanks Mr. Hatter and they continue on, stopping here and there while Claire examines the tables. Hyun-Sook remains uncharacteristically silent, no longer calling out shop names and showing little interest when Claire describes the wares.
When she turns down Claire’s third offer of a drink or something to eat, Claire finally gathers the courage to press her. To Claire, disinterest in good food is always a sign that something is wrong.
“Was the book store important to you?”
Hyun-Sook stops walking and sighs. “Sorry. I’m not being a very good companion today, am I?’
Claire has spent enough time reading with Hyun-Sook to know pity and concern won’t be much use here. “You’ve at least got to eat something,” she says, “How am I supposed to justify stopping at all these food places if you don’t at least feign some interest?”
A brief chuckle. Progress, at least, Claire thinks.
“You sound like Frank,” Hyun-Sook says.
“The man has good taste,” Claire points out, “I’ll take that as a compliment.”
“True. Just don’t tell him I said so,” Hyun-Sook concedes.
“So… Something to eat?”
“Yes, yes. Fine. But wait until I show you something first,” she says, striding down the street with purpose, “At least, I hope that’s the same.”
Claire trots after her, pushing her short legs to keep up with the woman’s swift strides. She stares longingly after store fronts and tables that they pass, scrambling to mentally catalogue all the places she wants to return to, while her nostalgic guide barrels onward.
Eventually the street curves, disappearing behind a tall blue house that has been converted into a shop packed with handmade leather goods and blown glass jewellery. Claire is so enthralled by the coloured glass baubles hanging from the veranda, her neck craning as they pass, that she stumbles into Hyun-Sook when the woman stops suddenly. Luckily it is a gentle collision, Claire managing to grab the Hyun-Sook’s narrow shoulders to keep her from falling. When she rights herself and looks up, she understands Hyun-Sook’s eagerness.
Claire had been mistaken to think the rows of tables were the Juniper Lane Outdoor Market; she realizes now that it is only a preamble to the actual event.
“I had no idea this was here,” she says, stepping past Hyun-Sook to better take in the view.
“I’ll try again,” Hyun-Sook replies, indicating each area with her left hand as she describes a scene from memory:
“A large field, dotted with trees. There are stalls placed haphazardly across the grass — some with tents and pavilions, others nothing more than blankets on the ground. A couple dozen maybe. In the distance there is a shaded space — a children’s playground — and behind it a row of maples. And there…”
Here she points to their immediate left.
“The road ends. The grass gives way to weeds and wildflowers, and past that…”
“The lake,” Claire finishes for her, staring out over the wind-stirred waves far below.
“At least that has not changed,” Hyun-Sook says with a melancholy smile.
“You were wrong about one thing,” Claire tells her, once she has had her fill of the stunning view.
“Oh?” She asks, and Claire senses the worry hidden within that one word.
Claire laughs. “There are a lot more than a couple dozen stalls here today.”
It’s true. The play structure — or more likely the updated structure that has replaced it — is almost blocked from view, only a couple of red climbing bars visible over the tops of the pavilions. Everywhere Claire looks there are more handcrafted wares begging to be perused.
This news seems to return Hyun-Sook to her usual good cheer and, to Claire’s relief, she eagerly presses into the crowd. They shop together for nearly an hour — poring over local art, gifts, candles, hand-sewn clothing, and unique jewellery.
Hyun-Sook’s taste is bold and beautiful; she is drawn to statement pieces — silk scarves in gold and black, heavy necklaces that accentuate her slender frame rather than overwhelming it. Claire has always noticed her good fashion sense, envied it even, but watching her shop only emphasizes her skill. Each potential item is lifted and carefully felt, then held into what little sunlight escapes through the clouds, leaves, and tents. She holds her face close, and Claire imagines her using what little vision she has left to get a sense of shape and colour. Sometimes she asks Claire for a description, but less often than Claire expects. The process is so meticulous, the results so stunning, that Claire asks Hyun-Sook to pick an item for her.
“Anything,” she requests, “Anything you think would suit me.”
Hyun-Sook pulls Claire aside, out of the flow of foot traffic. Here, she reaches her hands up to Claire’s face, her fingers flitting over Claire’s features, tickling her nose and gliding behind her ears to investigate the soft pouf of hair haloing her head. She leans down and places her face an inch from Claire’s own, inspecting her like a promising piece of jewellery.
Suddenly the process ends and she drops her hands back down, retrieving her cane and a canvas bag of purchases from where they lean against a bench.
“Hmm. I’ll keep my eyes open,” she tells her, returning to the bustle of the market.
Claire remains for a moment, the woman’s gentle touch lingering against her humidity-dampened skin, before following.
They meander through the stalls for a while longer before Claire’s stomach betrays her — loudly — and they decide to hunt for lunch. On their way to a row of likely looking pavilions leaking steam and smoke and spicy aromas, Claire notices a friendly face. She leaves Hyun-Sook to go on ahead while she makes a brief detour.
“Mack!” She calls, ducking under a canvas pavilion that has seen better days and side stepping through plastic tables covered with towers of paperbacks, “What are you doing here?”
“Hi Claire,” the young bookseller answers after passing a bag filled with books to a contented customer, “A gentleman stopped into the store the other day and invited me to set up a table. I guess the woman who owned the business back when it was still an antique shop used to be a vendor, but when they learned she was gone they invited me instead.”
Claire wonders if Declan knows this about his mother. If he used to come to this park with her as a child and play while she sold pocket watches and vintage glassware like Alice’s father.
“So… Do you know when your friend is coming back?” Mack asks.
The question startles Claire, and she wonders of he has read her mind. “Declan? He hasn’t been around?”
A hint of panic courses down her spine; the last time she had seen him they had gone to Le Chateau de Verre in search of the gate and the garden of statues. After hours of searching all around the vegetable garden wall and finding nothing, she had worried that he might give up hope.
“Oh. No. He’s been around. He’s been helping actually… around the shop,” Mack shivers a little, as if the very thought frightens him, “No, I meant Marcus actually. Do you know when he’ll be back from Bermuda?”
“To tell you the truth Mack,” Claire says, “I didn’t even know that’s where he went.”
“He travels a lot. For work,” she explains, hoping to ease the disappointment tightening Mack’s brow and tugging at his lower lip.
“Yeah. It’s okay. I was just curious. I have some books still set aside for him,” he says all at once, dismissing the conversation by leaning over a box of books and checking the price stickers.
“I’m sure he’ll appreciate it,” Claire says, and then leans over the box so that her face is next to his, “He’s actually really into movies too. Pretty much anything really. I think he wishes he took more time to go to the theatre.”
Claire stands and makes to leave.
“Claire,” he calls after her, “Thanks.”
She winks and heads off to find Hyun-Sook. She finds the woman seated at a bench with a box filled with chicken skewers, pitas, salad, and hummus beside her. In her hand is a smaller box — she fingers the small clump of blue-violet blooms that graces its top. Hydrangea. Claire has seen boxes like this before. She sits on the bench beside her friend.
“It was here when I sat down,” Hyun-Sook explains, and then adds, “I got food for both of us.”
“Thank you,” Claire says, waiting for something more.
“Violet had the baby yesterday,” she says, and Claire nods.
“Rory and Wesley came up to tell me about it,” Claire says, smiling at the recollection of their excited faces and the way Beans had leapt at them, feeding off of that excitement.
“They will leave, soon.”
It is something Claire has wondered often: with another child, would the Gallaghers remain in their modest second floor apartment?
“Maybe,” Claire answers.
“The second floor will be much quieter without them,” Hyun-Sook says with regret, “But I suppose everything changes. Even at 53 Ganymede.”
Claire is silent. It’s a hard thing to imagine — saying goodbye in a place that she has come to equate with stability. A place as reliable as 53 Ganymede.
“I’ve seen many tenants come and go in ten years. Sometimes I feel like everything changes while I stay behind,” she continues, still gently caressing the tiny petals, “Nothing changes for me. I still see everything as it once was. A reality that hasn’t existed for a long time.”
Claire isn’t sure what she can offer against this. She wonders if Ginny once felt the same way, watching everything and everyone she loved moving toward a future without her.
“It’s a hydrangea, isn’t it?” Hyun-Sook asks suddenly.
“Yes,” Claire says, “Do you like them?”
She is surprised by the answer, recalling Nolbu’s tale about his wife.
“They are my favourite.”
“They remind me of my mother,” she answers after a moment’s thought, “And of Korea.”
“Were you born there?” Claire asks. Hyun-Sook nods.
“I came here with my mother and father when I was only six. My father died of an infection less than a year later, leaving my mother — who could speak almost no English — to fend for me,” she says, “Hydrangeas reminded her of the home we had left behind, in South Korea, and she planted them all over the garden. I didn’t understand then. I just saw a world I wanted to fit into, and an accent, a background, that made it that much harder. I was too little to appreciate the homeland I could barely remember, or the lonely plight of my mother, trying to build a new home for her daughter in a world often cruel and alienating.”
“For a long time I resented my mother’s attachment to a place, to a culture, that made me stand out. I was embarrassed by her broken English. Of the food she served when I finally brought home friends from school. Of the name she had given me that the teachers wouldn’t pronounce,” she shakes her head at the memory, “My mother sought solace by embracing her culture, I sought it in casting it off.”
“But that changed,” Claire points out, thinking of Hyun-Sook’s apartment, of her food, of her love for Korean storytelling.
“In university I met other women like me. Korean immigrants who made me feel accepted in a way I never had before. Suddenly my culture was a thing that connected me to others instead of ostracizing me. But I still hated those flowers. They were a sign of my guilt — my betrayal of my mom, and of myself,” she explains.
For a moment Claire thinks she is done, but then in almost a whisper she continues. Claire strains to hear her voice over the din of nearby crowds.
“In my later twenties I met a man, a colleague at the university. His family was from South Korea, like mine, but he was born here. While I had learned to be unassuming and reserved, he had developed charm and confidence. He was well-loved by his colleagues and students, and by me,” she says, and Claire pictures the dark-haired man with the crescent moon astride his brow, “He teased me about my love of our mutual heritage. He treated it not so differently than I once did: as quaint and slightly embarrassing. He also treated my career that way. And eventually everything about me. I felt silly, and stupid. Me, a poor immigrant girl who put herself through university and became a physicist. I even thought it was my fault when he hurt me.”
Her voice is steady as she says it, her eyes dry and trained on the flowers she can hardly see.
“If it wasn’t for another colleague, I’m not certain I would have been able to leave. She offered me a room at 53 Ganymede and I took it.”
“Art,” Claire says, and Hyun-Sook nods.
“It wasn’t perfect,” she admits, “I still had to work with him, after all. And we were, we are, still married. I went back many times. We spent decades together, and even now I can’t make it mean nothing. But accepting my heritage, unapologetically embracing that part of myself, became a means of survival. A source of strength and rebellion every time we had to collaborate. Every time enough had become enough.”
“And so hydrangeas…” Claire ventures, and Hyun-Sook finishes for her.
“Are a part of who I am. Mistakes included.”
“You know… I think that box is meant for you.”
Claire watches as Hyun-Sook hesitates and then unties the brown paper surrounding the parcel, lifting the lid of the white box underneath. She feels inside, lifting out something small and metal with her right hand.
“What is it?” Claire asks, unable to contain her curiosity.
Hyun-Sook runs her fingers over the object and bursts into unexpected laughter as if belatedly understanding the punch line of some joke. Nestled in her palm is a simple key-like object, completely symmetrical, its head shaped like something from a wind-up toy.
“What’s it for?” Claire asks, trying to remember where she’d seen something similar before.
“It’s a key,” Hyun-Sook answers, “for winding clocks.”
Yes. Claire recalls seeing them at Hatter’s Antiques. She wonders if that’s where this one came from, or if it has been on a longer journey.
“What’s so funny?”
Hyun-Sook still chuckles occasionally as she brings the key up level with her eyes.
She shakes her head and shrugs. “Nothing really. I suppose I’ve just realized how long I’ve been standing still. Complaining when everyone moves on without me. Looks like someone wants to tell me it’s time to catch up.”
She closes her hand around the key and tucks it into one of the pockets of her dress before grabbing the box of food.
“I think we’ve put off eating long enough,” Hyun-Sook declares and, though Claire’s mind is swimming with questions, her stomach drowns them out for the time being.
After eating, they walk through the remaining vendors. There are only a few left to examine as a gentle rainfall begins, forcing those most exposed to run for shelter. Claire notices a flicker of blue to her right, and is unsurprised to see a worn stone lantern hidden within the tall grass bordering the park area, dividing it from the steep ridge that overlooks the lake.
She approaches it, enthralled by the mysterious shadows it casts. A ray of sunlight breaks through the cloud cover and the flame vanishes, recalling Claire to her senses. She turns around in time to see Hyun-Sook leaning down to pay a vendor seated on the damp grass.
Claire touches her arm gently to let her know she has caught up and Hyun-Sook holds out a small glittering object. The chain of the necklace is so fine that Claire imagines it is made of individual grains of pale, golden sand. The pendant is also delicate, a tiny dome of shining blue crystal encircled with gold. On closer inspection Claire can see that there is something beneath the crystal: letters and arrows — a miniature working compass. The arrows bounce back and forth as it swings, suspended from Hyun-Sook’s hand.
“It is yours.”
“It’s beautiful,” is all Claire can think to say, but the words fall short in expressing her gratitude.
“It suits you,” she says with a shrug and an enigmatic smile.
“Thank you,” Claire says as she fumbles with the clasp behind her neck. She looks down at it once more and tucks it beneath her t-shirt. “How did you manage to find something like…”
She lifts her head to see Hyun-Sook far ahead, already on the way back to 53 Ganymede. Claire sighs and hurries to catch up once more.
Photo by Jason Olliff on Unsplash