Episode 9 – Knock Knock

Steam billows from the bathroom, rolling out through a tiny window to mingle with the cool night air. Inside sits a deep porcelain tub filled nearly to the brim with foamy, lavender-scented water. Claire rolls her neck luxuriously, letting her aching shoulders drop further into the hot water, and releases a sigh of relief.

Between Chateau De Verre and her retail greenhouse job, Claire has been on her feet almost every day from morning until night for the past two weeks. This is a rare moment of rest for her, and her aching muscles are grateful for it. She stretches out her stiff legs, crossing her ankles at the edge of the tub.

Still, she thinks, I should be thankful. Work will slow down once autumn arrives. That’s the problem with garden jobs…

Distant footsteps interrupt her thoughts, echoing from somewhere above the adjacent room. Claire tilts her head to stare at the ceiling as she listens to the familiar rhythm.

He sure is restless this evening.

She closes her eyes, determined to focus on the soothing heat and aroma of her bath. Several minutes later her private tranquility is once again interrupted, but by a different noise.

Someone is knocking. It is a gentle knock — enough so that it could be easily ignored or dismissed as accidental — but it comes from above and so Claire listens intently. There is a distinct pattern to the knocking made up of quick light taps and harder raps, but it is muffled here by the steam and the wall between the bathroom and the tower. Keeping her eyes closed, she strains her ears for several minutes trying to discern the sequence of taps and raps.

She imagines, with a touch of whimsy, that it might be Morse code. The only Morse code Claire knows was taught to her by her father — one of her few memories of him after Ginny’s birth — and it consists of only two different letters. So all Claire can determine is that the tapping is definitely not an S.O.S.

Just when Claire thinks she is making some sense out of the knocking, it stops. There is silence — no knocking, no footsteps, just the last song of a distant bird settling in for the evening.

Claire opens her eyes and drains the tub. Wrapping a towel around herself, she walks to her tower bedroom where Beans leaps from the bed, tail wagging. He licks her leg, still wet from the bath, and Claire pats his head before looking up to the ceiling.

Still silent.

She dresses and combs through her hair, occasionally tossing a little ball into the kitchen to distract Beans from his desperate pursuit to steal her comb. Finally, she shoves aside the heavy curtains covering each window and watches the last echoes of sunlight fade behind the towering steel pinnacles at the heart of the city.

She wonders at what exact time the attic door opens downstairs. Or maybe it varies with the daylight or the weather, not unlike those mysterious lanterns they’ve been chasing for… has it been a year now?

She tosses the little orange ball one last time and steps up onto a chair while Beans skitters after it. She knocks on the ceiling three times; it isn’t a code or pattern, just a question. Maybe an invitation.

Claire holds her breath. Nothing. She takes a step down.

Two gentle knocks.

She fights the grin already consuming her face and steps back onto the chair. Beans jumps and puts his front paws between her feet, tail wagging as frantically as ever, curious about this strange new game. Claire knocks again and this time the response follows quickly.

Beans bounds away and, for the first time ever, begins yipping frantically at the ceiling.

“Shhh, Beans,” Claire says with a laugh, “Come on, boy.”

His attention snaps from the ceiling to Claire as he recognizes her “let’s go outside” voice. Claire scoops him into her arms and heads downstairs.

Frank and Art are having tea together in the breakfast nook when Claire passes, their heads bent in furtive conversation. Claire waves at them before taking the stairs down to the basement.

The door awaits, built into an outside wall where no room should exist beyond it. Claire knocks three times and holds her breath again. The lock rattles and the door opens to reveal Declan looking thinner and more phantom-like than when they last met. Concern tinges Claire’s pleasure at seeing him.

Beans wriggles in her arms and leans forward, trying to sniff this unfamiliar human, alerting Claire to the silence still unbroken between them.

“I was just about to take Beans out in the yard — would you like to join me?”

“It’s beautiful out tonight,” she adds out of a mounting nervousness that he might say no.

“Sure.” He ducks back inside just long enough to tug on a pair of well-worn running shoes before reemerging.

They say nothing to each other as they climb the stairs into the dim light of the kitchen. Art and Frank are already gone; no one notices them as they pass through the covered veranda and out into the moonlit garden.

Beans scampers free of Claire’s grasp, chasing some invisible pursuit out into the dewy grass. Claire and Declan follow but at a much more relaxed pace.

“You know,” Claire tells Declan, “The night I found Beans was the first night I met you.”

“Really?” He asks, looking up to search the sky as though his memories could be found amongst the cold pinpricks of starlight. Claire realizes that she’s always thought of him as being star-like: distant, with a silver shine, particularly at night. She also realizes that one word she could use for this is beautiful.

“Ginger locked me out and it was raining. You let me in,” she reminds him.

Declan looks down at her, startled. “You mean that’s the same dog?” He points to the lightning streak of fur that flashes through the vegetable garden to their right.

Claire recalls the muddy, bedraggled pup that had felt so tiny in her arms. “That’s him. He’s grown a bit, and he’s much cleaner now. Not that it’s easy keeping him that way…”

A polite chuckle and Declan’s eyes drift skyward again. This time Claire decides to follow his gaze. A shiver passes through her although it is not quite cool enough for the goosebumps suddenly spreading over her skin.

Did the sky always look this way? The sun has only just set, so it isn’t the black sky of deep night — there is still an echo of light that paints the sky in gradients of indigo and blue. Heavy clouds roam over their heads, swallowing the desperate twinkling of most of the earliest stars. But the moon is too large tonight for them to conceal, looming low on the horizon; the clouds skim its surface, nothing more than fleeting bruises momentarily marring its pale, radiant surface before passing.

Claire is hypnotized by this intricate dance of colour and shadow. Without looking down she asks, “Why were you knocking on my ceiling?”

“I don’t know,” he tells her, and when Claire looks she finds him watching her face. “It’s been a while. I guess.”

Claire nods. “It’s a busy time of year for greenhouses, so I’ve been working. A lot. But I’ve been worried about you.”

She opens her mouth to explain her concern, but she can see that he already understands in the guilty drooping of his chin and the sadness in his eyes.

“I was upset, at first. It felt like we were finally making progress and then…” He throws his hands into the air in exasperation.

“Another dead end,” Claire finishes for him. Though it may not hold as much meaning for her, Claire had also been frustrated to find the maze-like garden gone with no answers left behind.

“Yeah.”

Beans saunters over, tongue lolling in tired pleasure. Declan crouches down to him, offering a hand to sniff before scratching behind one pointed ear.

“I didn’t mean to worry you,” he continues, “I’ve been busy too. Working a couple jobs. To cover rent.”

“You pay Sara rent now?”

“I try to. I mean… she said I didn’t have to, but…” Even in the moonlight Claire can see that his face is tinted red. He turns it away, behind Beans’ furry neck. “I just feel like I owe it to her. She could have kicked me out… could have, I dunno… reported me to the police.”

Claire forces herself not to laugh, chewing her lip and imagining that conversation.

“And… I mean… I was homeless, Claire,” he forces the words out as he stands and meets her eyes, face still glowing with warmth, “Paying her rent makes it seem like maybe, maybe I actually have a home.”

Claire reminds herself to breathe, overwhelmed by the stormy intensity in his eyes.

“The thing is, she keeps forgetting about me.”

“What?” Claire says, a strange concern niggling at her stomach. “I guess Sara can be kind of… eccentric…”

“Whenever I see her she can’t remember my name and it’s like… like she has to squint to see me. As if I’m standing really far away.”

“Okay, that’s weird. Even for Sara, I mean,” Claire says, certain that if there was one thing Sara would never forget, it would be a tenant of 53 Ganymede.

Declan nods, “Yeah. I thought so. And the other woman she’s usually with?”

“Art. Her wife,” Claire tells him.

“Art, yes. I feel like… like she can’t even see me. It’s as if… my presence just washes over her. I must sound crazy.”

This time Claire did laugh. “Really, Declan? After everything?”

He returns her laugh, a rumble in his chest like brief thunder. Claire wishes he would laugh more.

“Okay, so maybe I’m not crazy. But it’s still odd, isn’t it?”

Claire thinks, trying to recall everything she knows about Sara and Art, but comes up empty-handed. Other than Declan, she can’t recollect a single instance of odd forgetfulness. Even Sara’s eccentric absent-mindedness usually holds purpose; if anything she always seems to know more than she should.

Except once.

“Your room,” Claire says, gnawing at her lip with the frustration of a half-formed idea, “The attic. Whenever I used to ask about it, she would get this confused look. She told me she forgot where she put it.”

“But I’ve run into her at the bookstore tons of times. The door opens in her basement, how could she forget?” Declan shakes his head, running a hand through his shaggy, near-colourless hair.

“Art told me that the doors disappeared for them after she moved out of the attic to live with Sara.”

“She used to live there?” Declan asks in surprise.

“Long story,” Claire says, caught up in the overwhelming current of her thoughts. Why had the doors disappeared for Art and Sara? Why had they opened for Declan years later? What was the connection?

“Well, Sara’s been in there recently. She came in and… well she added on a bathroom.” His brow furrows, and Claire again smiles at his deep-seated skepticism, “And yet every time I see her it’s like I have to remind her who I am. Like as soon as I’m out of sight, her memories of me… I don’t know… just slip through the cracks.”

“How did she manage to give you a bathroom?” Claire asks, distracted by the unlikely prospect and turning to inspect the small conical roof above her own apartment.

“Do you want to see? Wait –” he adds, “is that weird?”

“Absolutely,” Claire says, answering both questions at once.

Inside Declan’s room Beans explores, sniffing every possible item with canine curiosity. Claire’s own curiosity is hardly less overwhelming, but she limits herself to a handful of longing glances toward the desk. Last time she’d seen it, it had been fairly tidy with a couple of closed notebooks and sketch books. Today it is a haphazard mess of paints, brushes, and loose sketches.

In the scattered light of the hanging pendant lamp she can’t make out the details of the paintings, so her attention is quickly lost to the door on the opposite wall. It is almost indistinguishable from the one she has just entered from.

That wasn’t here before,” she says, pointing, “Where does it go?”

“To the bathroom,” Declan says, shrugging.

Claire takes a few steps closer. She doesn’t say the obvious: that there is absolutely no way there is anywhere for that door to open except maybe into the open air above 53 Ganymede.

She grasps the handle, but pauses when Declan clears his throat.

“Uh, you might not want to do that. It leads to the men’s washroom.”

Claire cocks her eyebrow, “If you don’t feel comfortable with me going…”

“No, no,” Declan says, grinning, “by all means. You’ll see.”

Claire opens the door with a click and steps through. She has to feel for a moment to find the light switch, but then cold fluorescent light reveals clinical white tile and a row of three grey stalls butted up against three porcelain sinks. Three urinals line the opposite wall.

“Oh,” Claire says, “The men’s room.”

“I warned you. You’re lucky no one is here,” Declan says, stepping out behind her.

“Where is here?” Claire asks, spotting the outer door beside the urinals.

“I have no idea.”

“You’ve never tried to go outside?” Claire asks, already heading toward the other door.

“No. I only come here in the day. At night Sara said I can use the basement washroom and the shower,” he says, “What if it’s somewhere I’m not allowed to be, or I set off an alarm or something?”

“You’ve never even peeked?” Claire presses.

“You clearly don’t have my luck,” he says, not protesting as Claire grabs the handle and pulls. She peeks her head out and looks around, then disappears through the open door. Declan hurries to follow her.

The room outside is only dimly lit by emergency exit signs and the bit of moonlight filtering through the outer glass doors. Still, Claire can describe it in perfect detail: the walls are lined with benches, there are two outer doors across from one another, one with a phone hanging on the wall beside it. On the opposite wall is an identical washroom but with a symbol for women.

“I don’t know where this is,” Declan whispers, slouching as he glances around, as if it will somehow hide him from watchful eyes or security cameras.

“I do,” Claire also whispers, “I work here.”

Declan straightens in surprise. “You mean the place you brought me when you found the gate and the weird labyrinth with the big lantern?”

“Yeah,” Claire says, frowning in confusion, “Why would Sara give you a door that led here?”

“You think there’s a reason?”

“There usually is,” Claire says, though she wonders if Sara is always aware of those reasons.

The silence and darkness only emphasize the answers they don’t have and so they return to Declan’s room without another word. Beans is sleeping in Declan’s bed and Declan gestures for Claire to sit in the computer chair in front of his desk. He pushes aside a couple of books and sits up on the desk beside her.

“You paint?” Claire asks, somewhat out of curiosity but mostly out of a desire to escape the disconcerting feeling that they are lost in a maze whose exit is staring them in the face.

“Huh?” Declan asks, clearly also feeling the pressure of yet more unanswered questions. He looks down at his desk and shrugs, “Yeah, I guess. I used to draw and paint a lot… But then I stopped when my mom died.”

“What made you start again?” Claire asks, squinting at the papers in front of her.

“Having running water helps,” he answers drily.

An open sketchbook rests next to Claire’s elbow, the pages filled with mostly pencil sketches, although a few have been traced with bold ink lines. The sketches are stunningly lifelike, but subtly fantastical.

On the first page a rosy-breasted robin — each pinion drawn with painstaking detail– plucks worms from what looks to be the remains of a human skull. Beneath that, the inky black head of a raven, so detailed that its eyes are deceptively real, reflecting a human- like figure standing before it.

The next page is filled with a handful of every day locations, each not quite right. A conspicuous strip mall set back in an ancient wood. A street light casting a shadow, though no one stands beneath it.

One scene in particular catches Claire’s attention: a fountain surrounded by people. It looks like they are throwing food, feeding the school of fish within, but when Claire leans closer she can see that it is not food but coins which the people throw.

She turns back to Declan, about to inquire about this particular sketch when her eye happens to fall on one of the paintings propped against the desk.

Unlike the others this one isn’t particularly strange or surreal, just a woman standing in a field. But something about the way she stands, the shape of her face…

“Who is that?” Claire asks, indicating the painting.

Declan reaches past her and switches on a desk lamp, illuminating the breathtaking piece.

A woman painted with watercolours, standing in a field of weeds. No — Claire realizes — a field of rosemary. Some of the plants reach up to her hands, tucked away in the pockets of her torn blue jeans. The sky is all clouds; they race — somehow Claire can tell this from the still image — blown by a storm threatening to break.

The colours are all washed out — smoke grey sky, faded jeans and brown cardigan, the muted green of the herbs — except the woman’s hair. It is brilliantly, almost violently red as it wrestles with the wind. Her face is — not stern or determined Claire thinks, but undaunted. Her green eyes are trained forward, the hint of a defiant smile playing across her freckle-lined lips.

Claire knows this woman, though she’s never seen her in such vibrant clarity.

“That’s my mom,” Declan says, his voice fading like the autumn sky.

“That’s her, Declan.” Claire says, distantly aware that her eyes feel damp, “The woman who showed me the gate.”

Declan’s grey eyes ignite with an energy and desperation that Claire recognizes from the painting of his mother. “You saw my mom?”

Claire nods, looking back to the painting. Again they let the questions swirl around them, unanswered, creating a building pressure not unlike an oncoming storm.

Claire plucks one at random. “Why rosemary?”

“That was her name,” he says, his voice more strained than before.

Claire is on her feet and heading to the door. Beans looks up from the bed and scurries to follow.

“Wait here. I’ll be right back,” she tells Declan without turning to see his stunned reaction. Scooping Beans up into her arms, she hurries up three flights of stairs to her apartment. She has to take several deliberate breaths before her hands stop shaking enough to unlock the door.

When she sets Beans down on the floor he runs in frantic circles, excited by her sudden energy. Claire ignores him, retrieving what she needs from the bookshelf by her bed before rushing  back to the door. Beans is already distracted by the orange ball still sitting on the kitchen floor and so Claire leaves him, hurrying back downstairs. She hardly even notices Ginger’s meow as she passes her in the stairwell.

When she jumps off the basement stairs, skipping the last two steps, Declan is already there waiting for her.

“What’s going on?” He asks, as bewildered as she is excited.

“Answers,” she tells him, ushering him back inside.

She makes him sit in the chair before handing him the items: a worn silver coin and a small egg riddled with cracks.

“I think,” she begins, but then shakes her head. “No, these are definitely yours. I know they are.”

“What are they? How do you know?” He sets both things on the table, looking to Claire for the answers.

“Packages. Gifts. Found things. I don’t know. But they came with rosemary and no one knew who they were for and I think they’ve been waiting to get to you for a long time.” Claire forces herself to take a breath, to slow her racing thoughts. “What matters is that they’re meant for you.”

“But what are they?” He asks again, picking up the egg to examine it between his long fingers.

“Put that under your pillow tonight, when you go to sleep,” Claire explains, and to his usual grimace of skepticism she answers, “You’ll see.”

“And this?” He asks, lifting the coin.

“I think this is why Sara gave you a bathroom,” Claire answers, grabbing the sleeve of his t-shirt and dragging him to his feet. “Come with me.”

Claire leads Declan through the winding gardens and to the darkened glass building of Le Chateau De Verre. She takes him around, away from the front entrance to the rear building, opening the door with her key and security code, hoping Veena doesn’t check the security footage. She uses one of the computers to turn on only the lights they’ll need and then continues to lead Declan onward.

Any other day she would be proud of the way he glances around in awe of the carefully cultivated gardens, but today she can think only of their destination. When they reach the Wishing Fountain, Claire points at the shining basin.

“Make a wish,” she tells him.

“Seriously?” He asks.

Claire places her hands on her hips and stares. Really?

“Okay, okay,” he says, looking down at the water and the at the coin in his palm. He stands that way for several minutes, and Claire knows it is important not to rush this moment. Finally he inhales deeply and tosses the coin into the water with a splash.

There is a dart of silver scales and the coin is gone.

“Was that a fish?”

Claire doesn’t answer. Her heart races in her chest as she watches the fountain and waits.

Nothing happens.

“Now what?” Declan asks.

“I don’t know,” Claire admits. “What did you wish for?”

“I thought I was supposed to keep that a secret,” Declan says, and Claire can’t tell if he’s serious or teasing her.

“I guess,” Claire answers, looking wistfully at the fountain.

“I promise I’ll tell you if it comes true,” he says, smiling at her.

She nods, reluctantly leading the way back to the men’s room, shutting out lights along the way.

As they walk Claire notices Declan glancing around him, squinting at every moonbeam reflecting off of a glass surface or dew-slick path.

“I’m sorry,” Claire tells him, “that you didn’t get to see her.”

Declan shakes his head.

“No,” he says, “Thank you. For finding me.”

When Claire stands outside his basement door, she can think of nothing to say except, “I guess we wait now. Again.”

“Yeah,” Declan says, “I guess.”

Claire turns to leave, to return to her own apartment only a couple of floorboards beneath his.

“Claire,” he says, suddenly, “You can always wait with me. Sometimes. You just have to knock.”

Claire smiles, noting again the similarities between Declan’s face and the woman in the picture’s. She nods, and as she walks up the stairs her heart beats with the knowledge that every step is bringing her closer to him again.

<— Back to Episode 8

Continue to Episode 10 —>

All 53 Ganymede

Photo by Ganapathy Kumar on Unsplash

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