The train lurches away from the platform and Claire can feel its growing distance tug at her chest. She remains on the platform, staring after it, even after its serpentine form diminishes along the track and is finally devoured by the busy urban horizon. She misses her Granny already — she always misses her, but today the absence aches like a bad tooth and she finds herself wishing she had hugged her just a moment longer before they had said goodbye. Claire shivers, the warmth of that final embrace stolen by the frigid midwinter air. Still she stands and waits, watching other trains arrive and depart, other passengers hugging their loved ones in reunion and in farewell. Claire wonders how many will never see each other again, and she waits for a sense of closure as the cold settles deeper into her bones and the bright afternoon sun assaults her already stinging eyes.
The sun, fierce for such a cold day, offends Claire; it mocks her dark clothing and the black emptiness spreading from her chest to the tips of her fingers. For once, Claire longs for Newport clouds and the seemingly ever-present rain that often accompanies them. Why does the city have to fail her today of all days? Claire sighs and retreats to the heavy shadows of the old station building and the subway platforms below.
Though she’s painfully aware of the glassy redness of her eyes, Claire is grateful for the anonymous bustle of the subway. Here she doesn’t have to think about where she is going next, doesn’t have to find the will to move forward — instead she surrenders herself to the jostling wave of bodies that push and pull her into the nearest subway car and then falls into the first empty seat she finds. And yet, as she watches the lights flicker to life on the map above the car door, each one closer to her own stop, she feels a tension grow within her, a building paralysis and fear that she knows she will have to overcome.
But not now. Not yet.
A woman’s voice announces her station over the intercom but Claire remains seated. Her shoulders ache as their muscles clench, but then the doors close and the station quickly vanishes behind her. She exhales a breath she hadn’t realized she had been holding, and her shoulders droop in a relief she hadn’t known she’d needed. Two stations later she slips through the doors onto an unfamiliar platform and lets the crowd carry her to an underground station and beyond that a lively strip of underground shops and restaurants. Festive lights still adorn many of the shop fronts competing for attention with the bold post-holiday SALE signs and, though she doesn’t feel particularly inclined to shop, Claire drifts through many of the stores, wrapping the novelty of the unfamiliar surroundings around her like a warm blanket. Here, in this moment, she can hold the present at arm’s length. Here she can forget about the farewells she’s just made and the ones that still await her.
Until she goes home.
She places a book she had been perusing back onto the shelf, unable to recall the title even after re-reading it several times. Unwanted thoughts are stubbornly slipping past her defenses, and so she looks for other distractions.
Food usually makes her feel better, so she follows the directions indicated on the black and white signs depicting a fork and knife. It’s an odd time of day — too late for lunch and early for dinner — so most of the seats in the food court are empty. The few people sitting within the square perimeter of fast food stalls wear business clothes and sip at tall coffees or pick idly at a donut or muffin while they fiddle with their phones. Some of the office buildings she can see from her bedroom windows must be above these tunnels, Claire realizes. She chews her lip at the thought of 53 Ganymede and tries to distract herself by inspecting the glowing menus behind the stalls. Hamburgers, donuts, sushi, gyros… nothing appeals to her. After walking the perimeter twice, she sighs and continues on down the strip of shops, glancing from time to time through the windows before moving on.
She follows the underground maze through building after building — banks, movie theatres, four-storey malls — but nothing holds her attention for long. The tension that had dissipated is returning, reminding her that she can’t ignore the truth forever.
Things have changed, a voice whispers within her, they always do.
She shakes her head and takes an escalator to the ground floor where she discovers another subway station. The sky is still clear and somehow bright despite the sun setting somewhere behind the buildings. Any other day Claire would think of it as a beautiful evening, but tonight that thought only emphasizes how impossible it is to enjoy it. Claire picks a direction at random and begins walking, hoping she will get lost and further delay her arrival home. Within a few blocks she realizes that the buildings around her are familiar; she has accidentally wandered nearly all the way back to Ganymede Avenue.
She turns onto a side street, telling herself that maybe exploring will bring her closure. Maybe ignoring reality for a little longer will ease the pain that still gnaws at her throat.
For the second time, she hears the chimes only after she passes the house. Claire pauses, turning in the waning sunlight toward the musical cacophony to find the house exactly as she remembers it: short and shabby, its uneven veranda adorned with several wind chimes, many constructed out of everyday items. The door — almost the colour of blood — is shut tight this time, and though Claire mounts the creaking wooden steps to inspect it, she lacks the confidence to open it. Instead, she knocks, timidly at first and then louder when no one answers.
Claire examines the half moon of stained glass at the top of the door while she waits, standing on the tips of her toes to admire the firey oranges and yellows that depict the rays of the sun as it sets over a blue-green sea. Or perhaps it could be rising, she supposes, but in the growing winter darkness she struggles to imagine the latter.
Minutes pass and Claire concedes to the fact that no one is home. Her shoulders droop and she drags her feet through the shallow layer of snow that has blown onto the veranda.
This is it, she thinks, this is how the day ends. With sadness and loss and goodbyes. With nothing the same and everything falling apart. I’m not ready. I’m still not ready to go home.
For a moment, the word lingers in her mind — home. For a while, Claire had thought that meant a place where you were safe. A place that brought happiness and maybe love. A place that didn’t change.
But a place like that doesn’t exist.
Claire turns defiantly back toward the house and approaches to knock once more. She raises her hand and hesitates, desperate not to be disappointed again. She exhales with a violent burst of white steam and drops her hand silently to her side. Unwilling to go home and with no direction, she remains frozen, her mind racing over everything she wants to forget. Before her thoughts can overwhelm her, she latches onto a sudden curiosity and walks to the far side of the veranda where it curves through a narrow gap around the side of the house and on to the back. More chimes hang from the side awning, dancing gently in what little wind reaches between the houses. Claire’s heart races with an uncomfortable mingle of curiosity and apprehension, but this is better than the confused emptiness it replaces and so she takes a step forward.
There is a sudden crunch of snow behind Claire followed by an exasperated voice:
Claire tenses, turning slowly to find Rose watching her from the bottom of the stairs, her arms laden with paper grocery bags. Though her face is wrapped in a black wool scarf, Claire can read her disapproval in her tone.
“I’m sorry –” Claire offers quickly, hurrying over to the stairs to offer a hand. Her face is hot with embarrassment as she grasps for a reasonable explanation, “I was just — you didn’t answer and –“
Rose shuffles up the stairs beside Claire then produces a set of keys from deep in her pocket which she uses to unlock the door. Before opening it, she inspects Claire from head to toe, taking in her long black dress coat and dress slacks along with the puffy skin beneath her bloodshot eyes.
“Been a rough day, hasn’t it?” She says with a resigned sigh. Thrusting the heavy wooden door open she adds, “Better come in.”
Rose sheds her scarf and coat, hanging them on a hook by the door, and kicks off her dripping boots before hefting all of the bags back into her arms and carting them into the kitchen. Claire removes her own coat and boots before hurrying after her.
“I can help with that,” Claire offers, but the old woman waves her off.
“Go make us a tea,” she tells her instead, indicating the electric kettle on the counter near the stove, “Mugs are in the cupboard up there. Tea in the one next to it.”
Claire fills the kettle at the sink and sets it to boil while Rose unpacks the groceries. From the corner of her eye, Claire watches the bags, anticipating the unexpected — she’s disappointed to see nothing more than a loaf of bread, produce, more tea, deli meat, and a box of Cap’n Crunch.
“What do you take in your tea?” Claire asks, pouring the boiling water into two plain purple mugs.
“Nothing,” Rose says, pushing past Claire to put a new box of Orange Pekoe in the cupboard next to her, “There’s milk in the fridge and sugar on the counter there if you need it. Spoons in the drawer there.”
Claire follows the woman’s bony finger to the indicated drawer and takes her own tea with milk and a generous spoonful of sugar. She brings the steaming mugs to the small kitchen table where Rose is now sitting, her back leaning against the wall as she watches Claire.
“So, who’s funeral?” She indicates Claire’s dark attire.
“My neighbour,” Claire says, watching the steam rise over her tea so she doesn’t have to meet the other woman’s eyes, “His name was Frank.”
“Ah. Marcus talks about him sometimes,” Rose says, “What happened?”
“Aneurysm,” Claire mutters to her tea, “A blood clot in his leg dislodged. One second he was with us and then…”
Rose shakes her head and the kitchen falls into a silence only broken by the ticking of a clock somewhere in the other room. Suddenly Rose leans over, forcing her gaze onto Claire’s own. Her voice is surprisingly sympathetic when she asks: “He had a granddaughter?”
Claire nods, recalling Lucy’s red-rimmed eyes, her skin so pale against her black dress. Claire thinks of her now, alone in an apartment that used to hold a family. An apartment that will soon lay empty along with the one beneath it.
“What will she do?”
“I’m not sure,” Claire says, “She has some distant family who offered her a room until she can get by on her own. She has a job but she’ll have to find a smaller apartment…”
“The prices in this city are not kind.” Rose snorts.
“No,” Claire says, “No they’re not.”
“You miss him,” Rose says, and Claire nods again, biting her lip against the tears that she can no longer hold back. “And you’ll miss her when she leaves.”
Rose takes a sip from her tea, and Claire is grateful for the momentary relief from her gaze.
“Why are you here?” She asks sharply, resuming her piercing inspection of Claire’s face.
“I don’t know,” Claire says, “I’m sorry if –“
Again the old woman waves her off. “I never said you weren’t welcome. I just thought a young girl like you probably had better companions than this old bird. You just said goodbye to a friend — your friend’s grandfather — why are you here?”
“I don’t know,” Claire says again.
This time Claire sips her own tea to escape Rose’s scrutiny, her eyes blurring with tears of frustration and loss.
“You’re scared,” Rose accuses.
Claire doesn’t answer, but contemplates the cloudy amber liquid in her mug.
“You haven’t accepted it,” Rose tells her, “That things will never be the same.”
Claire’s eyes close tightly against the tears, but she cannot block out Rose’s words.
“You can’t escape change, Claire. Even 53 Ganymede changes.”
“It’s selfish isn’t it?” Claire asks once the stinging in her throat subsides, “Frank is dead and all I can think about is myself. How things will never be the same for me. Lucy has lost her entire family and I’m the one too afraid to go home because then it’ll be real and I’ll have to accept it. I’ll have to accept…”
Claire sobs and stares down at the table in shame. She raises her head in surprise when she feels a hand cover her own — it feels light, like the hollow bones of bird, but rough like weathered bark. And warm. Claire thinks this might be the first real warmth she has felt since her Granny left on the afternoon train.
“53 Ganymede has always been a halfway house,” Rose explains, and though her voice is a touch too stern to be considered gentle, it is soothing nonetheless, “It’s a place of healing, not of hiding. People move. Sometimes they die. It’s a waystation, not a destination.”
“It’s my home,” Claire pleads, and though she knows her desperation is misplaced — Rose has no say in the comings and goings of 53 Ganymede — she still feels it acutely.
“53 Ganymede is many things,” Rose says, pulling her hand away to sip her tea. She eyes Claire over the rim of her mug, “A vantage point. A place of shelter. A community — and that’s a powerful thing, but a home is something more complicated.”
“Home is the people you love,” Claire argues, feeling the ache of many distances simultaneously — her Granny in Benton, her parents in whatever country they travelled these days, her friends at Ganymede, her sister and Frank… wherever they were, “A place where you feel welcome. Safe.”
“Maybe that’s part of it,” Rose says, but she raises a wrinkled brow and pinches her narrow lips, looking entirely unconvinced, “But people die, Claire. Walls fall down. Things push us out, or pull us on to something new.”
“But…” Claire stutters, trying to cling to the sense of peace that she has built since moving into 53 Ganymede. Where did that peace originate if not from the people and places surrounding her? How could people like Frank and Ginny still a part of that peace if they were no longer a part of her home? “Memories,” she blurts out, “A home has memories.”
“No,” Rose says, “A place evokes memories, but it doesn’t contain them. Think girl, you look for peace and stability everywhere except the only place you’ll ever find them.”
When Claire doesn’t answer, Rose laughs and then sighs loudly. She tilts her head and softens her expression a little before continuing.
“You’re all so afraid of change. It’s why you fear death — your own and others. It’s why some of you try to control every detail. Why some cling so fast to the people around them. Even the ones that hurt them. And then others shun those same connections — why build anything at all when it’s destined to fall apart, right?”
“Change is uncomfortable,” Rose concedes, “Sometimes it hurts like hell. I mean how many of us enjoyed puberty? Or child birth? Menopause? Getting old.” She laughs.
“Some changes are good,” Claire points out, thinking about her move to Newport before wincing at the realization that Ginny’s death is also responsible for her recent freedoms.
“No. There’s only the changes we choose and the ones we don’t. Change is a passage. Sometimes we like what’s on the other side better than what came before. Sometimes we don’t. It doesn’t matter — we work with what we’re given. If you start thinking of change as having an alignment you’ll become obsessed with trying to skew the odds in your favour — controlling every decision and possibility until your life is nothing more than a list of costs and gains. Losing someone hurts like hell — go on, admit it. Of course we don’t want people to die. We don’t want to leave the things we love. But it happens. There is only one thing that we have from the moment we’re born until the moment this life ends.”
“What?” Claire asks, too tired to even hazard a guess.
“Ourselves!” Rose shakes her head but still reaches her hand forward to grip Claire’s once more, “It’s in you, Claire. The memories, your home, the strength to pick up the pieces that fall apart and create something new. If you can’t find solace in yourself, then the possibility of loss will always haunt you. If you run from change, you’ll never be able to evoke it… and that’s a sad thing, Claire.”
“But what if I’m just not strong enough? What if I can’t do it alone?”
“Then don’t!” Rose tells her, the thin line of her mouth arcing into a sharp smile, “I didn’t say you have to be alone, I said that you shouldn’t fear being so. That you should find strength in your own existence even when everything else is crumbling away from you. Sometimes that means the strength to ask for help. The self-awareness to admit your needs. Know yourself, Claire. Own your decisions and the changes that come with them. You’re so close, girl, and I know it hurts. You feel everyone else’s needs so keenly, but that’s not all there is. Don’t wait for someone else to give you purpose, Claire.”
“I’m not!” Claire argues, her mind racing over the past two years, how much stronger she’s grown. Moving to Newport had been the first decision she could really stake claim to, and since then she has worked hard to prioritize her own wants, her own happiness, but… now what? When Claire imagines the future, it remains the same — 53 Ganymede, the Chateau, meeting Lucy at the bakery, borrowing movies with Marcus, listening to Declan’s footsteps above her — and yet she knows this is impossible. 53 Ganymede is already changing, people sliding in and out of her life, and as much as she has tried to ignore it, her time at Chateau De Verre is quickly dwindling as Melanie’s maternity leave ends. Who knows if Lucy will stay on with the bakery, whether Marcus will wander away, and Declan… can she really expect him to stay in the attic forever?
“I hated the idea of asking Alice for help,” Rose says suddenly, breaking Claire’s frantic train of thought. “I had worked so hard to be able to do what I do. I ignored the pain in my knees for so long. The ache in my chest. But then I realized that I had a choice — I could continue to ignore the fact that my life was changing… wait for this body to give out, or I could acknowledge it, have a good cry, and find someone to help me. Change was coming whether I liked it or not, and afterwards my life would go on. I decided to be proactive. I got to take my time and pick the right person for the job and I’ve found a compromise that means I don’t have to give up everything I love about it. I miss doing what she does and that’s… uncomfortable. But that just means I had something in my life that was meaningful, which isn’t such a bad thing, is it?”
Claire shakes her head and wipes her tears onto her sleeve. “I can’t stay at 53 Ganymede forever, can I?”
“Is that what you want?”
“I… I don’t know.” Claire recalls her conversation with Lucy not so long ago: she had seemed so confident in her indecision and Claire had encouraged her without admitting her own insecurities. Lucy had that effect on Claire — she teased out the things Claire was unwilling to admit to herself. “I think — I think I want to help someone.”
Rose raises her eyebrow and opens her mouth to protest.
“I mean,” Claire continues, “I want to make a change that might help the both of us.”
Rose closes her mouth and eyes Claire skeptically.
“I… I should go,” Claire adds, noticing the darkness that has crept into the surrounding rooms. The hour must be getting late. “Thank you. For everything.”
Claire stands and turns to leave, but Rose’s chair screeches as she rises quickly to her feet. “Hold on, I’ve got something for you.”
While Claire ties her boots and wraps her coat around herself, Rose digs through the boxes in her living room, tying one quickly and tucking something into the brown twine bow. She shoves the small brown parcel into Claire’s hands.
“For that girl. The granddaughter.”
Claire nods, noting the twisted black pod of the vanilla bean on top and wondering what is inside.
“I’ll give it to her,” Claire says, opening the door onto the clear, cold night.
“You’re welcome back here, you know,” Rose says as Claire steps onto the veranda, “for tea.”
“Thank you.” Claire’s eyes feel stiff when she smiles, as if they’re out of practice.
“But stay out of my backyard,” Rose adds, closing the door swiftly behind Claire.
Claire turns back to the crimson wood in surprise before smiling again, this time with less difficulty. She shakes her head and begins walking toward the place she has decided to call home, at least for a little while longer.
Welcome back to 53 Ganymede! I’m sorry to open the season on such a grim note but, as you may have gleaned, this season is one of movement and change. I want Ganymede to continue to be a story of peace and healing, but sometimes that means addressing difficult topics head-on and moving forward. I hope you enjoyed the episode, and feel free to leave a comment or use the Contact section to let me know what you thought! While you’re at it, don’t forget to pop over to Web Fiction Guide and leave a review — I’d love to hear your feedback and it helps other people find the series!
Thanks again for reading and I’ll be back next month with a new episode!