A young woman walks the Newport streets, fumbling over the nearly invisible swaths of ice that cover the deserted sidewalks. She lifts the collar of her canvas jacket against the fine winter rain and silently curses whoever has stolen her hat; tiny droplets cling to her dark hair, the cruel wind transforming them into icy crystals that clump and pull at her scalp.
The diffuse whiteness of the early afternoon is just bright enough that she can make out her reflection in a shop window as she passes. For a moment she is struck by her own image — her crystalline hair shimmering in the faint light, the wind lending it a life of its own. As it dances about her broad shoulders she imagines herself an ice queen, a beautiful and powerful force of nature unaffected by the gnawing teeth of winter, undeterred by the sharp bite of the elements and even less so by the scathing tongues of commoners.
The illusion lasts hardly the span of a heartbeat before her eyes catch the unmistakable shadow tracing her jawline, spreading over her chin and under her nose.
Damn it, she thinks, turning away and thrusting her chin as far into her jacket as possible. If only she’d grabbed a scarf before she’d left, or a razor, or a thousand other things that had belonged to another person in another life. She wonders how long her parents will wait for that person to return.
Maybe that’s why they didn’t let me take much, she thinks as she shifts the small gym bag over her shoulder, ’cause they think I’ll have to come back out of necessity. As if being hungry and cold will change who I am — transform me like a magical kiss from a frog into their Prince Charming.
To hell with that, if transformations were that easy I would have done this years ago.
Shoving her almost-blue fingers deep into her pockets, she feels for the business card she’d found abandoned on a bus seat earlier that day. She pulls it out and inspects it again.
One side is perfectly blank, the other adorned by a compass, its lines carefully drawn in vibrant cerulean ink. Underneath is an address and nothing more. The woman glances around, comparing the numbers on the shops to the one written on the card. She is getting closer, although she expects very little. A night club, probably, or something seedier. But she has nothing else to do, nowhere else to go, and so she lets her curiosity tug her onward.
A sound draws her attention toward a gap in the shops where she finds a squat, brick building tucked away behind the others. She takes a step forward onto a concrete path lined with skeletal shrubs and trees, and searches for the source of the sound — a repetitive clinking, as if a room full of people are bringing their glasses together in a never-ending toast. Finally, on an iron hook extending from the building, she finds an intricate wind chime constructed of a dozen or more pieces of sea glass. Soft pinks, deep ocean blues, and sea foam greens dance to the lonely music of the winter wind.
To the left and above the hook is a sign with a compass. The woman lifts the card, matching the symbol there to the one on the sign.
“Well, I guess this is the right place,” she says, squinting to read the name painted beneath the compass: The Wayfinder.
She takes another step closer, close enough to peek through the glass door. Inside she can see tables, people milling here and there. More importantly, she can smell food — a peculiar mingling of sweet and savoury: pumpkin spice, curry, caramelized sugar, cinnamon, tomatoes, chili peppers, and coffee. All of these and more. Her stomach growls and she weighs her hunger to the fifty some-odd dollars in her bank account. In the end it is neither her stomach nor her wallet that tips the scales, but the chilled numbness of her extremities. She grabs the frigid metal handles of the door and pulls outward, grateful for the blast of warm air that rushes out to meet her.
Once inside, she stands and blinks several times as the ice in her hair begins to melt and trickle down her back.
It’s so… green, she thinks.
Everywhere she looks, plants are growing. They slink up the walls, wind around the windows, and spill from the windowsills. Several containers of rosemary and lavender are placed along a communal table at the centre of the room, and the pink blooms of Christmas cacti dangle from pots suspended from the ceiling.
“Hi there,” a voice calls from across the room where a server stands smiling at her. “You can grab a menu and order at the counter, then sit anywhere you like!”
The woman nods, drifting further into the verdant warmth of the peculiar restaurant.
She takes a menu from the front counter and steps aside to inspect it. Mac and cheese, ramen, borscht, tofu scramble, pot stickers, and roti… the dishes seem to cover comfort foods from various cultures and cuisines. She’s also relieved to find the prices to be reasonable. Flipping the laminated page over, she finds information about the local farms and gardens where they source some of their produce, and their mission to use ingredients that might otherwise be wasted.
While skimming through the menu offerings a second time, a specific dish catches her attention and tickles at some half-forgotten memory.
She orders and turns to search for an empty seat. Past the communal table are booths of various sizes separated by trellises of pothos, jasmine, and similar climbing plants. Beyond these, at the very back of the restaurant, is a long desk with three or four computers and a printer. The wall behind them is filled with pamphlets and business cards. When she approaches for a closer look she finds information for every service imaginable: medical, psychological, peer support, shelters, job services.
She risks a furtive glance towards the other patrons, but the layout has been deliberately arranged to offer a comfortable level of privacy for this area. She quickly snatches a few pamphlets and shoves them into her gym bag. Afterall, she needs a job. Not to mention a place to stay…
Afterward she chooses a two-person booth surrounded by English ivy. As she sits, she reaches out to softly caress one of the variegated leaves and smiles. She has always thought of ivy as resilient — growing in the most unlikely places, scaling almost any surface in its bid for survival. Buildings might crumble, trees topple, but the ivy that clung to them would still remain.
After her transition, when it had come time to choose a name for herself, the decision had been easy. Easier at least than a lot of others she’d had to make recently. She only hopes she can be as resilient as her namesake.
A server brings Ivy a glass of water and sets a steaming bowl in front of her.
Ivy inhales the aroma of the red bean soup and is transported back to a tiny kitchen, her Hal-abeoji stooped over a large pot. He would tell Ivy stories of her Halmeoni, sharing his love of her through the recipes she left behind.
Ivy takes a bite and, though the flavour isn’t identical, there is enough nostalgia in its sweet comfort that she can feel her shoulders relax, her guard dropping for the first time in… when had she last felt this safe?
“Everything tasting okay here?”
Adrenaline courses through Ivy, her muscles tensing at the appearance of the unexpected visitor, but it dissipates quickly as she meets the eye of the woman standing by her table.
She must be a decade or two older than Ivy, touches of silver winding through the black braids falling over her shoulders. She is short and full bodied, her skin clear and dark, but she has the deepest laughlines Ivy has ever seen.
“Ummm, yes thank you,” she mumbles, and without really intending to she adds: “My grandfather used to make danpatjuk like this.”
The older woman nods and smiles again, “That recipe was a gift from a very dear friend of mine.”
“Is this… Is this your restaurant?”
“It is,” she answers, surveying the dining room with glowing affection. “My friend and I opened it a few years ago.”
“The friend who gave you the recipe?”
“No, a different one,” she answers.
“If you need anything while you’re here — a telephone, the computers, information — just ask. That’s what we’re here for.”
Ivy gives an uncomfortable nod. She inhales the earthy scent of ivy surrounding her, mingled with the fragrant steam of the soup.
Cling, Ivy, she thinks, you’ve got to grab onto every opportunity you can.
“Do you know… I mean… I need a place to stay. And a job.”
With a knowing nod the woman slips into the chair opposite her. “Are you comfortable accessing a woman’s shelter? I know some that can help you connect with work and counseling.”
“I… I’m not sure,” Ivy answers, remembering the stubble on her cheeks, the breadth of her shoulders, her lanky height.
“I know some of the workers personally,” the owner assures her. “You would be very welcome.”
Ivy’s insides clench. She should take this opportunity, but she’s had bad experiences before, if not with the staff then with the other residents.
The owner considers her, those laughlines slanting in a half-frown. “One moment.”
She departs the table and while she is gone Ivy wrestles with tears and the pounding of her heart. She doesn’t look up when the owner returns with water droplets scattered through her hair.
“I know a place with a room,” she says. “A friend of mine owns it.”
It must be nice to have so many friends, Ivy thinks.
“Here’s the address.” She slides a scrap of paper across the table. “And take this.”
The owner extends a closed hand and Ivy places her open one under it, catching something small and cold. Lifting it up to her face, Ivy realizes it is an acorn — plain, brown, and wet from the icy rain. Her brows furrow in confusion.
“A man will open the door, give him that and he’ll know I sent you.”
“Couldn’t you just call?” Ivy asks, wiping her hand on her sweat pants.
“Yep. But it’s more… magical this way,” she says with a wink. “If you need anything else, just come up to the counter and ask for Claire. You’re welcome to stay here until you’re ready.”
“Thank you,” Ivy manages before the owner departs. She stares after her for a while before inspecting the acorn again, rolling it between her fingers.
For some reason its presence comforts her, and as it warms against her skin she begins to feel something mirroring real hope. She giggles a little, just a quite gurgle of laughter that escapes before she can stop it.
She shakes her head and sets the acorn down. Taking another bite of soup, she reads the address and wonders what kind of place she’ll find.
So this is it! The very last episode of 53 Ganymede.
If you’re reading this — thank you so much for coming on this crazy journey with me. I would love to know what you think so don’t forget to leave a comment or — if you have the time — a review over on Web Fiction Guide. (Reviews really help web fiction to reach larger audiences so I very much appreciate them.)
As for what’s next… I’m not entirely sure. I will be going back to edit and record the rest of 53 Ganymede, and I have two (or three, or four) work -in-progresses to choose from. Or you know… I might do something stupid like start a whole new project. I’m fickle like that.
If you want updates on what I’m working on, including the release dates of any new work, be sure to follow my blog. (Just go back to my homepage and there should be a button on the right-hand side.)
I hope you all have a wonderful holiday season and have lots of time to rest and take care of yourselves! Hopefully I’ll be back soon with something brand new to share!
Thank you ❤