The market spills out onto the street, the overflow of vendors, customers, and stalls caught by the wide sidewalks that surround the old Henwick Theatre. Streams of shoppers file in and out of the grand double doors, their arms laden with baskets and bags of colourful produce.
The sunlight lends the world a golden hue and Claire feels as though she is watching the scene through a jar of liquid honey; she imagines she can taste its sweetness on her tongue as she meanders past the stalls. The liveliness of the crowd is invigorating and she lets its energy seep into her as she admires the elegant architecture of the centuries-old building and the scent of last night’s rain mingled with earth, fruit, and freshly baked bread.
“What’s next on the list?” Declan asks, leaning over her shoulder to spy the paper she holds, half-forgotten, in her right hand.
“Oh! Umm…” Claire considers the list, wondering idly how the others are doing with their own, “Eggs.”
“Probably inside,” he says, resting his hand against her back as they find their way into a current of shoppers heading towards the doors. As they climb a series of stone steps to the entrance, Declan asks, “Have you been to this market before?”
“No,” says Claire, readjusting the canvas bag on her shoulder, “Usually just the farmer’s market downtown.”
Declan smiles and chuckles under his breath.
“What?” She asks.
Claire furrows her brow and considers his unusually mischievous smile. Ganymede is rubbing off on him, she decides. Her attention is swiftly stolen as they pass through the doorway and into a large hall that was obviously once the lobby of a magnificent theatre. Wooden counters and stalls are built into the walls now, and vendors have even taken up residence in the ticket window and the bar.
“I never knew this place existed,” Claire says, standing on her tiptoes to try to see further.
“It’s pretty much the only market open on Sunday,” Declan says, and Claire understands now why they have come so far out of their way to finish their task. As they search for a vendor that sells eggs, Declan continues, “They wanted to demolish the theatre a long time ago, like when my mom was a kid, but the community got together and convinced the city to keep it as a heritage site and use it for community events and stuff.”
“It’s such a beautiful building,” Claire says, admiring a dramatic chandelier that seems to drip from the ceiling like a series frozen raindrops. It still holds an air of elegance, despite a few cobwebs and a handful of missing crystals.
“You haven’t even seen the best part yet,” Declan tells her as they pass through another set of doors into the auditorium. The seats have been stripped away leaving a large space with several alcoves, every corner stuffed with vendors.
“What’s the best part?”
Without saying anything Declan points upwards. Claire tilts her head to the side and smiles in confusion before finally shrugging and looking up toward the ceiling. She grabs Declan’s arm to avoid falling over.
Above and behind them is a rounded balcony filled with even more stalls, shoppers drifting from one to the other. Beyond that is the ceiling — a gilded dome painted to look like a night sky surrounded by the midnight waves of a great ocean. The thousands of tiny silver stars, along with the lifelike detail of the waves and the motion of the nearby shoppers, collide in a dizzying effect that makes Claire’s head spin. She grips Declan’s arm tightly, but doesn’t look away from the intoxicating beauty of the ceiling.
Claire recognizes Marcus’ voice but stares a few moments longer before lowering her gaze to his.
“Still have a few more things,” Declan answers.
Marcus tisks, “We’ve already finished our shopping, but I guess someone’s been too busy sight-seeing.”
Claire glances around, “Where’d Mack go? And Hyun-Sook?”
Marcus rolls his eyes and points his thumb to a series of stalls behind him. “Guess.”
Claire and Declan both lean past Marcus, glancing around for their missing members. Once Claire sees the stacks and shelves of dog-eared pages she grins. “Looks like I’m not the only one who got distracted.”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s hurry up and finish your list before you get sucked in too.”
“We’re on eggs,” Declan says.
“Oh, there’s a place right over here.” Marcus leads the way, and Claire notices how adeptly he weaves through the crowds; he has to stop and wait a couple of times when Claire and Declan fall too far behind.
While they stand in line to be served Declan asks, “Aren’t Mack and Hyun-Sook going to wonder where you went?”
Marcus shrugs, “Chances are I’ll find them right where I left them.”
“I guess we should have known they’d hit it off,” Claire says with a laugh. She considers Declan’s subtle smile, one she might have once missed, and then turns to examine Marcus’ cartoonish smirk. She grins and shakes her head.
Marcus squints suspiciously, “What?”
“This is nice.” Claire breathes a contended sigh and secretly enjoys the way Declan turns his head to disguise a small chuckle.
“Bit busy for my tastes,” Marcus sniffs.
“I don’t mean the crowds,” Claire says with a playful roll of her eyes, “I mean this. Everyone coming together — working together. Being out somewhere new with you goofs.”
“Hey, don’t lump me in with this guy,” Declan jokes, his voice low and hesitant as if afraid he might actually offend Marcus.
“See. It’s great,” Claire says.
“Yeah, yeah I know. I just wish the old man was actually here to enjoy it.”
The excitement fades and Claire can feel the familiar weight of grief flooding in to take its place. “Me too.”
Declan chews the inside corner of his mouth, his brows furrowed. He inhales as if he’s about to speak, but before he can say anything one of the ladies behind the counter asks what they would like. Claire pays for two dozen eggs and collects them before looking back down at her list. They move off in search of apricot jam, finding at a farm stall only a few steps away.
Last on the list is dark chocolate.
“Hm,” Claire says, standing on the tips of her toes and spinning in a circle, “Was there a chocolatier in here somewhere?”
“I didn’t see one,” Declan says, also craning his neck to glance around.
“This way.” Marcus sighs and gestures with his head back the way they have just come, turning before Claire or Declan has the opportunity to inquire further.
Claire looks at Declan with a shrug and rushes after him. They’re almost to the entrance to the lobby when Mack and Hyun-Sook are suddenly beside them, and Claire notices the books tucked away in each of their bags.
“Hey guys, have you seen Marcus?” Mack asks and Claire points at the back of his leather jacket, disappearing into the crowd up ahead.
“I think he’s finding us the last ingredient on our list,” she tells Mack, surprised by the way he calmly nods and then lopes off to catch up with Marcus. Willing her short legs to move faster, she turns to Hyun-Sook, “Get any good books?”
“I did actually,” she answers, looping her arm through Claire’s as they walk, “Mackenzie is quite knowledgeable — I think we should keep him.”
Claire laughs, “I think so too.”
“Frank would have liked him,” Hyun-Sook says, her smile as warm as the late morning sun that is suddenly shining down on them, “This is a strange day.”
Claire’s thoughts drift to a box on the breakfast nook table, its brown paper wrapping soggy and shredded but its treasures remarkably intact.
I found it in the garden, Art had told them, near the lavender. The storm must have washed it up.
“How… how do we know the package was for Frank?” Declan asks, not quite meeting Claire’s eyes.
Hyun-Sook tilts her head as if straining to hear a sound in the distance. Even without sight, her perception of Declan is as poor as many of the other Ganymede residents.
“There was a rock chip,” Claire explains, “a piece of granite tied to the top. Lucy said her opa used to be a brick layer. When he had a house of his own he put in this granite walkway through the garden for his wife to get around easier — anyway Lucy said the way it would sparkle in the afternoon sun is one of her favourite memories of the house.”
Declan’s skepticism is a familiar thing to Claire, and she can easily read it in the twist of his lips and the deep lines of his forehead.
“Besides,” she adds, “The recipes inside were hand-written in German. They had to be for him.”
“The timing is unfortunate.” Hyun-Sook concedes, and then repeats, “It is a strange day.”
Claire looks around and, for the first time since setting out from the market, becomes aware of her surroundings. The crowd has thinned considerably and they have left the Henwick Theatre several blocks behind — now they pass rows of shabby-looking shops, pubs, and cafés. Ahead of them Marcus continues on, his long strides unbroken and determined.
“Where are we going anyway?” Hyun-Sook asks, her white cane clacking rapidly at her feet.
“To get chocolate? I think?” Claire says, looking to Declan for confirmation but finding him in deep contemplation of the sidewalk ahead.
“Hey Claire,” he says, as if she hasn’t just spoken, “You received a package before, right? How did you know it was yours?”
“The first one had my name on it,” Claire says, thinking back to that first paper-wrapped parcel on the bench at Chateau de Verre, “And a sprig of lavender.”
“My sister used to like it. We’d put it in her baths when she was sick, which was a lot.”
Declan nods but doesn’t answer, instead looking past Claire to Hyun-Sook. “Have you ever gotten a package Mrs. Park? I mean, like the one from this morning?”
“Once. I’m sorry — I’m terrible with names. You’re Claire’s friend, right?”
“He’s–” Claire begins, but Declan interrupts.
“Yes. My name is Declan.” The sentence is clipped and impatient, but he approaches the next question with an equal measure of politeness and hesitance. “Do you — would you mind if I ask what was on yours? How you knew it belonged to you?”
“Hydrangeas,” Hyun-Sook says with a wistful smile, “They were my mother’s favourite.”
“What are you thinking?” Claire cranes her neck to look up into his face, but can no longer decipher the creases growing around his brows and mouth.
Declan shakes his head, but the creases stubbornly remain.
“We’re here.” Marcus turns into an unremarkable side street and stops in front of a narrow storefront squeezed tightly between a barbershop and a real estate office.
“Sugar and Spice,” Claire reads from the wooden sign hanging over the glass door, “making fine chocolate since 1972.”
The five of them wait, Mack peeking through the window while Claire, Declan, and Marcus stare at each other and shrug.
“So are we going in?” Hyun-Sook says, pulling away from Claire and opening the door. “Good morning!”
Claire hears a cheerful response from inside so with one final shrug she follows her friend, the others shuffling in behind her.
The shop is as small as the narrow building suggests, and they crowd around the glass case and the counter that winds around from the front door to the back of the shop. Two small bistro tables, each with a pair of chairs, take up the back wall along with a door that reads “Employees Only.“
The walls across from the display cases are filled with boxes upon boxes of truffles, chocolate suckers, hard candies, fudge, and all manner of confections. The case itself holds individual chocolates, dipped fruits and cookies, massive slabs of fudge, and bars the length of Claire’s forearm. Claire leans down for a closer look, admiring the carefully shaped truffles, the way their perfectly tempered surfaces reflect the sunlight like tiny mirrors.
“Beautiful, aren’t they?” Someone asks, their voice pleasantly coarse, like raw sugar. Claire stands to meet the person behind the counter and is surprised to find a familiar face. “It’s really the taste that matters though, isn’t it?”
“You.” Declan blurts out a moment before Claire opens her mouth to do the same. They both stare at the old, grey-haired lady before them. She had seemed taller before, Claire thinks, standing over her in the constant drizzle of the Grey Market.
“Me.” The woman splays her hands as if showing off her wares.
“All this time, you were right here…” Declan says, shaking his head in disbelief.
“We all come from somewhere. Most of us don’t make our livings just selling to the Grey Market,” she says, then leans in conspiratorially, “Though I do save my best chocolates for a rainy day.”
“Wait,” Mack pipes up suddenly from behind them, “Is that where that expression comes from?”
Ignoring him, the woman presses on, “So what brings everyone here today?”
“We need some chocolate,” Claire says, handing over the list, the details written in Lucy’s neat hand.
The old woman’s mouth moves as she reads the words, though she speaks none of them aloud. Out of the corner of her eye Claire can see Declan watching intently, as if he might read the answers to all his questions in the spiderweb lines that border her narrow lips.
“María,” he blurts suddenly, “That’s your name, isn’t it?”
The only answer she gives is a smile. “A few bars of our dark chocolate should do. But may I ask what you’re making? It’s a recipe — isn’t it?”
“Sachertorte,” Claire says.
“And the occasion?” Her eyes fall on each of them in turn, emphasizing their unlikely group.
“A good friend passed recently. Our neighbour,” Marcus answers, and the uncharacteristic solemnity of his tone chills Claire. Mack must feel it too because he takes a step closer and reaches for his hand.
“Frank,” Hyun-Sook adds, “His name was Frank.”
The woman, María, nods. “Give me a few moments.”
She departs into the back room and a woman at least five decades her junior takes her place behind the counter. She greets them and tidies the displays while they wait.
María returns quickly, a neat white paper bag in her hands. She pulls out a few large bars of pitch black chocolate, showing them to the group before replacing them. “This will do I think. It’s a little bitter at first, but so is the occasion.”
“Thank you,” Claire says, but the woman continues.
“And a little sample for each of you. So you come and visit again.”
She removes a box of little square chocolates and hands them out one by one. She stops at Declan, looking down at the last square in the box with indecision. “It isn’t your usual,” she says at last, “but I’m not certain that one suits you anymore. I thought you might like something with more… depth.”
Decpan accepts the chocolate and thanks her. “I still have a lot of questions.”
María sighs, “I don’t think I have the answers you’re hoping for. I think the best I can do is maybe help you recall your own memories with a little more clarity.”
“Can you tell me stories about my mom?” He asks, and Claire is surprised by the levity in his tone, the lack of desperation that drove him to chase blue lanterns through the rain.
“Any time,” she tells him.
Claire pays for the bars and the five of them begin the long journey home, nibbling on their chocolate.
“Whew, this is the good stuff,” Marcus says, “Cinnamon and chili pepper.”
Mack chokes a little on his, and Claire can only assume his is the same. When she bites into her own she is pleasantly surprised by a minty coolness that spreads down to her toes. As she chews, the world around her seems to grow a little crisper around the edges, and every breath soothes her to her core.
“What do yours taste like?”
“Cherry,” Hyun-Sook says. “It was my favourite, as a child. Is that strange?”
“Like you said, it’s been a strange day,” Claire feels her laugh ring out from her own chest, like the tinkling of a hundred tiny bells. She puts her hand to her chest and wonders at all the marvels within her. “What about yours Declan?” Her voice vibrates against her hand like a wave against fine ocean sand.
“Chocolate,” Declan says, “Just dark chocolate.”
“Is it good?” Claire prompts, worried that he might be disappointed by his encounter with María. Her worry melts like the chocolate on her tongue when he turns to her with an expression of sudden determination.
“Claire, I don’t think the packages were addressed to us.”
Claire stops walking, Hyun-Sook stopping by her side. “What? But they were for us, they had to be.”
“Yes. But I don’t think the rosemary meant it was for me. Or the lavender for you. The hydrangea, Lucy’s vanilla, the granite chip… they aren’t symbols of us.”
“Then what are they?” Claire asks, reluctant to give up any connection she shares with her sister.
“They’re signatures,” he says.
“What do they all have in common? They’re all symbols of people we love. People we’ve lost. We don’t associate ourselves with any of those things except by our connection to someone else.”
“We’ve been defining ourselves by the ones we miss the most.” Hyun-Sook’s realization sinks into each of them, nestling into a place in their hearts as if the imprint of the idea had always been there.
“Ginny…” Claire whispers, and she wonders if somewhere, she might be listening, “But that means… Frank?”
“Maybe the recipes were for Lucy?” Declan suggests.
“But the package, I saw Alice deliver it. He was alive… it can’t be…” Claire remembers that morning, Alice’s dew-soaked dress as she leaned down into the grass.
“It’s for us,” Hyun-Sook says, “All of us. Maybe it doesn’t matter whether a person is alive or dead, it just matters that they want something to their very core — to their soul. That there are people they want to reach out to. And there’s nothing Frank Gartner would want more than a good feast in his honour.”
“So… this whole day: all of us working together, shopping, cooking, eating together…” Claire struggles to wrap her head around it, but in many ways it seems more likely than Rose and Alice making such a huge error in timing. If Declan is right, she will have to tell Lucy when she gets home.
“I think that’s the point,” Declan says.
“You might be right… er…” Hyun-Sook fumbles for a name.
“Declan,” he offers, along with his arm. Claire glances to where Mack and Marcus wait for them several blocks away.
Hyun-Sook takes his arm and Claire walks along beside them, turning over everything that’s happened in the past few years, trying to consider them from this new perspective.
“I do have one more question,” Hyun-Sook ventures.
“What?” Declan asks.
“What is the Grey Market?”
Claire and Declan meet each other’s eyes and laugh. “We’ll take you there one day,” Claire promises.
When they finally reach the others, Marcus scolds them for dallying before Hyun-Sook retailiates with a comment about trading him for his more charming and better-looking boyfriend. Mack blushes as they continue bickering. Claire looks at each of her friends in turn, silently thanking Frank for the opportunity to share this day together.
How is everyone doing? It’s been one hell of a month on my end filled with long, sleepless nights… but here we are.
No matter how insane things get, time passes and deadlines keep coming. I thought about delaying the episode — hell, there are days I think about giving up writing. But those moments pass, usually quickly, and I find myself continuing word after word after word. The brunt of these episodes are written in the nooks and crannies of my life — sentences smuggled onto my smart phone when no one is looking. While my baby sleeps in my arms. While the house is finally quiet and the clock swiftly ticks away the hours — or minutes — until the time when I will be needed again.
The truth is: no matter how hard things get, how far from “success” (whatever that means) I feel, how many hours I’ve slept, I come back here. To Ganymede. To fiction. To creating. Thank you, reader, thank you for joining me on this crazy journey. For giving me a chance. I hope you’re well — wherever you are — and I hope you know what this brief connection means to me.
P.S. I’m looking into getting some art commissioned for a sort of character reference section I’d like to create. I’m not sure I can get everyone done at once… so if there’s a particular character you’d like to see, let me know in the comments!