Few people wander the muddy pathways of the Grey Market this morning — perhaps because of the intensity of the downpour, or maybe the distant rumble of thunder. Whatever the reason, the oppressive slate-coloured sky helps the market live up to its name as Claire huddles beneath her umbrella. At least the temperature isn’t too bad, she thinks.
Despite the violent rainfall, she walks slowly and without any clear purpose; between her water-proof jacket, rain boots, and umbrella she is protected enough to feel comfortable — cozy, even. Occasionally something catches her eye underneath an awning-covered stall or inside the half-opened flap of a tent and she ducks inside to investigate, but nothing holds her attention for long before she wanders away again.
What am I looking for? she asks herself, a tightness in her chest that is something like anticipation, but also something like fear. The fear of being disappointed. Even here, in this impossible place, she worries that she will fail to find something wonderful. Something that speaks to her soul. Something for her and no one else.
Look at this place, she thinks, it’s full of magic. It’s made of wonder. There has to be something. An answer. Meaning.
Ducking beneath a low tarp she meets a young man with a spread of tiny figurines before him, each delicate ceramic form hand-painted with obvious care. Gold and silver glint in the flickering light of a row of small candles by his crossed legs, carefully painted swirls and dots — like tiny universes — cover the miniature forms of insects, animals, trees. Claire looks at each one, but their details are lost in the tumultuous whirling of her thoughts.
I wonder if he makes these himself. He must have so much talent. I wonder what he does when he’s not making things — how do you even decide to make something like this? Do I have a talent? Maybe it’s just gardening…
As she leaves the tiny stall, lifting her umbrella over her head once more, she thinks of the praise that Veena and her family have given her for her work at the Chateau de Verre. Of the apologies that they couldn’t keep her on for longer with Melanie coming back after her maternity leave. Claire looks back at her time at the Chateau with nothing but fondness, so why does the thought of finding another horticulture job make her stomach drop?
I’m not going anywhere.
She glances around at the statues that dot the pathways and the gardens that line them. In the hedge next to her the statue of a small boy reaches for something with one hand and Claire wonders what it might have been. Or had there ever been anything there at all? On a whim she reaches out a hand, cold pinpricks of rain assaulting her skin, and she touches the wet stone of the boy’s fingers. Nothing happens, but for some reason she is loathe to remove her hand, the sensation of cold and wet, of smooth stone beneath her fingertips, temporarily fills the hole within her. Maybe she relates to this boy in some way, frozen here in time with his hand outstretched toward something he’ll never reach.
Maybe he just has.
Claire retrieves her hand and shakes away the thought along with the raindrops on her fingers before continuing down the path.
After several more minutes and half a dozen more stalls selling trinkets and treats, she notices that the pounding rhythm of the rain on her umbrella has slowed and the sky, though still dark, has lightened a measure.
I’m running out of time.
It’s a thought that has plagued her on many mornings, has tinged every pleasant moment for the past few weeks with a sense of urgency. She has tried to rationalize it away — I still have another job and it isn’t as though I’m struggling to pay rent yet — but each time she grows more and more certain that the feeling doesn’t stem from external pressures like finances or job markets. Its roots are deeper than that. A knowledge that her time at 53 Ganymede isn’t infinite and every day brings her closer to the end. An end she still isn’t ready for. All this time and she still feels like she’s been — well, wandering. Waiting for things to happen to her, to give her meaning. Her sister’s memory. Declan’s curse. For everything she told Lucy about blazing the trail ahead, she still feels as though she’s been following in everyone else’s footsteps.
Sure, she’s learned things. She’s had experiences — amazing, unbelievable experiences. She’s made friends. But she doesn’t feel like she has gone anywhere. Doesn’t feel like she’s grown.
Looking down, Claire realizes she has stopped in front of a wooden cart, a short curtain falling from its awning, protecting whatever lies within from the elements. Claire brushes aside the hanging fabric to find a woman sitting behind the wooden counter built along the cart’s side. On the counter are bundles of herbs, piles of sparkling crystals, and various bottles containing spices and essences. The resulting aroma is earthy and spicy all at once, luring Claire in for a closer look. The woman behind the counter smiles in acknowledgement and then returns to writing in a brown leather journal, hardly aware of Claire’s presence. Claire inspects the herbs first, recognizing each of them — lavender, of course, lemon balm, peppermint, sage, rosemary. A sudden curiosity strikes her.
Which one is mine? If Ginny’s signature is lavender, what’s mine?
She lifts a bundle from the table — peppermint — and inhales its frosty fragrance. Hadn’t this been the flavour that Maria had chosen for her at the chocolate shop? She feels her muscles relax, tension she had been unaware of carrying suddenly dissipating, but nothing else. No inherent meaning. Next she lifts the sage.
“It’s good for purifying things,” the woman says without looking away from her work.
Claire nods and inhales the scent.
Next she lifts a small bottle of dried rose petals.
She begins inspecting the crystals, occasionally lifting one to consider the heft of it. Some of them feel warm in her hand. Some sparkle in the light of the globe-shaped candle holders suspended from the sides of the cart. But nothing speaks to her.
Shouldn’t there be a spark? A sign?
Claire sets down the jagged silver stone she’d been holding and looks up to find the vendor watching her carefully, the journal closed on her lap.
“Are you looking for something in particular?” Her tone isn’t forceful or annoyed, but laced with curiosity.
“I — I don’t know,” Claire responds, grasping for the words to explain herself, “I guess, I guess I’m looking for a sign. Or maybe a direction?”
“Hmm…” The woman twists her mouth and leans her elbows on the wooden counter. She looks from Claire to the offerings on the table. She indicates a large jar of dried leaves, “Bay is good for calling on dream guides. Oh — or amethyst is great when you’re looking for spiritual guidance.”
The translucent purple stone she lifts is striking, but to Claire it seems arbitrary. What she searches for is something personal. “Thank you, I think… I think I’m not exactly sure what I’m after yet.”
The vendor shrugs and opens her journal once more, so Claire ducks out of the cart and back onto the path.
Claire’s feet lead her back the way she has come, her body remembering the twists and turns while her eyes wander along with her thoughts.
What kind of things do people think of when they think of me? Flowers? Food maybe? Or books?
She begins thinking of the people around her — of Lucy and Declan and Marcus, of Hyun-Sook, of Art and Sara — can she condense each of them down to a single element? Sure, Lucy is passionate about her bakery jobs, but she is so much more than that. She constantly surprises Claire with how many things she knows and how driven she can be when she sets her mind to something, which she often does. Lately her obsession has been sustainability. Claire smiles as she recalls her stream of complaints about the waste that both bakeries produce. Oh, and how their ingredients could be so much more sustainable. Not to mention the packaging. That enthusiasm and dedication never fails to draw Claire in. And Declan — sometimes Claire feels like he could do anything. After having to hold down so many different jobs he has a surprising variety of skills. And his art — not only is he talented in the traditional sense, but there is something more to his ability. Something otherworldly.
Then there’s Marcus…
If he were asked, Claire is certain he would define himself by his Finding. An exceptional talent that he would probably never think to take credit for. After all it isn’t a choice, is it? But hasn’t he used it intentionally? To help Declan. Maybe to help find River’s mom? And then isn’t there a part of Declan that is beyond his control too? When Claire thinks of him, his curse is always there. It’s affected so much of his life but does that mean it’s defined it?
Claire’s head spins. There are so many facets to each person, so many circumstances and decisions that make up each one. Talents both innate and carefully honed, flaws both learned and circumstantial.
In the distance Claire notices the eerie blue glow of the great lantern flicker and fail; all around her vendors begin to pack up their wares until the next rainy day. She steps quickly, bridging the small distance remaining between herself and Declan’s stall. When she arrives he is deep in conversation with a customer, their new painting clutched tightly in their hands. Not wanting to eavesdrop, Claire begins carefully packing away the remaining paintings so that they can carry them safely through the rain back to Ganymede. As she packs she tries to recall exactly how many they had managed to bring and how many are now missing. She’s certain there was one with a cat on a high wall that is now gone, and a pond with an odd reflection that had unsettled her. Judging from the size of the one in the customer’s hands, Claire guesses it is the one of the school of fish, their scales glinting in a jarring combination of starlight and electric streetlights. At least three, then, she decides. Not bad for such a slow market.
As she packs the last painting into a large canvas carrying case, she pauses to inspect it as she has many times since he showed it to her. A woman in a subway car, lights streaming by through the window behind her, but also something else: reflections in the window, vague figure-like shapes. It is cold and haunting, but also mysteriously familiar. There is something peculiar about the position of the shapes that makes them seem intentionally out of place; they are too tall, too straight, to be seated across from the woman. Almost statue-esque or perhaps posed, like in a family photo. Claire shakes her head and zips up the case. She stands and turns to find Declan watching her.
“Thanks for the help,” he says.
“Of course.” She reaches to help him fold up the picnic tent they borrowed from Art. While he rolls it into its bag she holds her umbrella over his head. “How did your first day go?”
“Not bad. I guess…” he sighs before continuing, “I guess María was right. People see things in the paintings. Secrets. Or things they’ve forgotten.” He shrugs and continues rolling.
“Declan,” Claire hesitates, trying to contain the violent tumble of her thoughts into a cohesive question, “If you were to send a package, what do you think your signature would be? I mean, you know…. one of those packages.”
“I don’t know.” He hefts the tent over his arm and then lifts one of the cases of paintings. Claire holds the other over her shoulder — she shifts it as he ducks to join her under the umbrella. “I guess it depends who I was sending it to.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well something that might make sense to one person probably wouldn’t make sense to another. Lucy always talks about my paintings, so I guess for her it might be a paintbrush. But for Marcus, the lanterns might hold more meaning,” he scratches his head and chuckles, “I guess that might be kinda hard to attach to a package. Maybe… what was it? A yew branch? Like the first time we came here. It’s like when you send a letter to someone — depending who it is you might sign it “sincerely” or “yours truly” or “with all my love.” Right?”
Claire nods. Of course, she thinks, there are facets that I can’t see. There isn’t a single angle that lets us see all of them.
“Why do you ask?” Declan takes the umbrella, holding it high over their heads while Claire retrieves two new branches from the hedge so that they can return later.
“Honestly?” She says, looking back at him as she breaks off a small piece of greenery, “I just felt like, if I knew what mine would be it might help.”
“Help with what?”
“Help me decide where the hell to go next,” she admits, her head dropping as she returns to his side.
“Where do you want to go?”
“That’s the problem: I don’t want to go anywhere.” She stares up at 53 Ganymede from the pier as they step through the gate of the Grey Market.
“Then maybe you’re not ready yet,” Declan says, following her gaze.
“But what if I never am?”
Declan considers her for a moment and then leads her over to a picnic table under the gazebo where they first really talked. He sits down, leaning the tent and art case against his legs. “A dandelion.”
“What?” Claire says, still standing slightly in the rain, hardly aware of its gentle presence.
“If I ever send you a package, it will have a dandelion on top.”
“Why a dandelion?”
“Because they’re beautiful. Our neighbour used to spend hours popping them out of his lawn when I was little and I always thought it was so sad. He wanted this perfectly manicured sheet of green, boring grass when his whole yard could have been filled with sunshine,” Declan says, watching the thinning clouds scuttle by on the horizon. “I still look for them at the first sign of spring.”
“But I didn’t know that before,” Claire points out.
“You do now,” he counters.
Because you decided to tell me, Claire realizes. Because you want to show me another perspective. No, because you have a say in what angle I see.
“So, what will yours be? If you ever send me a package, how will I know its yours?”
Claire feels as though she is at the cart again, staring at all of the offerings in front of her. Which should she pick? Except this time, I’m not waiting for the answer because I’m the one who gets to choose. There was never any meaning except the one I decided to give.
“Hmm,” she thinks. There are so many things she could choose, each symbolizing just one of the infinite pieces of herself, every piece just as valid. The one she chooses does not define her, only represents a tiny fragment. A side of her that she decides to share in this single moment. “An acorn.”
Decoan nods. “An acorn.”
“When I was little there was an oak tree in the backyard. I used to imagine all these things about it. Climbing it. Hanging a tire swing from the branches. Building a treehouse. But we never did any of them. I was always waiting for mom or dad to make them happen and they never did. I think I knew they wouldn’t, but I waited anyway.”
Declan was silent and Claire knew he was waiting. She lowered her voice and leaned in close, making it feel like a secret even if no one else was around to overhear.
“I’ve still never even climbed a tree.”
“Do you want to?” He considers the rain with his trademark skepticism, but stands anyway.
“No!” Claire shouts and then laughs. “At least not right now. But I want to start dreaming about climbing them again. And stop waiting for other people to make it happen.”
She looks at Declan knowingly, and he nods before sitting back down.
“An acorn,” he repeats.
“For now,” she says with a playful shrug.
Declan smiles and stretches before retrieving his things from the ground. Without a word Claired follows, losing herself to the ideas already tingling in the back of her mind. She’ll let them grow a little, she decides, before she shares them. Before she begins to plan. She might not have found a direction yet, but she is beginning to remember how to forge one for herself.
They bump into Lucy, just coming off of a shift as they climb the steps to the front door.
“I can’t believe I missed out,” she whines, and then snatches the tent out if Declan’s hands, “Let me help carry something.”
In Declan’s room he offers them coffee in exchange for their help, which they gladly accept.
“Can I see? Please?” Lucy asks, indicating the bag Claire has carted back from the market. She looks to Declan who shrugs and blushes, then carefully unzips the cover to reveal the topmost painting — the one with the girl on the subway and the strange reflections.
“I told you his new ones were beautiful,” Claire begins, but notices Lucy shaking her head.
“No, I mean yes it is but –”
By now Declan has turned, drawn in by her breathless confusion. Lucy raises her wide eyes to meet his.
“I remember where I’ve seen your mother.”