A thick and swirling fog surrounds the pier, concealing the world behind a veil of empty grey. The sounds of soft rainfall on water and of the waves lapping the wooden structure combine with the slow migration of mist to create a dizzying illusion of motion.
“Doesn’t it ever stop raining in this city?” Claire mumbles to herself as she stares out across the lake. In truth it is only a drizzle, but the air is so laden with moisture that her jeans are damp and her nylon jacket glistens with tiny droplets. She sighs and leans over the metal railing, losing herself in the isolation of the fog and the fantasy of drifting out over the waves.
She should head home, she thinks, but for the first time in a long time she isn’t certain where that is. The old house, usually filled with conversation and people and magic, feels empty today. After work she’d ventured from room to room and hallway to hallway without encountering a single soul or sign of life. With no lights or sounds of any kind, it was easy to imagine the place abandoned.
Even her own unit had seemed too still and vacant – the Gallagher children having begged to take Beans on a trip to visit family in the countryside.
Eventually she had resigned herself to a bath and a solitary dinner, the silence hanging as heavy as the fog; she couldn’t help but notice the usual attic footsteps were also absent.
The dark emptiness had seemed unbearably oppressive and so she’d left and started walking. She’d passed cafes and shops and even Between the Pages, but nothing had felt appealing. Every time her eyes alighted on something she felt mild interest in, there followed a painful desire to share it with someone.
Not just someone, she thinks, looking over the colourless lake, Everything I see today reminds me of Ginny. The empty house reminds me of what home was like without her.
A large droplet splashes onto her head and then another on her hand. The rain teems over the lake and the wind is beginning to tear away the mist, exposing the angry waters below. Claire wraps her arms around herself and retreats to a wooden pavilion a few steps away from the railing. Soon the downpour increases until it is nearly torrential. Claire squints up the hill to where she knows 53 Ganymede Ave stands, but she can make out nothing through the rain and dissipating fog. The evening retreat of the sun doesn’t help either.
She considers risking the cold November rain, but she can’t bear the thought of reliving the disappointment of the empty house. The thought of how similar the dark kitchen was to her parents’ own kitchen. How quiet those days had been when her parents left, continuing on with their busy lives while she bore the weight of that hollow shell that had once been a home.
No. At least the dance of the rain and waves is something. Even if it isn’t something she can share with Ginny. Claire turns away from the invisible hill and the house, turning back toward the dizzying stretch of water.
Suddenly there is a light — a flickering blue flame at the end of the pier. It floats in one of a pair of stone lanterns Claire had dismissed as ornamentation. Each is a house-like structure with a square base and triangular roof resting atop a curving stone pedestal. They sit in opposite corners, rising just above the protective railing. Each side of the lantern is open – exposed to wind and rain – and yet the flame remains steady. Clare stares in awe, watching the brilliant blue hue reflect over the rippling puddles and fat droplets.
The second lantern never ignites and, as far as Claire can tell, there is no mechanism within it to start or maintain a flame. Claire stands and moves to the edge of the pavilion, but she can make out nothing beneath the blinding light in the left lantern. Despite the rain she takes a step closer, and another. She can feel no heat from the lantern and so she reaches out a hand.
Another light in the distance stalls her dangerous experiment and draws her attention to a wooded area to her left. She can hardly make out the silhouettes of the trees in the darkness of the cloudy night, but the fog has cleared enough that the light shines like a beacon. There is another lantern out there, somewhere in the woods and marshland.
Claire stares, uncomfortable thoughts of home and family thinning like the mist.
Then, as suddenly as it had ignited, the flame beside her diminishes and disappears. A couple of minutes later the distant light does the same. Claire shivers and continues to stare, the bright phantom of the missing flame burned into her retinas.
Approaching footsteps drag her back to the present, and she swivels to see a tall figure approaching through the rain and into the pavilion. Her fingers press into her sides as she tries to shrink herself into invisibility, but they loosen their hold as the stranger comes into focus: a man, tall and slender, with narrow eyes and a long, but gently sloping nose. His hair almost shines in the darkness.
The mysterious man stops and takes a surprised step back as he notices Claire.
“You,” Claire says, for lack of any other words to break the awkward hesitation between them.
He still doesn’t say anything, only frowns thoughtfully.
“I met you at the bookstore. And… and in the backyard,” Claire says.
“Was there a fire? In the lantern?” He asks.
Claire glances behind her at the dark stone of the lantern and hesitates, as if she doubts her own senses.
“Yeah, actually,” she finally answers, turning back toward him, “Why?”
His head drops then, his shoulders slouch, and he sounds defeated when he speaks. “I missed it. Again.”
Claire approaches him cautiously, hoping to escape the downpour rather than close the distance between them. When she reaches him, he slumps onto the bench of the picnic table.
“You missed it?” She asks.
He looks up at her then, his eyes widening as if he has forgotten she is there and is surprised to see her so close. He winces. “I have… bad timing.”
“Will it come on again?”
“Yes. Eventually,” he says, his eyes drifting to where the flame had thrived several minutes ago, “But I’ll miss it then too.”
“Well that’s pessimistic,” Claire says, realizing too late the harshness of her tone. She cringes and tries again, “I mean — if you have that kind of attitude you’ll definitely miss it, right?”
His head drops and he smiles a smile as cold as autumn rain. “Like I said, I have bad timing.”
“We all do sometimes,” Claire says, trying to force more warmth into her own smile. She’s uncertain about her success.
He looks at her again and his eyes glint, but in what light Claire doesn’t know. His mouth twists in consideration until he finally shrugs his shoulders and speaks. “I’m cursed.”
Claire opens her mouth to protest but he raises a slender hand. “I mean it. My mother was too. We all have terrible timing.”
Claire mulls this over, weighing her urge to dismiss his claims as distorted self-perception against the strange things she’s encountered since moving to Newport. As if sensing her deliberation he continues:
“Think about it. I’ve met you twice. One time I ended up waiting in a thunderstorm and another I made you break something.”
“Yeah, but you saved me from being stuck out in that storm. And… well this might sound weird but I think I was supposed to break that tea cup.”
His brows sink as he mulls this over. Claire takes the opportunity to ask a question that’s been nagging at her since meeting him. “What were you doing in the house anyway? Do you know Sara?”
“Sort of. It’s… uh, it’s complicated.”
Claire deflates, disappointed by the answer. She looks past him, up toward the darkness where she knows her apartment is waiting for her and sinks down on the seat beside the man instead. “Try me.”
He snorts a little – A laugh? Claire wonders. “Sometimes the door to my room opens up in her basement.”
Claire purses her lips and nods, trying to wrap her head around the absurdity of his statement.
“Honestly, I’m not sure that’d be the weirdest thing I’ve heard since moving here.”
“Really?” He asks.
“Really,” she says.
Something happens then, though Claire isn’t entirely sure how she knows it happens. The man relaxes a little. Maybe it’s the way he raises his head, or the set of his lips, or even the way his hands begin to loosen their grip on each other. Whatever it is, Claire can feel the trust emanating from him as she says this.
“I don’t think she knows,” he says.
He nods. “I know she lives there because I’ve seen her when I’ve walked by. I mean, the first time I found myself in the basement I went straight outside, to see where I’d ended up. Then I used to walk by in the daytime, to see if anyone lived there.”
“But Mack said that she comes and talks to you.” Claire tries to gather all of the gaps in her knowledge so that she can fill them, but the more she looks at them the more the answers seem like islands in a vast sea of the unknown.
“She does,” he says, “I bump into her at the bookstore or sometimes other places too. She introduced herself the first time and now she always stops to greet me, but then she gets this funny look like she’s forgetting something and the conversation kind of just drifts off.”
“That’s weird,” Claire says, “It’s unusual for her not to know something. Especially about the house.”
“Yeah. It’s complicated,” Claire offers, unsure of where to even begin.
“Oh,” he says again.
The silence seeps between them once more and Claire realizes that the night has grown quiet; the rain has returned to its dreary drizzle.
“What’s your name?” Claire asks.
“Declan,” he says, “Yours?”
“Claire,” he repeats, and something about the familiarity of hearing her name makes Claire feel lighter than she has all day.
“Declan, what’s so important about the blue flame?”
He laughs for real this time, a chuckle as he looks down at the sharp angle of his knees. “I don’t know. I just know it’s important.”
“Important how?” She asks.
“I… I really don’t know. But the first night I walked into your backyard I saw it, and it felt like a beacon calling out to me. Like it might hold the answers to all of the questions I have. But every time I get here it’s already gone out.”
“That’s what you were watching for?” Claire recalls their first meeting, “On the bench in the rain?”
“You saw me?”
It’s impossible to tell for sure, but Claire thinks his cheeks turn the slightest shade of red. She spares him the discomfort and moves on: “There was another light. Out there.”
She points in the general direction of the second blue light.
Declan leans past her, looking out into the vague shadows over the lake. “Really? There are more?”
“How did you know this one would light tonight?” She asks, watching him as he sits straight once more and strokes his smooth chin in thought. It takes him a moment before registering her question.
“Hmm? Oh. Well, it tends to come out when it rains, but it can be anytime after sunset and it doesn’t last long.”
“How long have you been trying to catch it?” Claire asks.
“Six months,” he says
“I told you. Cursed.” He sighs in resignation.
There are a thousand more questions Claire wants to ask him, but a light shining in the distance catches her eye. It is not blue, but fluorescent yellow and illuminates a towering brick house watching them from the hill.
“I should probably get home,” Claire says, standing and willing her teeth not to chatter as she speaks.
“Me too. Can I walk with you?” He asks, also rising to his feet beside her.
“If you’d like.” Claire is already trotting away, eager for the warmth of home. It takes Declan only a couple of strides to catch up with her.
“To be honest, I’m heading there anyway. Basement,” he reminds her.
“How do you know the door will open there?” She asks.
“It’s always there at night,” he shrugs, “The rest of the time it opens in the bookstore.”
“Weird.” Claire says again.
“Yep,” Declan answers.
Inside 53 Ganymede there is still no one in sight, but upstairs Claire can hear voices and shuffling and the running of water through the pipes. A tension she didn’t realize she was still carrying begins to release.
Ginger greets them both at the door, rubbing against Declan’s legs. She purrs softly, but doesn’t meow. Claire wonders at this, but hurries along to follow Declan into the basement — perhaps just to confirm his claims or maybe to satiate her own curiosity. They head down a small, wooden staircase near the back of the house into a poorly lit room made almost entirely of cement. There are shelves of canned goods here, a rack of wine, and a fairly cozy laundry area (considering its surroundings). On the wall furthest from the stairs is a boring white door.
“Why don’t you tell Sara about this?” Claire wonders aloud, suddenly suspicious of her new companion.
Declan’s face collapses in guilt. “To be honest… I’m afraid she’ll ask me to leave.”
He looks away then, toward the door, and then back to Claire with his brows knit into an uncomfortable plea. “I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Claire exhales, then lifts her eyes to meet his with what she hopes is something like confidence. “You should tell her. She won’t make you leave. I’m sure of it.”
Doubt is written across his fallen features and so she adds, “53 Ganymede is always here for the people who need us.”
Declan’s smile is faint, but he nods as he opens his door. Before it closes, Claire glimpses a dark, round room lined with bookshelves and a built-in desk. She stands in front of the door a moment, letting the day sink into her bones until she realizes that the cold has set in there too. She hurries upstairs to take another bath.
As she soaks in its steaming warmth, she listens to the familiar steps that seem to have returned while she was away. She closes her eyes and lets the sound surround her. It is the sound of life – a flurry of movement and activity. Claire imagines what the tower attic might look like, what treasures might be hidden inside. She imagines the person or creature pacing to and fro, sitting and then rising to fetch something from the other side of the small space.
She drifts half into a dream and she can almost picture the details of the person’s face. Their narrow eyes and silvery-brown hair. The way he – she’s certain it is a he – must duck at the lowest edges of the cone-shaped ceiling.
Suddenly she is sitting up, her wet hair dripping over her shoulders and her brown eyes opened wide.
Had Declan’s room been round? Mack had said he lived in the bookstore, but if his door opened in the basement as well then couldn’t his room be anywhere? And what other space would be so dark and circular?
Claire drifts back into the tub then and laughs to herself. It echoes loudly off the tiled walls, but she doesn’t care. How had she not thought of it earlier? A room that floats from place to place.
She’d finally solved one mystery, but now she thought harder it seemed to create a myriad more. What was her attic doing bouncing between the basement and a bookstore several blocks away? How had Declan managed to find it? And why couldn’t Sara?
Claire stops laughing long enough to breathe and then wonders if Declan can hear her antics from above. The thought sets off another string of giggles.
Claire wonders when she’ll see Declan again. She hopes he will tell Sara about his room and the door in the basement — she has a feeling Sara will be quite pleased to find her attic again. And she is certain now of what she has said to Declan: 53 Ganymede is his home as much as it is Claire’s.
She smiles, listening to the sounds of life surrounding her, and settles back into her bath.