Laundry swirls about in a hectic and watery circle behind the glass of the machine. Claire stares, but doesn’t see the soapy dance of socks and thick woollen sweaters. Instead she still sees the hundreds of tiny brown fragments littering the dusty floor under her bed and struggles to recall the details of the dream. By now – almost two hours after waking in a disoriented tangle of sheets and blankets – her memories are as shattered and incomplete as the mysterious egg.
Mostly, she remembers the smell: lavender and… something else. Something medicinal and pungent, though still nostalgically pleasant. It’s strange, she thinks, it’s the first time I remember smelling anything in a dream.
Claire leans back, the metal cold against her shoulders even through the layers of sweater, shirt, and camisole. She closes her eyes, hoping that the two other people awake enough for laundry at seven in the morning won’t think she’s weird. The repetitive whirr and hum of the machines creates an atmosphere of submersion, like listening to the world from deep under water. It’s reminiscent enough of the disorienting pressure of the dream that Claire manages to salvage a scene: a kitchen – ruddy-orange with warmth, and thick with lavender-medicine steam.
Claire sits at a solid butcher-block table, her legs dangling and kicking against the wooden bars of her chair. A stainless-steel gas stove buts up against granite countertops so high she can barely see the pink-and-black flecked surface. Home, Claire realizes, where I grew up. She is suddenly certain of this knowledge – this place is her parent’s house even though it isn’t quite. It seems too vast, and a touch disorderly – something her mother would never stand for.
Amongst the paraphernalia on the counter, none of which Claire can recall with certainty, are tea cups. Claire isn’t sure how many, only that they are empty and waiting to be filled. This is also why she is waiting. A kettle rests on the stove over a flickering blue flame. Claire remembers herself kicking her legs and watching the kettle. Her mother will pour the tea soon, is what the dream tells her. But the waking Claire knows this never actually happens.
There is a scream, or at least it seems that way for a heartbeat; the kettle is whistling. Claire’s kicking increases and she feels a sense of urgency, a cold tingle at the base of her spine. Her mother still does not come. Claire looks to the mugs – had they been tea cups moments ago? Certainly not. Claire’s mother never allows the children near her china. They are definitely mugs, but unfamiliar and sporadically shaped and sized, though in what way Claire cannot recall.
She does remember that they fill her with a malignant sort of anticipation and she wants to look away. The dream does not allow this. One mug – Claire knows this one is of medium height and slender, tapering slightly near the top – jolts forward. It continues moving like this, in stuttering shifts across the smooth surface, as if someone were pulling at it with a wire. Claire knows this is wrong and that it means something. She screams for her mother. The high wail of the kettle drowns her out along with the eventual smash of ceramics on the hard tile floor.
Shards of green scatter across the white floor, interspersed with brown, chocolate powder. These details are crisp and unmistakeable. Every sugary granule too clear for the memory of a dream. The fear is also acute. A panic Claire feels in the past and present. The panic of something being broken and it being her fault and there being nothing to do but wait for someone else to clean up her mess and remove the still-screeching kettle.
A mechanical buzz interrupts Claire’s memory and she opens her eyes to see an elderly man opening one of the oversized dryers against the wall. Her own clothes have ceased their hectic tumbling and are ready to be dried.
There is more to the dream, Claire decides, but whatever it is eludes her as she tosses her cold, damp clothes into an adjacent dryer. She pushes in the required coins and sits back into her uncomfortable seat. When she closes her eyes this time she is unable to hear anything but the shifting bodies of the other customers and the clanking of an uneven load. The comfortable white noise seems as elusive as the dream.
Claire stands, unable to bear the aching line across her thighs from the sharp edge of the square metal seat any longer. She throws her purse over her shoulders and heads out into the frigid morning air, hoping it will clear away the stubborn barriers in her memory. There are few people on the streets yet, and few of the businesses are open aside from some coffee shops and a tiny breakfast diner. Claire considers coffee, but hesitates, afraid of the distance caffeine might put between herself and her subconscious. Perhaps a small breakfast…
That’s when she recognizes the sign above the cafe whose door she is reaching for. She’s been here before, with Mr. Gallagher and his children. Claire smiles at the memory, but lets her hand drop. Sara had said something about a bookstore past here. To the right? Claire begins walking, inspecting signs on both sides of this small side street. The store might not be open yet, but with nothing else to do at least she can find it and check their hours.
The street – Ferrie Street North a sign informs her – is mostly residential with the occasional office or boutique in what were once large brick homes. She walks for four blocks but can see nothing suggesting a book store and no prominent signs further down. Maybe Sara was wrong, she thinks, it certainly wouldn’t be the first time she mixed something up.
Pulling her hands up into the sleeves of her sweater and crossing her arms against the misty fall air, she decides she will try one more block. If she can’t find it, she will ask Mrs. Park for directions instead.
She almost misses the store entirely, only noticing it tucked away in the middle of a row of tall and slender townhouses once she starts heading back toward the laundromat. Its brick is tabby orange and there are a number of stone steps leading to its elegant black door, trimmed in gold. The only obvious indication that this is anything more than a compact and stylish dwelling is the bright red ‘OPEN’ sign on the door and, on closer inspection, an easily missed sign painted on the glass window that reads: Between the Pages – Used and Rare Books and Curios.
The sign surprises Claire and, with every step toward the door she becomes even more certain that it will be locked. There are no business hours listed and she is convinced that the sign has been left that way by accident. And yet the door opens easily when she turned the knob.
Claire steps inside warily, feeling much the uninvited houseguest. Thankfully the jingle of the shopkeeper’s bell and the well-lit interior leave no doubt that this is indeed a store open for business. The enveloping smell of well-loved pages and the towering presence of floor to ceiling shelves welcomes Claire and sets her at ease. Each shelf is overflowing with books, all down the hallway in front of her and up the steep stairway to her right. Despite being crowded, the shelves and the hallways do not give the impression of disorganization and Claire makes out a variety of neatly written signs indicating genres and alphabetization.
“Good morning,” a man’s voice calls from the end of the hall. Claire drags her eyes from the titles of bargain paperbacks on a shorter shelf to her immediate right to the room at the back of the building. There stands a tall wisp of a man. His curly strawberry-blond hair falls in tufts across his left eye where he occasionally tries to brush it back behind his ear. He can’t be much older than Claire.
“Good morning,” she answers, walking past a doorway to the next shelf in the hallway. She notes another room there with more shelves stuffed with books, and a cracked leather couch under the window. “I didn’t think you’d be open so early.”
The man smiles, revealing a single dimple on his left cheek. He bends over a desk for a moment and retrieves some heavy hardcover volumes which he carries over to Claire. “I just open whenever I feel ready. To be honest, I’m usually open.”
Kneeling down, he slides one of the books onto the shelf by Claire’s feet, though how he manages to make it fit Claire cannot begin to fathom.
Claire glances around again, noting the size and variety of the store’s stock. There must be even more upstairs given the shelves along the wall. “This… this is your store?”
The man stands and reaches out his hand. It is warm as it gently takes hers. He releases it almost as quickly. “Mackenzie Taylor,” he says, “and yes. Impressed?”
He lifts an eyebrow, admiring his own work. Claire can only nod as her gaze follows his.
“My grandfather was a collector, and I inherited a lot of his books when he passed away. Not just rare stuff, either. Papa loved everything,” his dimple reappears as he reaches out to finger a number of the spines beside him – children’s fantasy Claire notes, “I used to love his library, and he used to let me read all of it. Nothing was ever just for show. He always said it was a waste for books to sit, unread on the shelf. But there was no way I could keep everything, so… I wanted to make a place where I could share them with others.”
“I’ve never seen a bookstore quite like this,” Claire says, her gaze drawn to various titles behind him.
Mackenzie laughs, “It used to be a run-down antique shop before I bought it. There are still some little pieces left from back then on the top floor. I’ll let you take a look around. I’m usually in the office at the back if there’s anything you’d like. That’s also where the rare books are kept, in case you’re looking for anything in particular.”
“Thank you,” Claire answers, and he moves off past her into the other room with the remaining volumes in his arms.
Claire browses the downstairs shelves quickly, not looking for anything so much as enjoying the experience of being surrounded by so many books. Many are damaged – cracked covers, yellowed or dog-eared pages – but it only makes their appearance more alluring. How many people have held these books? How many have greedily turned their pages, desperate for the next sentence, the next word? How many have cried onto those pages from sorrows both fictional and private? How many people have read the consistent ink letters and come away with a story no one else will ever read? There are more stories here, Claire realizes, than there are pages in the entire building.
By the time she reaches the third and final floor Claire has five books cradled in her arms. She knows little about them, except that they each appealed to her in some way. This one’s synopsis tells of adventure and romance under the summer sun. This one’s cover looks whimsical and mysterious. That one’s pages smell like bonfires and dried leaves. Each feels like a friend that will keep her company on the lonely shelf in her tiny tower.
She balances them carefully as she inspects the odd assortment of antiques littered across the tables and hardwood floor. There is an old wooden rocking horse in one corner, its paint almost completely worn away along with the carved details of its face and saddle. There are gaudy lamps and porcelain vases with massive purple and pink flowers painted on their shiny white surfaces. Claire stops for a while and inspects the tarnished collection of pocket watches, some still ticking though they’ve long been out of time.
There is the sound of a door behind her – the click of a lock unfastening and a creak of wood – and a footstep before a breath of surprise. Claire twists her head, and in her haste a book drops from her arms onto the table and then onto the floor with a flat smack. The smash of porcelain follows, and a tinkle of delicate shards on the hardwood.
Claire looks at the mess, and her stomach seems to rise into her throat as she realizes what has happened. A set of four tea cups sits on the table, or it did only moments before, now one rests below in a hundred useless pieces. Claire’s throat begins to burn and constrict. Her eyes feel hot as well. She can almost imagine a high-pitched whistle coming from one of the lower floors.
“I’m sorry,” a voice whispers from behind her, but Claire doesn’t turn to look. Instead she sets her books on the table – carefully this time – and looks around for a broom. She isn’t a child in a dream – she’s a woman in a bookstore filled with dreams. Here, she can decide what to do next.
“It’s okay. I was being careless. I’ll just run down and get a broom from Mackenzie,” she says, turning to offer an apologetic smile to the stranger. The numb confusion that slows her muscles then makes her question whether she isn’t still dreaming – the man standing behind her is familiar. The brown-grey hair, its colour still ambiguous even in the sunlight. Equally colourless eyes stare out from a lean face almost a foot above Claire’s own. This man let her into 53 Ganymede the night Ginger locked her out. The night she’d found Beans.
“Sorry,” the man says again, dropping his head a little and refusing to meet her eye. Vaguely, Claire wonders where he came from; there isn’t a door in this room aside from the open one she entered through.
Footsteps pound up the stairs and Mackenzie bursts through the door looking a little winded, his brow creased with concern. “Is everything okay? I heard something break.”
Claire inhales, “I broke one of the tea cups. I dropped my book by accident. I’m sorry. I’ll pay for it and clean it up. Do you have a broom…?”
Ben looks with confusion to the floor and then up to Claire and then behind her to the stranger. His face floods with relief. “That’s fine. I’ve been trying to get rid of this stuff for ages to be honest.”
“No, really, I insist. Mackenzie…”
“Mack,” Mackenzie says, “and it’s fine. They’re already paid for.”
“What?” Claire tilts her head, trying to interpret the strange grin spreading across his face. She watches Mack’s eyes flicker to the stranger’s and she looks behind her. The man’s face is as impenetrable as before.
“Sara,” his voice says from behind her, hardly any louder than before.
Mack nods. “I’ll pack up the rest for you. You can take them home to her.” He takes a few steps away and then shouts over his shoulder. “I assume you live there?”
Claire looks behind her again, assuming Mack is talking to the man, but she finds he’s no longer there.
Mack returns a short time later with a cardboard box and some tissue paper. He wraps each cup carefully. Claire realizes now that they are quite beautiful in their own way. Each is slightly flawed – a stray fleck of paint or a chip in the porcelain – but she thinks they will suit Sara and Art’s kitchen.
She still insists on sweeping the broken shards as he packs.
“She paid for them when she was in last weekend and said she’d have someone pick them up,” Mack explained.
“But how do you know that meant me?” Claire asks, though she feels his guess is probably correct.
“She said to tell you something. She said ‘Tell her broken things are infinite things. An empty place has unlimited possibilities.’”
Claire chuckles a little. She isn’t sure it makes much sense, but there is a reassuring comfort in just knowing that Sara was here, trying to help her.
“Let’s just say she’s a regular customer.” He trades a bag with the cardboard box and her five books for the broom. Claire fishes out the money for the books and thanks him.
Before she makes it all they way downstairs she runs back up, leaning on the banister as she tilts her head far enough to see him rearranging the remaining antiques on the table. She calls to him, “By the way, do you know who the man was earlier? And where he went?”
Mack shrugs. “He just kind of shows up from time to time. Doesn’t say much. I’ve seen him talk to Sara before. That’s what made me remember about the cups.” He pauses, hesitating before continuing with a reddened face, “I think… I think he lives here.”
“Lives here?” Claire asks.
“If lives is the right word. I know… it sounds… well, anyway. I just know I’ve never seen him use the front door. Or any door for that matter. I try not to think about it.” Mack looks around the room uneasily, and Claire thanks him for a second time.
She runs down Ferrie Street North, knowing her laundry has been left unattended for much too long. Her mind also races, questions tumbling haphazardly like dirty socks and cozy sweaters. By the time she reaches the Laundromat her memories of the dream are near-forgotten, exchanged with thoughts of the present and possibilities for the future.
Thank you for reading! To those who have been following 53 Ganymede from the beginning: it means the world to me. I’m going to start publishing Ganymede every other Saturday for the next little while. Check out below for the release date for Episode 8. Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think! ❤