Station Eleven (Page 17)

Plates and bottles are being ferried to and from the table by a small army of caterers, who will leave their head shots and possibly a screenplay or two behind in the kitchen at the end of the night. Luli, on the wrong side of the glass, is staring at a strawberry that’s fallen off the top of Heller’s wife’s dessert. Miranda has a poor memory when she’s nervous, which is to say whenever she has to meet industry people or throw a dinner party or especially both, and she absolutely cannot remember Heller’s wife’s name although she’s heard it at least twice this evening.

“Oh, it was intense,” Heller’s wife is saying now, in response to something that Miranda didn’t hear. “We were out there for a week, just surfing every day. It was actually really spiritual.”

“The surfing?” the producer seated beside her asks.

“You wouldn’t think it, right? But just going out every day, just you and the waves and a private instructor, it was just a really focused experience. Do you surf?”

“I’d love to, but I’ve just been so busy with this whole school thing lately,” the producer says. “Actually, I guess you’d maybe call it an orphanage, it’s this little thing I set up in Haiti last year, but the point is education, not just housing these kids.…”

“I don’t know, I’m not attached to his project or anything.” Arthur is deep in conversation with an actor who played his brother in a film last year. “I’ve never met the guy, but I’ve heard through friends that he likes my work.”

“I’ve met him a few times,” the actor says.

Miranda tunes out the overlapping conversations to look at Luli, who’s looking at her through the glass. She’d like to take Luli outside, and stay in the backyard with her until all these people leave.

The dessert plates are cleared around midnight but no one’s close to leaving, a wine-drenched languor settling over the table. Arthur is deep in conversation with Heller. Heller’s nameless wife is gazing dreamily at the chandelier.

Clark Thompson is here, Arthur’s oldest friend and the only person at this table, aside from Miranda, who has no professional involvement in movies.

“I’m sorry,” a woman named Tesch is saying now, to Clark, “what exactly is it that you do?” Tesch seems to be someone who mistakes rudeness for intellectual rigor. She is about forty, and wears severe black-framed glasses that somehow remind Miranda of architects. Miranda met her for the first time this evening and she can’t remember what Tesch does, except that obviously she’s involved in some way with the industry, a film editor maybe? And also Miranda doesn’t understand Tesch’s name: is she Tesch something, or something Tesch? Or a one-namer, like Madonna? Are you allowed to have only one name if you’re not famous? Is it possible that Tesch is actually extremely famous and Miranda’s the only one at the table who doesn’t know this? Yes, that seems very possible. These are the things she frets about.

“What do I do? Nothing terribly glamorous, I’m afraid.” Clark is British, thin and very tall, elegant in his usual uniform of vintage suit and Converse sneakers, accessorized with pink socks. He brought them a gift tonight, a beautiful glass paperweight from a museum gift shop in Rome. “I have nothing to do with the film industry,” he says.

“Oh,” Heller’s wife says, “I think that’s marvelous.”

“It’s certainly exotic,” Tesch says, “but that doesn’t narrow the field much, does it?”

“Management consulting. Based out of New York, new client in Los Angeles. I specialize in the repair and maintenance of faulty executives.” Clark sips his wine.

“And what’s that in English?”

“The premise of the company by which I’m employed,” Clark says, “is that if one’s the employer of an executive who’s worthy in some ways but deeply flawed in others, it’s sometimes cheaper to fix the executive than to replace him. Or her.”

“He’s an organizational psychologist,” Arthur says, surfacing from conversation at the far end of the table. “I remember when he went back to England to get his PhD.”

“A PhD,” Tesch says. “How conventional. And you”—she’s turned to Miranda—“how’s your work going?”

“It’s going very well, thank you.” Miranda spends most of her time working on the Station Eleven project. She knows from the gossip blogs that people here see her as an eccentric, the actor’s wife who inks mysterious cartoons that no one’s ever laid eyes on—“My wife’s very private about her work,” Arthur says in interviews—and who doesn’t drive and likes to go for long walks in a town where nobody walks anywhere and who has no friends except a Pomeranian, although does anyone really know this last part? She hopes not. Her friendlessness is never mentioned in gossip blogs, which she appreciates. She hopes she isn’t as awkward to other people as she feels to herself. Elizabeth Colton is looking at her again in that golden way of hers. Elizabeth’s hair is always unbrushed and always looks gorgeous that way. Her eyes are very blue.

“It’s brilliant,” Arthur says. “I mean that. Someday she’ll show it to the world and we’ll all say we knew her when.”

“When will it be finished?”

“Soon,” Miranda says. It’s true, it won’t be so long now. She has felt for months that she’s nearing the end of something, even though the story has spun off in a dozen directions and feels most days like a mess of hanging threads. She tries to meet Arthur’s gaze, but he’s looking at Elizabeth.

“What do you plan to do with it once it’s done?” Tesch asks.

“I don’t know.”

“Surely you’ll try to publish it?”

“Miranda has complicated feelings on the topic,” Arthur says. Is it Miranda’s imagination, or is he going out of his way to avoid looking at her directly?

“Oh?” Tesch smiles and arches an eyebrow.

“It’s the work itself that’s important to me.” Miranda is aware of how pretentious this sounds, but is it still pretentious if it’s true? “Not whether I publish it or not.”

“I think that’s so great,” Elizabeth says. “It’s like, the point is that it exists in the world, right?”

“What’s the point of doing all that work,” Tesch asks, “if no one sees it?”

“It makes me happy. It’s peaceful, spending hours working on it. It doesn’t really matter to me if anyone else sees it.”

“Ah,” Tesch says. “Very admirable of you. You know, it reminds me of a documentary I saw last month, a little Czech film about an outsider artist who refused to show her work during her lifetime. She lived in Praha, and—”

“Oh,” Clark says, “I believe when you’re speaking English, you’re allowed to refer to it as Prague.”

Tesch appears to have lost the power of speech.

“It’s a beautiful city, isn’t it?” Elizabeth has the kind of smile that makes everyone around her smile too, unconsciously.

“Ah, you’ve been there?” Clark asks.

“I took a couple of art history classes at UCLA a few years back. I went to Prague at the end of the semester to see a few of the paintings I’d read about. There’s such a weight of history in that place, isn’t there? I wanted to move there.”

“For the history?”

“I grew up in the exurbs of Indianapolis,” Elizabeth says. “I live in a neighborhood where the oldest building is fifty or sixty years old. There’s something appealing about the thought of living in a place with some history to it, don’t you think?”

“So tonight,” Heller says, “if I’m not mistaken, is tonight the actual wedding anniversary?”

“It certainly is,” Arthur says, and glasses are raised. “Three years.” He’s smiling past Miranda’s left ear. She glances over her shoulder, and when she looks back he’s shifted his gaze somewhere else.

“How did you two meet?” Heller’s wife asks. The thing about Hollywood, Miranda realized early on, is that almost everyone is Thea, her former colleague at Neptune Logistics, which is to say that almost everyone has the right clothes, the right haircut, the right everything, while Miranda flails after them in the wrong outfit with her hair sticking up.

“Oh, it’s not the most exciting how-we-met story in the world, I’m afraid.” A slight strain in Arthur’s voice.

“I think how-we-met stories are always exciting,” Elizabeth says.

“You’re much more patient than I am,” Clark says.

“I don’t know if exciting is the word I’d use,” Heller’s wife says. “But there’s certainly a sweetness about them, about those stories I mean.”

“No, it’s just, if everything happens for a reason,” Elizabeth persists, “as personally, I believe that it does, then when I hear a story of how two people came together, it’s like a piece of the plan is being revealed.”

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