Station Eleven (Page 20)
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I’m a little wobbly.”
“Aren’t we all,” Miranda says, but as usually happens when she tries to say something funny, her audience seems not to catch the joke. Elizabeth and the dog are both staring at her. “Please don’t cry,” she says to Elizabeth, whose eyes are shining. “Don’t, really, I’m serious. It’s too much.”
“I’m sorry,” Elizabeth says for the third time. That infuriatingly small voice. She sounds like a different person when she’s in front of a camera.
Elizabeth blinks. “You’re working on your secret project.” She is looking all around the room. She falls silent, and after a moment Miranda succumbs to curiosity and sits on the floor beside Elizabeth to see the room from her vantage point. Paintings and sketches are pinned to the walls. Notes on structure and chronology cover a massive board. There are four pages of story outlines taped to the windowsill.
“What happens next?” Miranda asks. It’s easier to talk to Elizabeth when they’re sitting side by side, when she doesn’t have to look at her.
“I don’t know.”
“You do know.”
“I wish I could tell you how sorry I am,” Elizabeth says, “but you’ve already told me to stop apologizing.”
“It’s just an awful thing to do.”
“I don’t think I’m an awful person,” Elizabeth says.
“No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.”
“I think this is happening because it was supposed to happen.” Elizabeth speaks very softly.
“I’d prefer not to think that I’m following a script,” Miranda says, but she’s tired, there’s no sting in her words, it’s past four in the morning and too late in every sense. Elizabeth says nothing, just pulls her knees close to her chest and sighs.
In three months Miranda and Arthur will sit in a conference room with their lawyers to work out the final terms of their divorce settlement while the paparazzi smoke cigarettes on the sidewalk outside, while Elizabeth packs to move into the house with the crescent-moon light by the pool. In four months Miranda will be back in Toronto, divorced at twenty-seven, working on a commerce degree, spending her alimony on expensive clothing and consultations with stylists because she’s come to understand that clothes are armor; she will call Leon Prevant to ask about employment and a week later she’ll be back at Neptune Logistics, in a more interesting job now, working under Leon in Client Relations, rising rapidly through the company until she comes to a point after four or five years when she travels almost constantly between a dozen countries and lives mostly out of a carry-on suitcase, a time when she lives a life that feels like freedom and sleeps with her downstairs neighbor occasionally but refuses to date anyone, whispers “I repent nothing” into the mirrors of a hundred hotel rooms from London to Singapore and in the morning puts on the clothes that make her invincible, a life where the moments of emptiness and disappointment are minimal, where by her midthirties she feels competent and at last more or less at ease in the world, studying foreign languages in first-class lounges and traveling in comfortable seats across oceans, meeting with clients and living her job, breathing her job, until she isn’t sure where she stops and her job begins, almost always loves her life but is often lonely, draws the stories of Station Eleven in hotel rooms at night.
But first there’s this moment, this lamp-lit room: Miranda sits on the floor beside Elizabeth, whose breath is heavy with wine, and she leans back until she feels the reassuring solidity of the door frame against her spine. Elizabeth, who is crying a little, bites her lip and together they look at the sketches and paintings pinned to every wall. The dog stands at attention and stares at the window, where just now a moth brushed up against the glass, and for a moment everything is still. Station Eleven is all around them.
A TRANSCRIPT OF AN INTERVIEW conducted by François Diallo, librarian of the town of New Petoskey, publisher and editor of the New Petoskey News, twenty-six years after Miranda and Arthur’s last dinner party in Los Angeles and fifteen years after the Georgia Flu:
FRANÇOIS DIALLO: Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
KIRSTEN RAYMONDE: My pleasure. What are you writing?
DIALLO: It’s my own private shorthand. I made it up.
RAYMONDE: Is it faster?
DIALLO: Very much so. I can transcribe an interview in real time, and then write it out later. Now, I appreciate you talking to me this afternoon. As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve just started a newspaper, and I’ve been interviewing everyone who comes through New Petoskey.
RAYMONDE: I’m not sure I have much news to tell you.
DIALLO: If you were to talk about the other towns you’ve passed through, that would count as news to us. The world’s become so local, hasn’t it? We hear stories from traders, of course, but most people don’t leave their towns anymore. I think my readers will be interested in hearing from people who’ve been to other places since the collapse.
DIALLO: And more than that, well, publishing the newspaper has been an invigorating project, but then I thought, Why stop with a newspaper? Why not create an oral history of this time we live in, and an oral history of the collapse? With your permission, I’ll publish excerpts from this interview in the next edition, and I’ll keep the entirety of the interview for my archives.
RAYMONDE: That’s fine. It’s an interesting project. I know you’re supposed to be interviewing me, but could I ask you a question first?
DIALLO: Of course.
RAYMONDE: You’ve been a librarian for a long time—
DIALLO: Since Year Four.
RAYMONDE: Those comics I showed you just now, with the space station. Have you ever seen them before, or others in the series?
DIALLO: Never, no, they’re not part of any comic-book series I’ve ever come across. You said someone gave them to you as a gift?
RAYMONDE: Arthur Leander gave them to me. That actor I told you about.
A YEAR BEFORE THE Georgia Flu, Arthur and Clark met for dinner in London. Arthur was passing through town en route to Paris at a moment when Clark happened to be visiting his parents, and they agreed to meet for dinner in a corner of the city that Clark didn’t know especially well. He’d set out early, but when he stepped out of the Tube station he had a vision of his phone lying where he’d left it on his parents’ kitchen counter, a map application open on the screen. Clark liked to think he knew London but the truth was he’d spent most of his adult life in New York, secure within the confines of Manhattan’s idiot-proof grid, and on this particular evening London’s tangle of streets was inscrutable. The side street for which he was searching failed to materialize and he found himself wandering, increasingly late, angry and embarrassed, retracing his footsteps and trying different turns. He hailed a cab when the rain began.
“Easiest two quid I ever made in me life,” the cabbie said, when Clark told him the address. The cabbie performed two left turns in rapid succession and they were at the restaurant, on a side street that Clark could’ve sworn hadn’t been there when he’d passed by ten minutes ago. “Of course,” the cabbie said, “you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’re going,” and when Clark went in, Arthur was waiting, caught under a beam of track lighting in a booth at the back. There had been a time when Arthur would never have faced the dining room of a restaurant, long periods when the only way to eat a meal in peace was to sit with his back to the room and hope no one would recognize his hunched shoulders and expensive haircut from behind, but now, Clark realized, Arthur wanted to be seen.
“Dr. Thompson,” Arthur said.
“Mr. Leander.” The disorientation of meeting one’s sagging contemporaries, memories of a younger face crashing into the reality of jowls, under-eye pouches, unexpected lines, and then the terrible realization that one probably looks just as old as they do. Do you remember when we were young and gorgeous? Clark wanted to ask. Do you remember when everything seemed limitless? Do you remember when it seemed impossible that you’d get famous and I’d get a PhD? But instead of saying any of this he wished his friend a happy birthday.
“Of course,” Clark said. “That’s one thing I like about birthdays, they stay in one place. Same spot on the calendar, year in, year out.”
“But the years keep going faster, have you noticed?”
They settled into the business of ordering drinks and appetizers, and all Clark could think of as they talked was whether or not Arthur had noticed that a couple at a nearby table was looking at him and whispering. If Arthur had noticed, he seemed supremely unconcerned, but the attention put Clark on edge.
“You’re going to Paris tomorrow?” Clark asked somewhere between the first martini and the appetizers.
“Visiting my son. Elizabeth’s vacationing there with him this week. It’s just been a b***h of a year, Clark.”
“I know,” Clark said. “I’m sorry.” Arthur’s third wife had recently served him with divorce papers, and her predecessor had taken their son to Jerusalem.