Station Eleven (Page 3)
THERE WERE FEW PEOPLE LEFT at the Elgin Theatre now. A woman washing costumes in Wardrobe, a man ironing other costumes nearby. An actress—the one who’d played Cordelia—drinking tequila backstage with the assistant stage manager. A young stagehand, mopping the stage and nodding his head in time to the music on his iPod. In a dressing room, the woman whose job it was to watch the child actresses was trying to console the sobbing little girl who’d been onstage when Arthur died.
Six stragglers had drifted to the bar in the lobby, where a bartender mercifully remained. The stage manager was there, also Edgar and Gloucester, a makeup artist, Goneril, and an executive producer who’d been in the audience. At the moment when Jeevan was wading into the snowdrifts in Allan Gardens, the bartender was pouring a whisky for Goneril. The conversation had turned to informing Arthur’s next of kin.
“But who was his family?” Goneril was perched on a barstool. Her eyes were red. Without makeup she had a face like marble, the palest and most flawless skin the bartender had ever seen. She seemed much smaller offstage, also much less evil. “Who did he have?”
“He had one son,” the makeup artist said. “Tyler.”
“Seven or eight?” The makeup artist knew exactly how old Arthur’s son was, but didn’t want to let on that he read gossip magazines. “I think he maybe lives with his mother in Israel, maybe Jerusalem or Tel Aviv.” He knew it was Jerusalem.
“Oh, right, that blond actress,” Edgar said. “Elizabeth, wasn’t it? Eliza? Something like that.”
“Ex-wife number three?” The producer.
“I think the kid’s mother was ex-wife number two.”
“Poor kid,” the producer said. “Did Arthur have anyone he was close with?”
This provoked an uncomfortable silence. Arthur had been carrying on an affair with the woman who looked after the child actresses. Everyone present knew about it, except the producer, but none of them knew if the others knew. Gloucester was the one who said the woman’s name.
“Who’s Tanya?” the producer asked.
“One of the kids hasn’t been picked up yet. I think Tanya’s in the kids’ dressing room.” The stage manager had never seen anyone die before. He wanted a cigarette.
“Well,” Goneril said, “who else is there? Tanya, the little boy, all those ex-wives, anyone else? Siblings, parents?”
“Who’s Tanya?” the producer asked again.
“How many ex-wives are we talking about here?” The bartender was polishing a glass.
“He has a brother,” the makeup artist said, “but I can’t remember his name. I just remember him saying he had a younger brother.”
“I think there were maybe three or four,” Goneril said, talking about the ex-wives. “Three?”
“Three.” The makeup artist was blinking away tears. “But I don’t know if the latest divorce has been finalized.”
“So Arthur wasn’t married to anyone at the time of … he wasn’t married to anyone tonight?” The producer knew this sounded foolish but he didn’t know how else to phrase it. Arthur Leander had walked into the theater just a few hours ago, and it was inconceivable that he wouldn’t walk in again tomorrow.
“Three divorces,” Gloucester said. “Can you imagine?” He was recently divorced himself. He was trying to think of the last thing Arthur had said to him. Something about blocking in the second act? He wished he could remember. “Has anyone been informed? Who do we call?”
“I should call his lawyer,” the producer said.
This solution was inarguable, but so depressing that the group drank for several minutes in silence before anyone could bring themselves to speak.
“His lawyer,” the bartender said finally. “Christ, what a thing. You die, and they call your lawyer.”
“Who else is there?” Goneril asked. “His agent? The seven-year-old? The ex-wives? Tanya?”
“I know, I know,” the bartender said. “It’s just a hell of a thing.” They were silent again. Someone made a comment about the snow coming down hard, and it was, they could see it through the glass doors at the far end of the lobby. From the bar the snow was almost abstract, a film about bad weather on a deserted street.
“Well, here’s to Arthur,” the bartender said.
In the children’s dressing room, Tanya was giving Kirsten a paperweight. “Here,” she said, as she placed it into Kirsten’s hands, “I’m going to keep trying to reach your parents, and you just try to stop crying and look at this pretty thing …,” and Kirsten, teary-eyed and breathless, a few days shy of her eighth birthday, gazed at the object and thought it was the most beautiful, the most wonderful, the strangest thing anyone had ever given her. It was a lump of glass with a storm cloud trapped inside.
In the lobby, the people gathered at the bar clinked their glasses together. “To Arthur,” they said. They drank for a few more minutes and then went their separate ways in the storm.
Of all of them there at the bar that night, the bartender was the one who survived the longest. He died three weeks later on the road out of the city.
JEEVAN WANDERED ALONE IN Allan Gardens. He let the cool light of the greenhouse draw him in like a beacon, snowdrifts halfway to his knees by now, the childhood pleasure of being the first to leave footprints. When he looked in he was soothed by the interior paradise, tropical flowers blurred by fogged glass, palm fronds whose shapes reminded him of a long-ago vacation in Cuba. He would go see his brother, he decided. He wanted very much to tell Frank about the evening, both the awfulness of Arthur’s death and the revelation that being a paramedic was the right thing to do with his life. Up until tonight he hadn’t been certain. He’d been searching for a profession for so long now. He’d been a bartender, a paparazzo, an entertainment journalist, then a paparazzo again and then once again a bartender, and that was just the past dozen years.
Frank lived in a glass tower on the south edge of the city, overlooking the lake. Jeevan left the park and waited awhile on the sidewalk, jumping up and down for warmth, boarded a streetcar that floated like a ship out of the night and leaned his forehead on the window as it inched along Carlton Street, back the way he had come. The storm was almost a whiteout now, the streetcar moving at a walking pace. His hands ached from compressing Arthur’s unwilling heart. The sadness of it, memories of photographing Arthur in Hollywood all those years ago. He was thinking of the little girl, Kirsten Raymonde, bright in her stage makeup; the cardiologist kneeling in his gray suit; the lines of Arthur’s face, his last words—“The wren …”—and this made him think of birds, Frank with his binoculars the few times they’d been bird-watching together, Laura’s favorite summer dress which was blue with a storm of yellow parrots, Laura, what would become of them? It was still possible that he might go home later, or that at any moment she might call and apologize. He was almost back where he’d started now, the theater closed up and darkened a few blocks to the south. The streetcar stopped just short of Yonge Street, and he saw that a car had spun out in the middle of the tracks, three people pushing while its tires spun in the snow. His phone vibrated again in his pocket, but this time it wasn’t Laura.
“Hua,” he said. He thought of Hua as his closest friend, though they rarely saw one another. They’d tended bar together for a couple of years just after university while Hua studied for his MCAT and Jeevan tried unsuccessfully to establish himself as a wedding photographer, and then Jeevan had followed another friend to Los Angeles to take pictures of actors while Hua had gone off to medical school. Now Hua worked long hours at Toronto General.
“You been watching the news?” Hua spoke with a peculiar intensity.
“Tonight? No, I had theater tickets. Actually, you wouldn’t believe what happened, I—”
“Wait, listen, I need you to tell me honestly, will it send you into one of your panic attacks if I tell you something really, really bad?”
“I haven’t had an anxiety attack in three years. My doctor said that whole thing was just a temporary stress-related situation, you know that.”
“Okay, you’ve heard of the Georgia Flu?”
“Sure,” Jeevan said, “you know I try to follow the news.” A story had broken the day before about an alarming new flu in the Republic of Georgia, conflicting reports about mortality rates and death tolls. Details had been sketchy. The name the news outlets were going with—the Georgia Flu—had struck Jeevan as disarmingly pretty.
“I’ve got a patient in the ICU,” Hua said. “Sixteen-year-old girl, flew in from Moscow last night, presented with flu symptoms at the ER early this morning.” Only now did Jeevan hear the exhaustion in Hua’s voice. “It’s not looking good for her. Well, by midmorning we’ve got twelve more patients, same symptoms, turns out they were all on the same flight. They all say they started feeling sick on the plane.”
“Relatives? Friends of the first patient?”