Station Eleven (Page 31)
“So you just flew in from Chicago,” Jeevan said, at a loss.
“Yes I did.” Arthur reached and turned off Jeevan’s recorder again. “Tell me something,” he said. “What did you say your name was?”
“If I tell you something, Jeevan Chaudhary, how long do I have before it appears in print?”
“Well,” Jeevan said, “what do you want to tell me?”
“Something no one else knows, but I want twenty-four hours before it appears anywhere.”
“Arthur,” the publicist said from somewhere behind Jeevan, “we live in the information age. It’ll be on TMZ before he gets to the parking lot.”
“I’m a man of my word,” Jeevan said. At that point in his directionless life he wasn’t sure if this was true or not, but it was nice to think that it might be.
“What does that mean?” Arthur asked.
“It means I do what I say I’m going to do.”
“Okay, look,” Arthur said, “if I tell you something …”
“Yes. I’ll tell no one else, on condition that you give me twenty-four hours.”
“Fine,” Jeevan said, “I could give you twenty-four hours until it runs.”
“Not just until it runs. Twenty-four hours until you tell another living soul, because I don’t want some intern at wherever the hell you work leaking it themselves.”
“Okay,” Jeevan said. “Twenty-four hours before I tell another living soul.” He was pleased by the intrigue.
“Arthur,” the publicist said, “could I speak with you for a moment?”
“No,” Arthur said, “I have to do this.”
“You don’t have to do anything,” she said. “Remember who you’re talking to.”
“I’m a man of my word,” Jeevan repeated. This sounded a little sillier the second time.
“You’re a journalist,” she said. “Don’t be ridiculous. Arthur—”
“Okay, look,” Arthur said, to Jeevan, “I came here directly from the airport.”
“I came here two hours early, almost three hours actually, because I didn’t want to go home first.”
“Why didn’t …?”
“I’m leaving my wife for Lydia Marks,” Arthur said.
“Oh, my god,” the publicist said.
Lydia Marks was Arthur’s costar on the film that had just wrapped in Chicago. Jeevan had photographed her coming out of a club once in Los Angeles, bright-eyed and almost supernaturally put-together at three in the morning. She was the sort of person who liked the paparazzi and sometimes actually called them in advance. She had flashed him a winning smile.
“You’re leaving Elizabeth Colton,” Jeevan said. “Why?”
“Because I have to. I’m in love with someone else.”
“Why are you telling me this?”
“I’m moving in with Lydia next month,” he said, “and Elizabeth doesn’t know yet. I flew here a week ago when I had the day off from filming, specifically to tell her, and I just couldn’t do it. Look, here’s what you have to understand about Elizabeth: nothing bad has ever happened to her.”
“Don’t write that in your piece. I shouldn’t have mentioned it. The point is, I haven’t been able to tell her. I couldn’t do it any of the times we spoke on the phone, and I couldn’t do it today. But if you tell me that this story will appear tomorrow, then that forces my hand, doesn’t it?”
“It’ll be a sensitive story,” Jeevan said. “You and Elizabeth are still friends and you wish only the best for her, you have no further comment and you desire for her privacy to be respected at this difficult time. That about it?”
Arthur sighed. He looked somewhat older than forty-four. “Can you say it was mutual, for her sake?”
“The split was mutual and, uh, amicable,” Jeevan said. “You and Elizabeth remain friends. You have considerable … considerable respect for one another and have decided mutually that it’s best for you to go your separate ways, and you wish for privacy in this, I don’t know, in this difficult time?”
“Do you want me to mention the …?” Jeevan didn’t finish the sentence, but he didn’t have to. Arthur winced and looked at the ceiling.
“Yes,” he said in a strained voice, “let’s mention the baby. Why not?”
“Your first priority is your son, Tyler, who you and Elizabeth are committed to coparenting. I’ll make it less awkward than that.”
“Thank you,” Arthur said.
ARTHUR THANKED HIM, and then what? On his brother’s sofa in a tower on the south edge of Toronto, eight days after Arthur’s death, Jeevan stared at the ceiling and tried to remember how it had played out. Had the publicist offered him a cappuccino? No, she had not, although that would’ve been nice. (Jeevan had been thinking of cappuccinos a great deal, because cappuccinos were among his favorite things and it had occurred to him that if everything was as bad as the television news suggested, he might never drink another. The things we fixate on, he thought.) Anyway, the publicist: she’d escorted him out without looking at him and closed the door in his face, and somehow this was already seven years ago.
Jeevan lay on the sofa, entertaining flashes of random memory and thinking of things like cappuccinos and beer while Frank worked on his latest ghostwriting project, a memoir of a philanthropist whose name he was contractually forbidden from mentioning. Jeevan kept thinking of his girlfriend, his house in Cabbagetown, wondering if he was going to see either of them again. Cell phones had stopped working by then. His brother had no landline. Outside the world was ending and snow continued to fall.
HE’D KEPT HIS WORD, THOUGH. This was one of the very few moments Jeevan was proud of in his professional life. He had told no one about Arthur and Elizabeth’s split, absolutely no one, for a full twenty-four hours after the interview.
“What are you smiling about?” Frank asked.
In a different lifetime Jeevan had stood outside Arthur’s house by the hour, smoking cigarettes and staring up at the windows, dazed with boredom. One night he’d tricked Arthur’s first wife into an unflattering photograph, and he’d made good money on the shot but he still felt bad about it. The way she’d looked at him, stunned and sad with the cigarette in her hand, hair sticking up in all directions, the strap of her dress falling off her shoulder. Strange to think of it now in this winter city.
“YOU’VE GOT TO STOP singing that song,” Frank said.
“Sorry, but it’s the perfect song.”
“I don’t disagree, but you’ve got a terrible singing voice.”
It was the end of the world as they knew it! Jeevan had had that song stuck in his head for several days now, ever since he’d appeared on his brother’s doorstep with the shopping carts. For a while they’d lived in front of the television news, low volume, a murmured litany of nightmares that left them drained and reeling, drifting in and out of sleep. How could so many die so quickly? The numbers seemed impossible. Jeevan taped plastic over all of the air ducts in the apartment and wondered if this was enough, if the virus could still reach them either through or perhaps somehow around the edges of the tape. He rigged Frank’s bath towels over the windows to prevent stray light from escaping at night, and pushed Frank’s dresser in front of the door. People knocked sometimes, and when they did Jeevan and Frank fell silent. They were afraid of everyone who wasn’t them. Twice someone tried to break in, scratching around the lock with some metal tool while Frank and Jeevan waited in an agony of stillness, but the deadbolt held.
Days slipped past and the news went on and on until it began to seem abstract, a horror movie that wouldn’t end. The newscasters had a numb, flattened way of speaking. They sometimes wept.
Frank’s living room was on the corner of the building, with views of both the city and the lake. Jeevan preferred the view of the lake. If he turned Frank’s telescope toward the city he saw the expressway, which was upsetting. Traffic had inched along for the first two days, pulling trailers, plastic bins and suitcases strapped to roofs, but by the third morning the gridlock was absolute and people had started walking between the cars with their suitcases, their children and dogs.
By Day Five Frank was working on his ghostwriting project instead of watching the news, because he said the news was going to drive them both crazy, and by then most of the newscasters weren’t even newscasters, just people who worked for the network and were seemingly unused to being on the other side of the camera, cameramen and administrators speaking haltingly into the lens, and then countries began to go dark, city by city—no news out of Moscow, then no news out of Beijing, then Sydney, London, Paris, etc., social media bristling with hysterical rumors—and the local news became more and more local, stations dropping away one by one, until finally the last channel on air showed only a single shot in a newsroom, station employees taking turns standing before the camera and disseminating whatever information they had, and then one night Jeevan opened his eyes at two a.m. and the newsroom was empty. Everyone had left. He stared at the empty room on the screen for a long time.