Station Eleven (Page 32)
The other channels were all static and test patterns by then, except for the ones that were repeating a government emergency broadcast over and over, useless advice about staying indoors and avoiding crowded places. A day later, someone finally switched off the camera on the empty newsroom, or the camera died on its own. The day after that, the Internet blinked out.
Toronto was falling silent. Every morning the quiet was deeper, the perpetual hum of the city fading away. Jeevan mentioned this to Frank, who said, “Everyone’s running out of gas.” The thing was, Jeevan realized, looking at the stopped cars on the highway, even the people who hadn’t run out of gas couldn’t go anywhere now. All the roads would be blocked by abandoned cars.
Frank never stopped working. The philanthropist’s memoir was almost complete.
“He’s probably dead,” Jeevan said.
“Probably,” Frank agreed.
“Why are you still writing about him?”
“I signed a contract.”
“But everyone else who signed the contract …”
“I know,” Frank said.
Jeevan was holding his useless cell phone up to the window. A NO SERVICE AVAILABLE message flashed on the screen. He let the phone fall to the sofa and stared out at the lake. Maybe a boat would come, and …
On silent afternoons in his brother’s apartment, Jeevan found himself thinking about how human the city is, how human everything is. We bemoaned the impersonality of the modern world, but that was a lie, it seemed to him; it had never been impersonal at all. There had always been a massive delicate infrastructure of people, all of them working unnoticed around us, and when people stop going to work, the entire operation grinds to a halt. No one delivers fuel to the gas stations or the airports. Cars are stranded. Airplanes cannot fly. Trucks remain at their points of origin. Food never reaches the cities; grocery stores close. Businesses are locked and then looted. No one comes to work at the power plants or the substations, no one removes fallen trees from electrical lines. Jeevan was standing by the window when the lights went out.
There was a stupid moment or two when he stood near the front door, flipping the light switches. On/off, on/off.
“Stop it,” Frank said. He was taking notes in a margin of his manuscript in the gray light that seeped in through the blinds. “You’re driving me crazy.” Frank was hiding in his project, Jeevan had realized, but he couldn’t begrudge Frank the strategy. If Jeevan had had a project, he’d have hid in it too.
“It could just be us,” Jeevan said. “Maybe just a blown fuse in the basement?”
“Of course it isn’t just us. The only remarkable thing is that the lights stayed on as long as they did.”
“It’s like the tree house,” Frank said. This was sometime around Day Thirty, a few days after the end of running water. Whole days passed when they didn’t speak, but there were inexplicable moments of peace. Jeevan had never felt so close to his brother. Frank worked on the philanthropist’s memoir and Jeevan read. He spent hours studying the lake through the telescope, but the sky and the water were empty. No planes, no ships, and where was the Internet?
He hadn’t thought of the tree house in a long time. It had been in the backyard of their childhood home in the Toronto suburbs, and they’d stayed up there for hours at a time with comic books. There was a rope ladder that could be pulled up to thwart would-be invaders.
“We can wait this out for quite a while,” Jeevan said. He was surveying the water supply, which was still reasonable. He’d filled every receptacle in the apartment with water before it stopped coming out of the taps, and more recently he’d been catching snow in pots and bowls on the balcony.
“Yes,” Frank said, “but then what?”
“Well, we’ll just stay here till the lights come back on or the Red Cross shows up or whatever.” Jeevan had been prone to cinematic daydreams lately, images tumbling together and overlapping, and his favorite movie involved waking in the morning to the sound of a loudspeaker, the army coming in and announcing that it was all over, this whole flu thing cleared up and taken care of, everything back to normal again. He’d push the dresser away from the door and go down to the parking lot, maybe a soldier would offer him a cup of coffee, clap him on the back. He imagined people congratulating him on his foresight in stocking up on food.
“What makes you think the lights will come back on?” Frank asked without looking up. Jeevan started to reply, but words failed him.
INTERVIEW OF KIRSTEN RAYMONDE by François Diallo, librarian of the New Petoskey Library and publisher of the New Petoskey News, Year Fifteen, continued:
DIALLO: Forgive me. I shouldn’t have asked about the knife tattoos.
DIALLO: Thank you. I wondered, though, if I might ask you about the collapse?
DIALLO: You were in Toronto, I think. Were you with your parents?
RAYMONDE: No. That last night, Day One in Toronto, or I guess it’s Night One, isn’t it? Whatever you want to call it. I was in a production of King Lear, and the lead actor died on stage. His name was Arthur Leander. You remember, we talked about this a few years ago, and you had his obituary in one of your newspapers.
DIALLO: But perhaps you wouldn’t mind, for the benefit of our newspaper’s readers …
RAYMONDE: Okay, yes. He had a heart attack onstage, like I was saying. I don’t remember many details about him, because I don’t remember very much about anything from that time, but I’ve retained a sort of impression of him, if that makes sense. I know he was kind to me and that we had some sort of friendship, and I remember very clearly the night when he died. I was onstage with two other girls in the production, and I was behind Arthur, so I didn’t see his face. But I remember there was some commotion just in front of the stage. And then I remember hearing a sound, this sharp “thwack,” and that was Arthur hitting his hand on the plywood pillar by my head. He’d sort of stumbled back, his arm flailed out, and then a man from the audience had climbed up on the stage and was running toward him—
DIALLO: The mystery audience member who knew CPR. He’s in the New York Times obituary.
RAYMONDE: He was kind to me. Do you know his name?
DIALLO: I’m not sure anyone does.
ON DAY FORTY-SEVEN, Jeevan saw smoke rising in the distance. He didn’t imagine the fire would get very far, given all the snow, but the thought of fires in a city without firefighters hadn’t occurred to him.
Jeevan sometimes heard gunshots at night. Neither rolled-up towels nor plastic nor duct tape could keep the stench from the hallway from seeping in, so they kept the windows open at all times and wore layers of clothes. They slept close together on Frank’s bed, for warmth.
“Eventually we’re going to have to leave,” Jeevan said.
Frank put his pen down and looked past Jeevan at the window, at the lake and the cold blue sky. “I don’t know where I’d go,” he said. “I don’t know how I’d do it.”
Jeevan stretched out on the sofa and closed his eyes. Decisions would have to be made soon. There was enough food for only another two weeks.
When Jeevan looked out at the expressway, the thought that plagued him was that maneuvering Frank’s wheelchair through that crush of stopped cars would be impossible. They’d have to take alternate roads, but what if all of the roads were like this?
They hadn’t heard anyone in the corridor for over a week, so that night Jeevan decided to risk venturing out of the apartment. He pushed the dresser away from the door and took the stairs to the roof. After all these weeks indoors he felt exposed in the cold air. Moonlight glinted on glass but there was no other light. A stark and unexpected beauty, silent metropolis, no movement. Out over the lake the stars were vanishing, blinking out one by one behind a bank of cloud. He smelled snow in the air. They would leave, he decided, and use the storm as cover.
“But what would be out there?” Frank asked. “I’m not an idiot, Jeevan. I hear the gunshots. I saw the news reports before the stations went dark.”
“I don’t know. A town somewhere. A farm.”
“A farm? Are you a farmer? Even if it weren’t the middle of winter, Jeevan, do farms even work without electricity and irrigation systems? What do you think will grow in the spring? What will you eat there in the meantime?”
“I don’t know, Frank.”
“Do you know how to hunt?”
“Of course not. I’ve never fired a gun.”
“Can you fish?”
“Stop it,” Jeevan said.
“After I was shot, when they told me I wouldn’t walk again and I was lying in the hospital, I spent a lot of time thinking about civilization. What it means and what I value in it. I remember thinking that I never wanted to see a war zone again, as long as I live. I still don’t.”
“There’s still a world out there,” Jeevan said, “outside this apartment.”
“I think there’s just survival out there, Jeevan. I think you should go out there and try to survive.”
“I can’t just leave you.”
“I’ll leave first,” Frank said. “I’ve given this some thought.”