Station Eleven (Page 33)

“What do you mean?” he asked, but he knew what Frank meant.

33

RAYMONDE: Do you still have that obituary of Arthur Leander? I remember you showed it to me, years ago, but I don’t remember if it had the name—

DIALLO: Do I still have the second-to-last edition of the New York Times? What a question. Of course I do. But no, it doesn’t have the name. That man from the audience who performed CPR on Leander, he’s unidentified. Under normal circumstances there would’ve been a follow-up story, presumably. Someone would have found him, tracked him down. But tell me what happened. Mr. Leander fell, and then …

RAYMONDE: Yes, he collapsed, and then a man came running across the stage and I realized he’d come from the audience. He was trying to save Arthur, he was performing CPR, and then the medics arrived and the man from the audience sat with me while they did their work. I remember the curtain fell and I was sitting there onstage, watching the medics, and the man from the audience spoke with me. He was so calm, that’s what I remember about him. We went and sat in the wings for a while until my minder found us. She was a babysitter, I guess. It was her job to look after me and the other two children in the show.

DIALLO: Do you remember her name?

RAYMONDE: No. I remember she was crying, really sobbing, and it made me cry too. She cleaned my makeup off, and then she gave me a present, that glass paperweight I showed you once.

DIALLO: You’re still the only person I know who carries a paperweight in her backpack.

RAYMONDE: It’s not that heavy.

DIALLO: It seems an unusual gift for a child.

RAYMONDE: I know, but I thought it was beautiful. I still think it’s beautiful.

DIALLO: That’s why you took it with you when you left Toronto?

RAYMONDE: Yes. Anyway, she gave it to me, and I guess eventually we quieted down, I remember after that we stayed in the dressing room playing cards, and then she kept calling my parents, but they never came.

DIALLO: Did they call her back?

RAYMONDE: She couldn’t reach them. I should say I don’t really remember this next part, but my brother told me. Eventually she called Peter, my brother, who was at home that night. He said he didn’t know where they were either, but said she could bring me home and he’d look after me. Peter was much older than me, fifteen or sixteen at the time, so he looked after me a lot. The woman drove me home and left me there with him.

DIALLO: And your parents …?

RAYMONDE: I never saw them again. I have friends with similar stories. People just vanished.

DIALLO: They were among the very first, then, if this was Day One in Toronto.

RAYMONDE: Yes, they must have been. I wonder sometimes what happened to them. I think perhaps they got sick in their offices and went to the ER. That seems to me the most likely scenario. And then once they got there, well, I can’t imagine how anyone could have survived in any of the hospitals.

DIALLO: So you stayed at home with your brother and waited for them to come back.

RAYMONDE: We didn’t know what was happening. For the first little while, waiting seemed to make sense.

34

“READ ME SOMETHING,” Jeevan said, on the fifty-eighth day. He was lying on the sofa, staring up at the ceiling, and he’d been drifting in and out of sleep. It was the first thing he’d said in two days.

Frank cleared his throat. “Anything in particular?” He hadn’t spoken in two days either.

“The page you’re working on now.”

“Really? You want some overprivileged philanthropist’s thoughts on the charity work of Hollywood actors?”

“Why not?”

Frank cleared his throat. “The immortal words of a philanthropist whose name I’m not allowed to divulge but who you’ve never heard of anyway,” he said.

What I like to see is when actors use their celebrity in an interesting way. Some of them have charitable foundations, they do things like try to bring attention to the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan, or they’re trying to save the white African rhino, or they discover a passion for adult literacy, or what have you. All worthy causes, of course, and I know their fame helps to get the word out.

But let’s be honest here. None of them went into the entertainment industry because they wanted to do good in the world. Speaking for myself, I didn’t even think about charity until I was already successful. Before they were famous, my actor friends were just going to auditions and struggling to be noticed, taking any work they could find, acting for free in friends’ movies, working in restaurants or as caterers, just trying to get by. They acted because they loved acting, but also, let’s be honest here, to be noticed. All they wanted was to be seen.

I’ve been thinking lately about immortality. What it means to be remembered, what I want to be remembered for, certain questions concerning memory and fame. I love watching old movies. I watch the faces of long-dead actors on the screen, and I think about how they’ll never truly die. I know that’s a cliché but it happens to be true. Not just the famous ones who everyone knows, the Clark Gables, the Ava Gardners, but the bit players, the maid carrying the tray, the butler, the cowboys in the bar, the third girl from the left in the nightclub. They’re all immortal to me. First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.

35

DIALLO: What was it like, those last days before you left Toronto?

RAYMONDE: I stayed in the basement watching television. The neighborhood was emptying out. Peter was going out at night—stealing food, I think—and then one morning he said, “Kiki, we’ve got to go.” He hotwired a car that the neighbors had abandoned, and we drove for a while, but we got trapped. All the ramps onto the expressway were clogged with abandoned cars, the side roads too. Finally we just had to walk, like everyone else.

DIALLO: Where did you go?

RAYMONDE: East and south. Around the lake and down into the United States. The border was open by then. All the guards had left.

DIALLO: Did you have a set destination?

RAYMONDE: I don’t think so. No. But it was either leave or wait in Toronto, and what would we have been waiting for?

36

JEEVAN RESOLVED TO follow the lake. The beach was all gravel and rocks, difficult to walk on in the snow, in the twilight, he was afraid of twisting his ankle, and he didn’t like the footprints he was leaving, but he was determined to stay off the roads if he possibly could. He wanted very much to avoid other people.

On his last evening in the apartment he’d stood by the window, watching the expressway through the telescope. In three hours of watching he had seen only two people, both headed away from downtown, furtive, glancing over their shoulders. In every moment of those hours he was aware of the silence emanating from Frank’s bedroom. He’d checked twice to make sure Frank wasn’t breathing, knew the second time was irrational but how terrible it would be for Frank to wake up alone. He’d felt a vertiginous giving-way, the cliff crumbling beneath his feet, but held to sanity by sheer willpower. He wasn’t well, but was anyone?

While he was waiting for the day to end he sat at Frank’s desk, looking out at the lake. Trying to hold on to the tranquility of these last few moments, here in this apartment where he’d been for so long. Frank had left his manuscript on the desk. Jeevan found the page he’d been working on, a philanthropist’s thoughts on old movies and fame. Frank’s impeccable handwriting in the top margin: I’ve been thinking lately about immortality. Was that line Frank’s, then, not the philanthropist’s? Impossible to say. Jeevan folded the piece of paper and put it in his pocket.

Just after sunset, he left the apartment with a dusty backpack that Frank had taken on hiking trips in his pre-spinal-cord-injury days. Its existence was something of a mystery. Had Frank imagined he’d someday walk again? Was he planning on giving it to someone? When the last light was fading over the lake, Jeevan pushed the dresser aside, stepped out into the terrible corridor with its reek of death and garbage, and made his way down the stairs in darkness. He stood for several minutes behind the door that led to the lobby, listening, before he eased it open and slipped through, heart pounding. The lobby was deserted, but the glass doors had been smashed.

The world had emptied out since he’d last seen it. There was no movement on the plaza or on the street, or on the distant expressway. A smell of smoke in the air, with a chemical tinge that spoke of burning offices and house fires. But most striking was the absolute absence of electric light. Once, in his early twenties, he’d been walking up Yonge Street around eleven p.m. and every light on the street had blinked out. For an instant the city had vanished around him, and then the lights were back so quickly that it was like a hallucination, everyone on the street asking their companions if they’d seen it too—“Was it just me?”—and at the time he’d been chilled by the suggestion of a dark city. It was as frightening as he would have imagined. He wanted only to escape.

The moon was a crescent in the evening sky. He walked as quietly as possible, the pack weighing on him with every step. He avoided the roads as much as he could. The lake to his left, black water gleaming. The beach was pale in the half-light. Impossible not to think of Frank, lying still on the bed with an empty bottle of sleeping pills on the nightstand, but he couldn’t dwell on Frank because every sound might mean the end of everything, every shadow could be hiding someone with a gun who wanted his backpack. He felt his senses sharpening, an absolute focus taking hold. This is what it would take.

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