Station Eleven (Page 35)

“A non-ransacked house,” August said, once they’d resumed walking. The suitcase wheels were stiff and Kirsten didn’t like the sound they made on the road, but otherwise the suitcases were perfect. “I never thought I’d see another one.”

“It was incredible. I almost wanted to lock the door behind us.” That’s what it would have been like, she realized, living in a house. You would leave and lock the door behind you, and all through the day you would carry a key. Dieter and Sayid probably remembered what it was like to live in houses and carry keys. All thoughts led back to them.

August believed in the theory of multiple universes. He claimed this was straight-up physics, as he put it, or if not exactly mainstream physics then maybe the outer edge of quantum mechanics, or anyway definitely not just some crackpot theory he’d made up.

“I’m afraid I’ve no idea,” the tuba had said, when Kirsten had asked him for confirmation a few years back. No one had any idea, it turned out. None of the older Symphony members knew much about science, which was frankly maddening given how much time these people had had to look things up on the Internet before the world ended. Gil had offered an uncertain reminiscence about an article he’d read once, something about how subatomic particles are constantly vanishing and reappearing, which meant, he supposed, that there’s someplace else to be, which he imagined might suggest that a person could theoretically be simultaneously present and not present, perhaps living out a shadow life in a parallel universe or two. “But look,” he’d said, “I was never a science guy.” In any event, August liked the idea of an infinite number of parallel universes, lined up in all directions. Kirsten imagined this arrangement as something like the successive planes formed when two mirrors reflect one another, the images shifting greener and cloudier with each repetition until they vanish toward infinity. She’d seen this once in a clothing store in a deserted shopping mall.

August said that given an infinite number of parallel universes, there had to be one where there had been no pandemic and he’d grown up to be a physicist as planned, or one where there had been a pandemic but the virus had had a subtly different genetic structure, some minuscule variance that rendered it survivable, in any case a universe in which civilization hadn’t been so brutally interrupted. They were discussing this at the top of an embankment in the late afternoon, where they were resting and flipping through a stack of magazines that Kirsten had taken from the house.

“In an alternate universe,” August said, “you might’ve been in the tabloid pictures. Isn’t this one of your actor’s wives?”

“Is it?” She took the magazine from him. There was Arthur’s third wife, Lydia, shopping in New York City. She was wearing precarious shoes and carried a dozen shopping bags. The pandemic would reach North America in less than a month. The sighting was interesting, but not interesting enough to add to the collection.

In the last magazine, Kirsten found another ex-wife. A photograph of a woman in her late thirties or early forties with a hat pulled low, glaring at the camera as she exited a building:

Rekindling the Flame???

“I think I was there,” Kirsten said. “I might’ve been in that building at that moment.” Behind Miranda she saw only a steel door, the stone wall of a building. Had she passed through that door? She must have, she thought, and wished she could remember it.

August studied the photo, interested. “Do you remember seeing her there?”

An impression of a coloring book, the smell of pencils, Arthur’s voice, a warm room with a red carpet, electric light. Had a third person been in the room? She couldn’t be sure.

“No,” she said. “I don’t remember her.” She tore the photograph with its caption from the page.

“Look at the date,” August said. “Two weeks till the apocalypse!”

“Well, it’s nice that at least the celebrity gossip survived.”

Nothing else in the rest of the magazines, but this find was remarkable, this was enough. They kept two magazines to start a fire later and buried the other three under leaves.

“It would’ve been you in those tabloid pictures,” he said, picking up the parallel-universes theme. “I mean, it is you in those pictures, in a parallel universe where the collapse didn’t happen.”

“I still think you invented the parallel-universe theory,” she said, but one of the few things that August didn’t know about her was that sometimes when she looked at her collection of pictures she tried to imagine and place herself in that other, shadow life. You walk into a room and flip a switch and the room fills with light. You leave your garbage in bags on the curb, and a truck comes and transports it to some invisible place. When you’re in danger, you call for the police. Hot water pours from faucets. Lift a receiver or press a button on a telephone, and you can speak to anyone. All of the information in the world is on the Internet, and the Internet is all around you, drifting through the air like pollen on a summer breeze. There is money, slips of paper that can be traded for anything: houses, boats, perfect teeth. There are dentists. She tried to imagine this life playing out somewhere at the present moment. Some parallel Kirsten in an air-conditioned room, waking from an unsettling dream of walking through an empty landscape.

“A parallel universe where space travel was invented,” August said. This was a game they’d been playing for a decade. They were lying on their backs now, sedated by heat. Birch branches swayed in the breeze, sunlight filtering through green. Kirsten closed her eyes and watched the silhouettes of leaves float away under her eyelids.

“But space travel was invented, wasn’t it? I’ve seen pictures.” Her hand drifted up to the scar on her cheekbone. If there were better universes, then there were probably much worse ones. Universes where she remembered her first year on the road, for instance, or where she remembered what had caused the scar on her face, or where she’d lost more than two teeth.

“We just went up to that gray moon,” August said. “Nowhere else, we never went farther. I mean the kind of space travel you’d see in TV shows, you know, other galaxies, other planets.”

“Like in my comic books?”

“Your comics are weird. I was thinking more like Star Trek.”

“A parallel universe where my comics are real,” she said.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean a parallel universe where we boarded Station Eleven and escaped before the world ended,” Kirsten said.

“The world didn’t end,” he said. “It’s still spinning. But anyway, you’d want to live on Station Eleven?”

“I think it’s beautiful. All those islands and bridges.”

“But it’s always night or twilight, isn’t it?”

“I don’t think I’d mind.”

“I like this world better,” August said. “Does Station Eleven even have an orchestra? Or would it just be me standing there by myself on the rocks in the dark, playing my violin for giant seahorses?”

“Okay, a parallel universe with better dentistry,” she said.

“You aim high, don’t you?”

“If you’d lost any teeth, you’d know how high I’m aiming.”

“Fair enough. I’m sorry about your teeth.”

“A parallel universe where I have no knife tattoos.”

“I’d like to live there too,” August said. “A parallel universe where Sayid and Dieter didn’t disappear.”

“A parallel universe where telephones still work, so we could just call the Symphony and ask them where they are, and then we’d call Dieter and Sayid and all of us would meet up somewhere.”

They were quiet, looking up at the leaves.

“We’ll find them,” Kirsten said, “we’ll see the Symphony again,” but of course they couldn’t be sure.

They dragged their suitcases down the embankment to the road. They were very close to Severn City now. At twilight the road curved back to the lakeshore, and the first houses of Severn City appeared. Young birch trees between the road and the lake but otherwise no forest, just overgrown lawns and houses submerged in vines and shrubbery, a beach of rocks and sand.

“I don’t want to do this at night,” August said. They chose a house at random, waded through the backyard and made camp behind a garden shed. There was nothing to eat. August went exploring and came back with blueberries.

“I’ll take the first watch,” Kirsten said. She was exhausted but she didn’t think she could sleep. She sat on her suitcase, her back against the wall of the shed, a knife in her hands. She watched the slow rise of fireflies from the grass and listened to the water on the beach across the road, the sighing of wind in the leaves. A beating of wings and the squeak of a rodent, an owl making a kill.

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