Station Eleven (Page 38)
“You remember.” An image that Arthur had once said was like the establishing shot for a movie: the sharp islands of the City, streets and buildings terraced into the rock, high bridges between. Far below in the aquatic darkness, the outlines of the airlock doors that led to the Undersea, massive shapes on the ocean floor. Arthur opened the first issue at random to a two-page spread, ocean and islands linked by bridges, twilight, Dr. Eleven standing on a rock with his Pomeranian by his side. Text: I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.
“He was on a space station,” Arthur said. “I’d forgotten that.” He was turning the pages. “Do you still have the dog?”
“Luli? She died a couple years back.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. These are beautiful,” he said again. “Thank you.”
“What is that?” the little girl on the carpet asked. Miranda had forgotten about her for a moment.
“Some books my friend Miranda made,” Arthur said. “I’ll show you later, Kiki. What are you working on there?”
“The princess,” Kirsten said. “Matilda said I couldn’t color her dress with stripes.”
“Well,” Arthur said, “I can’t say I agree with her. Is that why you snuck out of your dressing room? Were you fighting with Matilda again?”
“She said it wasn’t supposed to have stripes on it.”
“I think the stripes are perfect.”
“Who’s Matilda?” Miranda asked.
“She’s an actor too,” Kirsten said. “She’s sometimes really mean.”
“It’s an unusual staging,” Arthur said. “Three little girls on the stage at the beginning, playing childhood versions of Lear’s daughters, and then they come back as hallucinations in the fourth act. No lines, they’re just there.”
“She thinks she’s better than everyone because she goes to the National Ballet School,” Kirsten said, returning the subject to Matilda.
“Do you dance too?” Miranda asked.
“Yeah, but I don’t want to be a dancer. I think ballet’s stupid.”
“Kirsten told me she wants to be an actor,” Arthur said.
“Oh, how interesting.”
“Yeah,” Kirsten said without looking up. “I’ve been in a lot of things.”
“Really,” Miranda said. How does one talk to an eight-year-old? She glanced at Arthur, who shrugged. “Like what?”
“Just things,” the girl said, as if she hadn’t been the one to bring these things up in the first place. Miranda was remembering that she’d never liked child actors.
“Kirsten went to an audition in New York last month,” Arthur said.
“We went in an airplane.” Kirsten stopped coloring and considered the princess. “The dress is wrong,” she said. Her voice quavered.
“I think the dress looks beautiful,” Miranda said. “You’ve done a beautiful job.”
“I have to agree with Miranda on this one,” Arthur said. “The stripes were a good choice.”
Kirsten turned the page. Blank outlines of a knight, a dragon, a tree.
“You’re not going to finish the princess?” Arthur asked.
“It isn’t perfect,” Kirsten said.
They sat for a while in silence, Kirsten filling in the dragon with alternating green and purple scales, Arthur flipping through Station Eleven. Miranda drank her tea and tried not to overanalyze his facial expressions.
“Does she visit you often?” Miranda asked softly, when he’d reached the last page.
“Almost daily. She doesn’t get along with the other girls. Unhappy kid.” They sipped their tea for a moment without speaking. The scratching of the little girl’s pencils on the coloring-book page, the steam rings that their mugs left on the glass of the coffee table, the pleasant heat of the tea, the warmth and beauty of this room: these were things that Miranda remembered in the last few hours, two weeks later, when she was drifting in and out of delirium on a beach in Malaysia.
“How long are you in Toronto?” Arthur asked.
“Four days. I leave for Asia on Friday.”
“What are you doing there?”
“Working out of the Tokyo office, mostly. There’s some possibility of my transferring there next year. Meeting with local subsidiaries in Singapore and Malaysia, visiting a few ships. Did you know,” she said, “that twelve percent of the world’s shipping fleet is moored fifty miles out of Singapore Harbor?”
“I didn’t know that.” He smiled. “Asia,” he said. “Can you believe this life?”
Miranda was back in her hotel before she remembered the paperweight. She dropped her handbag on the bed and heard it clink against her keys. It was the paperweight of clouded glass that Clark Thompson had brought to a dinner party in Los Angeles eleven years ago, and she’d taken it that night from Arthur’s study. She’d meant to give it back to him.
She held the paperweight for a moment, admiring it in the lamplight. She wrote a note on hotel stationery, put her shoes back on, went downstairs to the concierge desk, and arranged to have it sent by courier to the Elgin Theatre.
TWO WEEKS LATER, just before the old world ended, Miranda stood on a beach on the coast of Malaysia looking out at the sea. She’d been delivered back to her hotel after a day of meetings, where she’d spent some time finishing a report and eating a room-service dinner. She’d planned on going to bed early, but through the window of her room she could see the lights of the container-ship fleet on the horizon, and she’d walked down to the water for a closer look.
The three nearest airports had closed in the previous ninety minutes, but Miranda didn’t know this yet. She’d been aware of the Georgia Flu, of course, but was under the impression that it was still a somewhat shadowy health crisis unfolding in Georgia and Russia. The hotel staff had been instructed to avoid alarming the guests, so no one mentioned the pandemic as she crossed the lobby, although she did notice in passing that the front desk seemed understaffed. In any event, it was a pleasure to escape the coffin chill of the hotel air-conditioning, to walk down the well-lit path to the beach and take off her shoes to stand barefoot in the sand.
Later that evening she would find herself troubled and at moments even a little amused by the memory of how casually everyone had once thrown the word collapse around, before anyone understood what the word truly meant, but in any event, there had been an economic collapse, or so everyone called it at the time, and now the largest shipping fleet ever assembled lay fifty miles east of Singapore Harbor. Twelve of the boats belonged to Neptune Logistics, including two new Panamax-class vessels that had yet to carry a single cargo container, decks still gleaming from the South Korean shipyards; ships ordered in a moment when it seemed the demand would only ever grow, built over the following three years while the economy imploded, unneeded now that no one was spending any money.
Earlier that afternoon, in the subsidiary office, Miranda had been told that the local fishermen were afraid of the ships. The fishermen suspected a hint of the supernatural in these vessels, unmoving hulks on the horizon by day, lit up after dark. In the office the local director had laughed at the absurdity of the fishermen’s fears, and Miranda had smiled along with everyone else at the table, but was it so unreasonable to wonder if these lights might not be quite of this earth? She knew the ships were only lit up to prevent collisions, but it still seemed to her as she stood on the beach that evening that there was something otherworldly in the sight. When her phone vibrated in her hand, it was Clark Thompson, Arthur’s oldest friend, calling from New York.
“Miranda,” he said after some awkward preliminaries, “I’m afraid I’m calling with some rather bad news. Perhaps you should sit down.”
“Miranda, Arthur died of a heart attack last night. I’m so sorry.”
Clark hung up the phone and leaned back in his chair. He worked at the kind of firm where doors are never closed unless someone’s getting fired, and he was aware that by now he was no doubt the topic of speculation all over the office. Drama! What could possibly be happening in Clark’s office? He had ventured out once, for coffee, and everyone had arranged their faces into neutral yet concerned expressions as he passed—that “no pressure, but if there’s anything you need to talk about …” look—and he was having one of the worst mornings of his life, but he derived minor satisfaction from saying nothing and depriving the gossips of fuel. He drew a line through Miranda Carroll’s name, lifted the receiver to call Elizabeth Colton, changed his mind and went to the window. A young man on the street below was playing a saxophone. Clark opened his window and the room was flooded with sound, the thin notes of the saxophone on the surface of the oceanic city, a blare of hip-hop from a passing car, a driver leaning on his horn at the corner. Clark closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on the saxophone, but just then his assistant buzzed him.
“It’s Arthur Leander’s lawyer again,” Tabitha said. “Shall I tell him you’re in a meeting?”