Station Eleven (Page 42)
“I think I’ll stay here for the moment,” Clark said. A few others apparently had had the same thought, and some who’d left returned after a half hour with reports that there was no ground transportation. The others had set out walking for Severn City, they said. Clark waited for an airport official to come and chase all of them away, the hundred-odd passengers who remained at the terminal, but none did. An Air Gradia agent was in tears by the ticket counter. The screen over her head still read AIR GRADIA FLIGHT 452 NOW ARRIVING, but when her radio crackled Clark heard the word quarantine.
Half of the remaining passengers had tied scarves or T-shirts over their mouths and noses, but it had been hours by now, and if they were all going to die of flu, Clark thought, wouldn’t at least some of them be sick already?
The passengers who remained in the airport were mostly foreign. They looked out the windows at the airplanes on which they’d arrived—Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines, Air France—parked end to end on the tarmac. They spoke in languages Clark didn’t understand.
A little girl did cartwheels up and down the length of Concourse B.
Clark walked the length of the airport, restless, and was stunned to see that the security checkpoints were unmanned. He walked through and back three or four times, just because he could. He’d thought it would be liberating but all he felt was fear. He found himself staring at everyone he saw, looking for symptoms. No one seemed sick, but could they be carrying it? He found a corner as far from his fellow passengers as possible and stayed there for some time.
“We just have to wait,” Elizabeth said, when he came to sit with her again. “Surely by tomorrow morning we’ll see the National Guard.” Arthur had always liked her optimism, Clark remembered.
No one emerged from the Air Gradia jet on the tarmac.
A young man was doing push-ups by Gate B20. He’d do a set of ten, then lie on his back and stare unblinking at the ceiling for a while, then another ten, etc.
Clark found a discarded New York Times on a bench and read Arthur’s obituary. Noted film and stage actor, dead at fifty-one. A life summed up in a series of failed marriages—Miranda, Elizabeth, Lydia—and a son, whose present absorption in his handheld Nintendo was absolute. When Arthur collapsed onstage, someone from the audience had performed CPR, the obituary said, but that audience member remained unidentified. Clark folded the paper into his suitcase.
Clark’s grasp of Midwestern American geography was shaky. He wasn’t entirely sure where he was. He’d gathered from the items on offer at the souvenir shop that they were somewhere near Lake Michigan, which he could picture because he retained an internal bird’s-eye snapshot of the Great Lakes from his time in Toronto, but he’d never heard of Severn City. The airport seemed very new. Beyond the tarmac and the runways he could see only a line of trees. He tried to pinpoint his location on his iPhone, but the map wouldn’t load. No one’s phones were working, but word spread that there was a pay phone down in Baggage Claim. Clark stood in line for a half hour and then dialed all his numbers, but there were only busy signals and endless ringing. Where was everyone? The man behind him in line sighed loudly, so Clark gave up the phone and spent some time wandering the airport.
When he was tired of walking he returned to a bench he’d staked out earlier by Gate B17, lay on his back on the carpet between the bench and a wall of glass. Snow began to fall in the late afternoon. Elizabeth and Tyler were still in the Skymiles Lounge. He knew he should be sociable and talk to them, but he wanted to be alone, or as alone as he could be in an airport with a hundred other terrified and weeping people. He ate a dinner of corn chips and chocolate bars from a vending machine, spent some time listening to Coltrane on his iPod. He was thinking of Robert, his boyfriend of three months. Clark wanted very much to see him again. What was Robert doing at this moment? Clark stared up at the news. Around ten p.m. he brushed his teeth, returned to his spot by Gate B17, stretched out on the carpet and tried to imagine he was home in his bed.
He woke at three in the morning, shivering. The news had worsened. The fabric was unraveling. It will be hard to come back from this, he thought, because in those first days it was still inconceivable that civilization might not come back from this at all.
Clark was watching NBC when a teenager approached him. He’d noticed her earlier, sitting by herself with her head in her hands. She looked about seventeen and had a diamond nose stud that caught the light.
“I’m sorry to ask,” she said, “but do you have any Effexor?”
“I’ve run out,” she said. “I’m asking everyone.”
“I’m sorry, I haven’t any. What is it?”
“An antidepressant,” the girl said. “I thought I’d be home in Arizona by now.”
“I’m so sorry. How awful for you.”
“Well,” the girl said, “thanks anyway,” and Clark watched her walk away to make inquiries of a couple only slightly older than she was, who listened for a moment and then shook their heads in unison.
Clark was thinking ahead to a time when he’d sit with Robert in a restaurant in New York or London and they’d raise a glass of wine to their tremendous good fortune at having made it through. How many of their friends would have died by the time he saw Robert again? There would be funerals to go to, memorial services. Probably a certain measure of grief and survivor’s guilt to contend with, therapy and such.
“What a terrible time that was,” Clark said softly to an imaginary Robert, practicing for the future.
“Awful,” Imaginary Robert agreed. “Remember those days when you were in the airport, and I didn’t know where you were?”
Clark closed his eyes. The news continued on the overhead screens, but he couldn’t bear to watch. The stacked body bags, the riots, the closed hospitals, the dead-eyed refugees walking on inter-states. Think of anything else. If not the future, the past: dancing with Arthur when they were young in Toronto. The taste of Orange Julius, that sugary orange drink he’d only ever tasted in Canadian shopping malls. The scar on Robert’s arm just above the elbow, from when he’d broken his arm very badly in the seventh grade, the bouquet of tiger lilies that Robert had sent to Clark’s office just last week. Robert in the mornings: he liked to read a novel while he ate breakfast. It was possibly the most civilized habit Clark had ever encountered. Was Robert awake at this moment? Was he trying to leave New York? The storm had passed, and snow lay deep on the wings of airplanes. There were no de-icing machines, no tire tracks, no footprints; the ground workers had departed. Air Gradia 452 was still alone on the tarmac.
There was a moment later in the day when Clark blinked and realized he’d been staring into space for some time. He had intimations of danger, that there was hazard in allowing his thoughts to drift too loosely, so he tried to work, to read over his 360° reports, but his thoughts were scattered, and also he couldn’t help but wonder if the target of the 360° and all the people he’d interviewed were dead.
He tried to reread his newspapers, on the theory that this required less concentration than the reports, came across Arthur’s New York Times obituary again and realized that the world in which Arthur had died already seemed quite distant. He’d lost his oldest friend, but if the television news was accurate, then in all probability everyone here with him in the airport had lost someone too. All at once he felt an aching tenderness for his fellow refugees, these hundred or so strangers here in the airport. He folded his paper and looked at them, his compatriots, sleeping or fretfully awake on benches and on carpets, pacing, staring at screens or out at the landscape of airplanes and snow, everyone waiting for whatever came next.
THE FIRST WINTER in the Severn City Airport:
There was a frisson of excitement on Day Two, when someone recognized Elizabeth and Tyler and word spread. “My phone,” Clark heard a young man say in frustration. He was about twenty, with hair that flopped in his eyes. “God, why won’t our phones work? I so wish I could tweet this.”
“Yeah,” his girlfriend said, wistful. “You know, like, ‘Not much, just chilling with Arthur Leander’s kid at the end of the world.’ ”
“Totally,” the man said. Clark moved away from them in order to maintain his sanity, although later, in a more charitable moment, it occurred to him that they were probably in shock.
By Day Three all the vending machines in the airport were empty of snacks, and the battery on Tyler’s Nintendo console was dead. Tyler wept, inconsolable. The girl who needed Effexor was very sick by then. Withdrawal, she said. No one in the airport had the drug she needed. A raiding party went through every room, the administrative offices and the TSA holding cell, everyone’s desk drawers, and then they went outside and broke into the dozen or so cars abandoned in the parking lot, pawed through glove boxes and trunks. They found some useful items in their searches, extra pairs of shoes and some warm clothes and such, but on the pharmaceutical front they uncovered only painkillers and antacids and a mysterious bottle of pills that someone thought might be for stomach ulcers. In the meantime the girl lay across a bench, shivering and drenched in sweat, and she said her head sparked with electricity every time she moved.