Station Eleven (Page 49)

“Why did they do it?” The woman was awake, Jeevan realized. She was crying silently, her eyes closed. One last stitch.

“She said the prophet wanted her to stay with them,” Edward said, “go north with them and become a wife to one of his men, and she said no, so the prophet shot her. Not to kill her, obviously, at least not quickly. Just to cause her pain.”

Jeevan clipped the thread and pressed a clean towel to the woman’s stomach. “A bandage,” he said to Daria, but she was already by his side with strips of an old sheet. He wrapped the woman carefully.

“She’ll be okay,” he said, “provided it doesn’t get infected, and there’s no reason to think it will. Bullets are self-sterilizing, the heat of them. We were careful with the alcohol. But you two should stay here for a few days.”

“I’m grateful,” Edward said.

“I do what I can.”

When he’d cleaned up and the woman had fallen into a fitful sleep, her husband by her side, Jeevan put the bloody needle in a saucepan and crossed the road to the river. He knelt in the grass to fill the pan with water and returned to the motel, where he lit the makeshift oven in front of the room he lived in and set the saucepan on top of it. He sat on a nearby picnic table to wait for the water to boil.

Jeevan filled a pipe with tobacco from his shirt pocket, a soothing ritual. Trying to think of nothing but the stars and the sound of the river, trying not to think about the woman’s pain and her blood and the kind of people who would shoot out of spite and leave her lying there on the roadside. McKinley was south of the old plantation. If the prophet was true to his word then he and his people were moving away from McKinley, headed into the unsuspecting north. Why north, Jeevan wondered, and how far would they go? He was thinking of Toronto, of walking through snow. Thoughts of Toronto led inevitably back to thoughts of his brother, a tower by the lake, ghost city crumbling, the Elgin Theatre still displaying the posters for King Lear, the memory of that night at the beginning and the end of everything when Arthur died.

Daria had come up behind him. He started when she touched his arm. The water was boiling and had been for some time, the needle probably sterile by now. Daria took his hand in her own and kissed it gently. “It’s late,” she murmured. “Come to bed.”

47

CLARK AT SEVENTY, in Year Nineteen: he was more tired than he had been, and he moved slowly. His joints and hands ached, especially in cold weather. He shaved his entire head now, not just the left side, and wore four rings through his left ear. His dear friend Annette had died of an unknown illness in Year Seventeen, and he wore her Lufthansa neck scarf in memory. He wasn’t specifically sad anymore, but he was aware of death at all times.

There was an armchair in the museum from which he could see almost the entire tarmac. The preparation area where the hunters hung their deer and boar and rabbits from a rack improvised on the underside of the wing of a 737, carving meat for the people and feeding innards to the dogs. The graveyard between Runways Six and Seven, each grave marked by an airplane tray table driven into the ground, details of the deceased carved into the tray’s hard plastic. He’d left some wildflowers on Annette’s grave that morning and he could see them from here, a splash of blue and purple. The line of jets parked end to end on the periphery, streaked now with rust. The gardens, half-hidden from view by the airplanes parked at gates. The cornfield, Air Gradia 452 alone in the distance, the chain-link perimeter fence with its coils of concertina wire and beyond that the forest, the same trees he’d been staring at for two decades.

He’d recently made all of the Water Inc. 360° reports available for public viewing, on the theory that everyone involved was almost certainly dead. The former executives in the airport read these with great interest. There were three reports altogether, one each for the subordinates, peers, and superiors of a probably long-deceased Water Inc. executive named Dan.

“Okay, take this for example,” Garrett said, on one of their afternoons in the airport, late July. They’d become close friends over the years. Garrett found the reports particularly fascinating. “You have the heading here, ‘Communication,’ and then—”

“Which report are you looking at?” Clark was sunk deep into his favorite armchair, eyes closed.

“Subordinates,” Garrett said. “Okay, so under ‘Communication,’ here’s the first comment. ‘He’s not good at cascading information down to staff.’ Was he a whitewater rafter, Clark? I’m just curious.”

“Yes,” Clark said, “I’m certain that’s what the interviewee was talking about. Actual literal cascades.”

“This one’s my other favorite. ‘He’s successful in interfacing with clients we already have, but as for new clients, it’s low-hanging fruit. He takes a high-altitude view, but he doesn’t drill down to that level of granularity where we might actionize new opportunities.’ ”

Clark winced. “I remember that one. I think I may have had a minor stroke in the office when he said that.”

“It raises questions,” Garrett said.

“It certainly does.”

“There are high altitudes, apparently, also low-hanging fruit, also grains of something, also drilling.”

“Presumably he was a miner who climbed mountains and actionized an orchard in his off-hours. I am proud to say,” Clark said, “that I never talked like that.”

“Did you ever use the phrase ‘in the mix’?”

“I don’t think so. No. I wouldn’t have.”

“I hated that one especially.” Garrett was studying the report.

“Oh, I didn’t mind it so much. It made me think of baking. My mother would buy these cookie mixes sometimes when I was a kid.”

“Do you remember chocolate-chip cookies?”

“I dream of chocolate-chip cookies. Don’t torture me.”

Garrett was quiet for so long that Clark opened his eyes to make sure he was still breathing. Garrett was absorbed in watching two children playing on the tarmac, hiding behind the wheels of the Air Canada jet and chasing one another. He’d become calmer over the years but remained prone to episodes of unfocused staring, and Clark knew by now what his next question would be.

“Did I ever tell you about my last phone call?” Garrett asked.

“Yes,” Clark said gently. “I believe you did.”

Garrett had had a wife and four-year-old twins in Halifax, but the last call he’d ever made was to his boss. The last words he’d spoken into a telephone were a bouquet of corporate clichés, seared horribly into memory. “Let’s touch base with Nancy,” he remembered saying, “and then we should reach out to Bob and circle back next week. I’ll shoot Larry an email.” Now he said the words “Circle back next week” under his breath, perhaps not consciously. He cleared his throat. “Why did we always say we were going to shoot emails?”

“I don’t know. I’ve wondered that too.”

“Why couldn’t we just say we were going to send them? We were just pressing a button, were we not?”

“Not even a real button. A picture of a button on a screen.”

“Yes,” Garrett said, “that’s exactly what I’m talking about.”

“There was not, in fact, an email gun. Although that would’ve been nice. I would’ve preferred that.”

Garrett made his fingers into a gun and aimed it at the tree line. “Ka-pow!” he whispered. And then, louder, “I used to write ‘T-H-X’ when I wanted to say ‘thank you.’ ”

“I did that too. Because, what, it would’ve taken too much time and effort to punch in an extra three letters and just say thanks? I can’t fathom it.”

“The phrase ‘circle back’ always secretly made me think of boats. You leave someone onshore, and then you circle back later to get them.” Garrett was quiet for a moment. “I like this one,” he said. “ ‘He’s a high-functioning sleepwalker, essentially.’ ”

“I remember the woman who said that.” Clark wondered what had happened to her.

He’d been spending more time in the past lately. He liked to close his eyes and let his memories overtake him. A life, remembered, is a series of photographs and disconnected short films: the school play when he was nine, his father beaming in the front row; clubbing with Arthur in Toronto, under whirling lights; a lecture hall at NYU. An executive, a client, running his hands through his hair as he talked about his terrible boss. A procession of lovers, remembered in details: a set of dark blue sheets, a perfect cup of tea, a pair of sunglasses, a smile. The Brazilian pepper tree in a friend’s backyard in Silver Lake. A bouquet of tiger lilies on a desk. Robert’s smile. His mother’s hands, knitting while she listened to the BBC.

He woke to quiet voices. This had been happening more and more lately, this nodding off unexpectedly, and it left him with an unsettled intimation of rehearsal. You fall asleep for short periods and then for longer periods and then forever. He straightened in the armchair, blinking. Garrett was gone. The last light of the day angled in through the glass and caught the chrome perfection of the motorcycle.

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