Station Eleven (Page 55)

“I’m so sorry about Dieter,” Charlie said. “August told me.”

“It doesn’t seem real.” Kirsten wanted to close her eyes, but she was afraid of what she’d dream of if she slept. “Is there a tattooist here, Charlie?”

Charlie brushed her fingertips over Kirsten’s right wrist, the two black knives inked two years apart. “How many?”

“One. An archer on the road.”

“There’s a tattooist who lives in the Lufthansa jet. I’ll introduce you tomorrow.”

Kirsten was watching an ant cross the roof of the tent on the outside, the shadow of its tiny body and the pinpoint impressions of its legs on the fabric. “I’ve been thinking about the nursery,” she said.

A few years ago, they’d been going through a massive country house near the mouth of the St. Clair River, Kirsten and Charlie and August, a place that had been picked over more than once but not for years or maybe a decade, dust everywhere, and eventually August had said something about getting back to the Symphony. Kirsten had gone upstairs in search of Charlie and found her in a room that had obviously been a nursery once, staring at a porcelain tea set sized for dolls. She didn’t look up when Kirsten said her name.

“We should go, Charlie,” she’d said. “We’re a mile from the road.” But Charlie gave no sign of having heard her. “Come on,” Kirsten had said, “we can take it with us,” gesturing to the tea set, which had been set up with improbable precision on a miniature table. Charlie still said nothing. She was staring at the tea set as if in a trance. August called their names from downstairs, and all at once Kirsten had the impression that someone was watching them from a corner of the room, but except for Kirsten and Charlie, the room was empty. Most of the furniture in the nursery was gone, nothing remaining except this little table set for dolls and there, in the corner, a child-size rocking chair. How could this table have remained set, when the rest of the house was ransacked and in disarray? Now that Kirsten looked, she realized there was no dust on the tea set. The only footprints in the dust were hers and Charlie’s, and Charlie wasn’t sitting close enough to the table to touch it. What small hand had placed the doll’s teacups on the table? It was very easy to imagine that the rocking chair was moving, just slightly. Kirsten tried not to look at it. She wrapped the tiny plates and saucers in a pillowcase as quickly as possible while Charlie watched, still not speaking, and then Kirsten stuffed the bundle into Charlie’s bag, took her hand and led her downstairs, out to the overgrown lawn, where Charlie blinked and came back to herself slowly in the late-spring light.

“The nursery was just a strange moment,” Charlie said now, all these years later in her airport tent. “A strange moment in a lifetime of strange moments. I can’t explain what came over me.”

“Is that all? Just a strange moment?”

“We’ve talked about this a hundred times. There was no one else in the room with us.”

“There was no dust on the tea set.”

“Are you asking if I believe in ghosts?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. Yes.”

“Of course not. Imagine how many there’d be.”

“Yes,” Kirsten said, “that’s exactly it.”

“Close your eyes,” Charlie murmured. “I’ll sit here with you. Try to sleep.”

There was music that night, August with Charlie and the sixth guitar. Sayid slept in the infirmary downstairs in Baggage Claim, his injuries cleaned and bandaged. Charlie played the cello with her eyes closed, smiling. Kirsten stood at the back of the crowd. She tried to concentrate on the sound, but music had always unmoored her, and her thoughts drifted. Dieter. The prophet, the only other person she’d ever met who had been in possession of Station Eleven. The archer on the road, her knife in his chest. Dieter as Theseus, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dieter brewing his fake coffee in the mornings, Dieter arguing with her about tattoos. Dieter the night she met him in central Ohio, when she was fourteen and Dieter was in his late twenties, half a lifetime ago.

On her first night with the Symphony he’d served her dinner by the fire. She’d been so alone since her brother’s death, and when the Symphony agreed to let her join them it had seemed like the best thing that had ever happened to her, and that first night she’d been almost too excited to eat. She remembered Dieter talking to her about Shakespeare, Shakespeare’s works and family, Shakespeare’s plague-haunted life.

“Wait, do you mean he had the plague?” she asked.

“No,” Dieter said, “I mean he was defined by it. I don’t know how much schooling you’ve had. Do you know what that means, to be defined by something?”

Yes. There was a new heaven and a new earth. Kirsten turned away from the light and the music. The terminal’s south wall was almost entirely glass, the smudges of children’s handprints here and there at waist height. Night was falling, airplanes luminous in starlight. She heard the distant movements of the airport’s four cows, sequestered in a loading dock for the night, the clucking of hens. A liquid movement below on the tarmac; a cat, hunting in the shadows.

An old man was sitting on a bench some distance from the performance, watching her approach. He’d shaved off all his hair and wore a silk neck scarf tied in a complicated knot. She saw a glint of earrings, four loops in his left earlobe. She didn’t want to talk to anyone, but by the time she saw him it was too late to turn away without being rude, so she nodded to him and sat at the far end of his bench.

“You’re Kirsten Raymonde.” He retained the traces of a British accent. “Clark Thompson.”

“I’m sorry,” she said, “we were introduced earlier, weren’t we?”

“You were going to let me take you on a tour of my museum.”

“I’d like to see it. Maybe tomorrow. I’m so tired tonight.”

“I understand.” They sat in silence for a few minutes, listening to the music. “I’m told the Symphony will arrive soon,” he said.

She nodded. It would be a different Symphony now, without Dieter. All she wanted was to sleep. There was a clicking of claws on the floor as Luli came to find her. He sat by her side and rested his chin on her lap.

“That dog seems devoted to you.”

“He’s my friend.”

Clark cleared his throat. “I’ve spent a great deal of time with Charlie, this past year. She mentioned that you have an interest in electricity.” He stood, leaning on his cane. “I know you’re tired,” he said. “I understand you’ve had a difficult few days. But there’s something I think you’d like to see.”

She considered this for a moment before she accepted. She wasn’t in the habit of following strangers, but he was elderly and moved slowly and she had three knives in her belt. “Where are we going?”

“The air traffic control tower.”

“Outside?”

He was walking away from her. She followed him through a steel door near the entrance to the museum, down an unlit flight of stairs and into the night. The singing of crickets, a small bat darting on a hunt. From the tarmac, the concert was a smudge of light in Concourse C.

Up close the airplanes were larger than she would have imagined. She looked up at the dark windows, the curve of wings. Impossible to imagine that machines so enormous had ever taken to the air. Clark walked slowly. She saw the cat again, running fast and low at the base of the air traffic control tower, heard the squeak of a rodent when it pounced. The tower’s steel door opened, and she found herself in a small room where a guard kept watch through a peephole, candlelight glinting on elevator doors. The door to the stairwell was propped open with a rock.

“It’s nine stories,” Clark said. “I’m afraid this may take some time.”

“I’m not in a hurry.” It was peaceful, climbing the stairs with him. He seemed to expect no conversation from her. A slow ascent between shadowed stairs and moonlit landings, the tapping of his cane on steel. His breathing was labored. At every landing they stopped to rest, once for so long that Kirsten was almost asleep before she heard him pull himself up on the railing. The dog lay down and let out a theatrical sigh at each landing. There were open windows on every floor, but there was no breeze that night and the air was hot and still.

“I read that interview you gave a few years back,” he said on the sixth floor.

“That newspaper in New Petoskey.”

“Yes.” Clark was mopping his forehead with a handkerchief. “I want to talk to you about it tomorrow.”

On the ninth landing, Clark rapped a pattern with his cane on a door and they were admitted into an octagonal room with walls of glass and arrays of darkened screens, four people with binoculars watching the tarmac, the terminal, the shadows of the gardens, the barrier fence. The dog sniffed around in the shadows. It was disorienting, being so high off the ground. The airplanes gleamed pale under the stars. The concert in Concourse C seemed to have ended.

“Look there,” Clark said, “to the south. It’s what I wanted to show you.” She followed the line of his finger, to a space on the southern horizon where the stars seemed dimmer than elsewhere in the sky. “It appeared a week ago,” he said. “It’s the most extraordinary thing. I don’t know how they did it on such a large scale.”

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