Station Eleven (Page 59)
A man in the front row was rising from his seat. Arthur cradled his hand to his heart, exactly as he’d held the bird. He wasn’t sure where he was anymore, or perhaps he was in two places at once. He could hear the waves on the beach. The stage lights were leaving trails through the darkness the way a comet had once, when he was a teenager standing on the dirt outside his friend Victoria’s house, looking up at the night, Comet Hyakutake suspended like a lantern in the cold sky. What he remembered from that day at the beach when he was seven was that the bird’s heart had stopped in the palm of his hand, a fluttering that faltered and went still. The man from the front row was running now, and Arthur was in motion too; he fell against a pillar and began to slide and now snow was falling all around him, shining in the lights. He thought it was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen.
IN DR. ELEVEN, VOL. 1, NO. 2: The Pursuit, Dr. Eleven is visited by the ghost of his mentor, Captain Lonagan, recently killed by an Undersea assassin. Miranda discarded fifteen versions of this image before she felt that she had the ghost exactly right, working hour upon hour, and years later, at the end, delirious on an empty beach on the coast of Malaysia with seabirds rising and plummeting through the air and a line of ships fading out on the horizon, this was the image she kept thinking of, drifting away from and then toward it and then slipping somehow through the frame: the captain is rendered in delicate watercolors, a translucent silhouette in the dim light of Dr. Eleven’s office, which is identical to the administrative area in Leon Prevant’s Toronto office suite, down to the two staplers on the desk. The difference is that Leon Prevant’s office had a view over the placid expanse of Lake Ontario, whereas Dr. Eleven’s office window looks out over the City, rocky islands and bridges arching over harbors. The Pomeranian, Luli, is curled asleep in a corner of the frame. Two patches of office are obscured by dialogue bubbles:
Dr. Eleven: What was it like for you, at the end?
Captain Lonagan: It was exactly like waking up from a dream.
THE TRAVELING SYMPHONY left the airport on a bright morning in September. They’d stayed for five weeks, resting and making repairs to the caravans, performing Shakespeare and music on alternate evenings, and an orchestral and theatrical hangover lingered in their wake. That afternoon Garrett hummed a Brandenburg concerto while he worked in the gardens, Dolores whispered fragments of Shakespeare to herself while she swept the concourse floors, the children practiced swordplay with sticks. Clark retreated to the museum. He ran a feather duster over his objects and thought of the Symphony moving away down the coast, carrying their Shakespeare and their weapons and music.
Yesterday Kirsten had given him one of the two Dr. Eleven comics. He could see that it pained her to part with it, but the Symphony was passing into unknown territory and she wanted to ensure that at least one of the comics would be safe in case of trouble on the road.
“As far as I know, the direction you’re going is perfectly safe,” Clark told her. He’d assured the conductor of the same thing a few days earlier. “Traders come up from there sometimes.”
“But it’s not our usual territory,” Kirsten said, and if Clark hadn’t come to know her a little, over the weeks when the Symphony had lived in Concourse A and performed music or Shakespeare every night, he might not have caught the excitement in her voice. She was beside herself with impatience to see the far southern town with the electrical grid. “When we come back through, I’ll take this one back and leave you with the other one. That way, at least one book will always be safe.”
In the early evening, Clark finishes dusting his beloved objects in the Museum of Civilization and settles into his favorite armchair to read through the adventures of Dr. Eleven by candlelight.
He pauses over a scene of a dinner party on Station Eleven. There’s something familiar about it. A woman with square-framed glasses is reminiscing about life on Earth: “I traveled the world before the war,” she says. “I spent some time in the Czech Republic, you know, in Praha …,” and tears come to his eyes because all at once he recognizes the dinner party, he was there, he remembers the Praha woman, her glasses and her pretension. The man sitting beside her bears a passing resemblance to Clark. The blond woman at the far end of the comic-book table is unmistakably Elizabeth Colton, and the man beyond her in the shadows looks a little like Arthur. Once Clark sat with all of them in Los Angeles, at a table under electric light. On the page, only Miranda is missing, her chair taken by Dr. Eleven.
In the comic-book version Dr. Eleven sits with his arms crossed, not listening to the conversation, lost in thought. In Clark’s memory the caterers are pouring wine, and he feels such affection for them, for all of them: the caterers, the hosts, the guests, even Arthur who is behaving disgracefully, even Arthur’s orange-tanned lawyer, the woman who said “Praha” instead of “Prague,” the dog peering in through the glass. At the far end of the table, Elizabeth is gazing into her wine. In memory, Miranda excuses herself and rises, and he watches her slip out into the night. He’s curious about her and wants to know her better, so he tells the others he needs a cigarette and follows her. What became of Miranda? He hasn’t thought of her in so long. All these ghosts. She went into shipping, he remembers.
Clark looks up at the evening activity on the tarmac, at the planes that have been grounded for twenty years, the reflection of his candle flickering in the glass. He has no expectation of seeing an airplane rise again in his lifetime, but is it possible that somewhere there are ships setting out? If there are again towns with streetlights, if there are symphonies and newspapers, then what else might this awakening world contain? Perhaps vessels are setting out even now, traveling toward or away from him, steered by sailors armed with maps and knowledge of the stars, driven by need or perhaps simply by curiosity: whatever became of the countries on the other side? If nothing else, it’s pleasant to consider the possibility. He likes the thought of ships moving over the water, toward another world just out of sight.