Station Eleven (Page 18)
In the silence that follows this pronouncement, a caterer refills Miranda’s wine.
“We’re from the same island,” Miranda says.
“Oh, that island you told us about,” a woman from the studio says, to Arthur. “With the ferns!”
“So you’re from the same island, and? And?” Heller now, looking at Arthur. Not everyone is listening. There are pools and eddies of conversation around the table. Heller’s tan is orange. There are rumors that he doesn’t sleep at night. On the other side of the glass doors, Luli shifts position to gain a better view of the dropped strawberry.
“Excuse me a moment,” Miranda says, “I’m just going to let the dog out. Arthur tells this story much better than I do.” She escapes into the sunroom, through a second set of French doors into the back lawn. Freedom! Outside, the quiet night. Luli brushes against her ankles and fades out into the darkness. The backyard isn’t large, their property terraced up the side of a hill, leaves crowding in around a small launchpad of lawn. The gardener came today in preparation for the dinner party, and the air carries notes of damp soil and freshly cut grass. She turns back toward the dining room, knowing that they can’t see her past their own overlapping reflections on the glass. She left both sets of doors open just slightly in order to hear the conversation, and now Arthur’s voice carries into the yard.
“So, you know, dinner goes well, and then the next night,” he says, “I’m in the Hotel Le Germain after twelve hours on set, in my room waiting for Miranda to come by so I can take her out to dinner again, second night in a row, just kind of semi-comatose in front of the television, there’s a knock at the door, and— Voilà! There she is again, but this time? One small difference.” He pauses for effect. She can see Luli again now, following a mysterious scent at the far end of the lawn. “This time, I’ll be damned if the girl hasn’t got her worldly belongings with her.”
Laughter. The story’s funny, the way he tells it. She shows up on his hotel room doorstep with two suitcases, having walked across the lobby with such confidence that anyone would think she was a guest there. (The best advice her mother ever gave her: “Walk in like you own the place.”) She says something vague to Arthur about how she’s moving into a hotel herself and perhaps he wouldn’t mind if she just leaves the suitcases here while they go to dinner, but he’s already in love and he kisses her, he takes her to bed and they don’t leave the hotel at all that night, he invites her to stay a few days and she never moves out and now here we are in Los Angeles.
He doesn’t tell the whole story. He doesn’t tell the crowd assembled at the table that when she went back to the apartment the next morning for a painting she’d decided she wanted, a watercolor left behind on the drafting table, Pablo was awake and waiting for her, drunk and weeping, and she returned to the hotel with a bruise on her face. Arthur doesn’t tell them that he took her with him to the set that morning and passed her off as his cousin, that she called in sick to work and spent the day in his trailer reading magazines and trying not to think about Pablo while Arthur came and went in his costume, which involved a long red velvet cape and a crown. He looked magnificent. Every time he looked at her that day, something clenched in her chest.
When he was done with work in the evening, he had a driver drop them at a restaurant downtown, where he sat across the table from her looking very ordinary in a Toronto Blue Jays cap and she looked at him and thought, I prefer you with a crown, but of course she would never say this aloud. Three and a half years later in the Hollywood Hills she stands outside in the yard and wonders if anyone at the table saw the tabloid photo that appeared the following morning, shot as they were leaving the restaurant—Arthur with his arm around her shoulders, Miranda in dark glasses and Arthur blinded by the flash, which washed her out so mercifully that in the photo version of that moment the bruise was erased.
“What a lovely story,” someone says, and Arthur agrees, Arthur is pouring wine, he’s raising his glass and he’s toasting her, “Here’s to my beautiful brilliant wife.” But Miranda, watching from outside, sees everything: the way Elizabeth goes still and looks down, the way Arthur thanks everyone for coming to his home, meeting everyone’s eyes except Elizabeth’s, who has lightly touched his thigh under the table, and this is when she understands. It’s too late, and it’s been too late for a while. She draws an uneven breath.
“Great story,” Heller says. “Where is that wife of yours?”
Could she possibly go around to the front of the house, sneak in the front door and up to her studio unnoticed, then text Arthur to say that she has a headache? She steps away from the glass, toward the center of the lawn where the shadows are deepest. From here the dinner party looks like a diorama, white walls and golden light and glamorous people. She turns her back on it to look for Luli—the dog is nosing around in the grass, delighted by a scent at the base of an azalea bush—and this is when she hears the glass doors close behind her. Clark has come out for a cigarette. Her plan was to pretend if anyone came out here that she’s looking for the dog, but he doesn’t ask. He taps the cigarette box on the palm of his hand and holds out a cigarette without speaking.
She crosses the grass and takes it from him, leans in when he flicks the lighter, and observes the dinner party while she inhales. Arthur is laughing. His hand strays to Elizabeth’s wrist and rests there for an instant before he refills her wine. Why is Elizabeth sitting next to him? How could they be so indiscreet?
“Not a pretty sight, is it?”
She thinks of disagreeing, but something in Clark’s voice stops her. Does everyone already know? “What do you mean?” she asks, but her voice is shaky.
He glances at her and turns his back on the tableau, and after a moment she does the same. There’s nothing to be gained by watching the shipwreck.
“I’m sorry for being rude to your guest in there.”
“Tesch? Please, don’t be polite to her on my account. She’s the most pretentious woman I’ve ever met in my life.”
“I’ve met worse.”
She hasn’t smoked in a while, managed to convince herself that smoking is disgusting, but it’s a pleasure, actually, more of a pleasure than she remembered. The lit end flares in the darkness when she inhales. She likes Hollywood best at night, in the quiet, when it’s all dark leaves and shadows and night-blooming flowers, the edges softened, gently lit streets curving up into the hills. Luli wanders near them, snuffling in the grass. There are stars tonight, a few, although most are blanked out by the haze of the city.
“Good luck, darling,” Clark says quietly. He’s finished his cigarette. When she turns he’s already reentering the party, reclaiming his place at the table. “Oh, she’s just searching for the dog,” she hears him say in response to a question, “I expect she’ll be in any moment now.”
Dr. Eleven has a Pomeranian. She hadn’t realized this before, but it makes perfect sense. He has few friends, and without a dog he’d be too lonely. That night in her study she sketches a scene: Dr. Eleven stands on an outcropping of rock, a thin silhouette with a fedora pulled low, scanning the choppy sea, and a small white dog stands windswept beside him. She doesn’t realize, until halfway through drawing the dog, that she’s given Dr. Eleven a clone of Luli. Wind turbines spin on the horizon. Dr. Eleven’s Luli gazes at the sea. Miranda’s Luli sleeps on a pillow at her feet, twitching in a dog dream.
Miranda’s study window looks out over the side yard, where the lawn terraces down to a pool. Beside the pool stands a lamp from the 1950s, a crescent moon atop a tall dark pole, placed in such a way that there’s always a moon reflected in the water. The lamp is her favorite thing about this house, although she wonders sometimes about the reason for its existence. A diva who insisted on permanent moonlight? A bachelor who hoped to impress young starlets? There’s a brief period most nights when the two moons float side by side on the surface. The fake moon, which has the advantage of being closer and not obscured by smog, is almost always brighter than the real one.
At three in the morning Miranda leaves her drafting table and goes down to the kitchen for a second cup of tea. All of the guests except one have departed. At the end of the night everyone was drunk but climbed into expensive cars anyway, all except Elizabeth Colton, who drank quietly, determinedly, without taking any apparent pleasure in it, until she passed out on a sofa in the living room. Clark plucked the wineglass from her hand, Arthur removed Elizabeth’s car keys from her handbag and dropped them into an opaque vase on the mantelpiece, Miranda covered her with a blanket and left a glass of water nearby.
“I think we should talk,” Miranda said to Arthur, when the last guest except Elizabeth was gone, but he waved her off and stumbled in the direction of the bedroom, said something about talking in the morning on his way up the stairs.
The house is silent now and she feels like a stranger here. “This life was never ours,” she whispers to the dog, who has been following her from room to room, and Luli wags her tail and stares at Miranda with wet brown eyes. “We were only ever borrowing it.”