Station Eleven (Page 19)
In the living room, Elizabeth Colton is still unconscious. Even passed out drunk she’s a vision in the lamplight. In the kitchen, four head shots are lying on the countertop. Miranda studies these while the water’s boiling and recognizes somewhat younger and more brooding versions of four of the night’s caterers. She puts on a pair of flip-flops in the sunroom and lets herself out into the cool night air. She sits for a while at the poolside with her tea, Luli beside her, and splashes her feet in the water to watch the moon reflection ripple and break.
There’s a sound from the street, a car door closing. “Stay,” she tells Luli, who sits by the pool and watches as Miranda opens the gate to the front driveway, where Elizabeth’s convertible is parked dark and gleaming. Miranda runs her fingertips along the side of the car as she passes, and they come away coated with a fine layer of dust. The streetlight at the end of the driveway is a frenzy of moths. Two cars are parked on the street. A man leans on one of them, smoking a cigarette. In the other car, a man is asleep in the driver’s seat. She recognizes both men, because they follow her and Arthur much more frequently than anyone else does.
“Hey,” the man with the cigarette says, and reaches for his camera. He’s about her age, with sideburns and dark hair that falls in his eyes.
“Don’t,” she says sharply, and he hesitates.
“What are you doing out so late?”
“Are you going to take my picture?”
He lowers the camera.
“Thank you,” she says. “In answer to your question, I just came out here to see if you might have an extra cigarette.”
“How’d you know I’d have one?”
“Because you’re in front of my house smoking every night.”
“Six nights a week,” he says. “I take Mondays off.”
“What’s your name?”
“So do you have a cigarette for me, Jeevan?”
“Sure. Here. I didn’t know you smoked.”
“I just started again. Light?”
“So,” he says, once her cigarette’s lit, “this is a first.”
She ignores this, looking up at the house. “It’s pretty from here, isn’t it?”
“Yes,” he says. “You have a beautiful home.” Was that sarcasm? She isn’t sure. She doesn’t care. She’s always found the house beautiful, but it’s even more so now that she knows she’s leaving. It’s modest by the standards of people whose names appear above the titles of their movies, but extravagant beyond anything she would have imagined for herself. In all my life, there will never be another house like this.
“You know what time it is?” he asks.
“I don’t know, about three a.m.? Maybe more like three thirty?”
“Why’s Elizabeth Colton’s car still in the driveway?”
“Because she’s a raging alcoholic,” Miranda says.
His eyes widen. “Really?”
“She’s too wasted to drive. You didn’t hear that from me.”
“Sure. No. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. You people live for that kind of gossip, don’t you?”
“No,” he says, “I live on that kind of gossip, actually. As in, it pays my rent. What I live for is something different.”
“What do you live for?”
“Truth and beauty,” he says, deadpan.
“You like your job?”
“I don’t hate it.”
She is dangerously close to tears. “So you enjoy stalking people?”
He laughs. “Let’s just say the job fits with my basic understanding of what work is.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. You don’t have to work for a living.”
“Please,” Miranda says, “I’ve worked all my life. I worked all through school. These past few years are an anomaly.” Although as she says this she can’t help but think of Pablo. She lived off him for ten months, until it became clear that they were going to run out of money before he sold another painting. In the next version of her life, she decides, she will be entirely independent.
“No really, I’m curious. What’s your understanding of work?”
“Work is combat.”
“So you’ve hated every job you’ve had, is that what you’re saying?”
Jeevan shrugs. He’s looking at something on his phone, distracted, his face lit blue by the screen. Miranda returns her attention to the house. The sensation of being in a dream that will end at any moment, only she isn’t sure if she’s fighting to wake up or to stay asleep. Elizabeth’s car is all long curves and streaks of reflected light. Miranda thinks of the places she might go now that Los Angeles is over, and what surprises her is that the first place that comes to mind is Neptune Logistics. She misses the order of the place, the utter manageability of her job there, the cool air of Leon Prevant’s office suite, the calm of the lake.
“Hey!” Jeevan says suddenly, and as Miranda turns, the cigarette halfway to her mouth, the flash of his camera catches her unaware. Five more flashes in quick succession as she drops the cigarette on the sidewalk and walks quickly away from him, enters a code into a keypad and slips back in through the side gate, the afterimage of the first flash floating across her vision. How could she have let her guard down? How could she have been so stupid?
In the morning her picture will appear in a gossip website: TROUBLE IN PARADISE? AMID RUMORS OF ARTHUR’S INFIDELITY, MIRANDA WANDERS THE STREETS OF HOLLYWOOD AT FOUR A.M. CRYING AND SMOKING. And the photograph, the photograph, Miranda alone in the small hours of the morning with obvious tears in her eyes, pale in the flash, her hair standing up and a cigarette between her fingers, lips parted, a bra strap showing where her dress has slipped.
But first there is the rest of the night to get through. Miranda closes the gate and sits for a long time on a stone bench by the pool, shaking. Luli jumps up to sit beside her. Eventually Miranda dries her eyes and they go back to the house, where Elizabeth is still sleeping, and upstairs, where Miranda stops to listen outside the bedroom door. Arthur snores.
She opens the door to his study, which is the opposite of her study, which is to say the housekeeper’s allowed to come in. Arthur’s study is painfully neat. Four stacks of scripts on the desk, which is made of glass and steel. An ergonomic chair, a tasteful lamp. Beside the lamp, a flat leather box with a drawer that pulls open with a ribbon. She opens this and finds what she’s looking for, a yellow legal pad on which she’s seen him write before, but tonight there’s only an unfinished fragment of Arthur’s latest letter to his childhood friend:
Dear V., Strange days. The feeling that one’s life resembles a movie. Thinking a lot of the future. I have such
Nothing else. You have such what, Arthur? Did your phone ring midsentence? Yesterday’s date at the top of the page. She puts the legal pad back exactly as she found it, uses the hem of her dress to wipe a fingertip smudge from the desk. Her gaze falls on the gift that Clark brought this evening, a paperweight of clouded glass.
When she holds it, it’s a pleasing weight in the palm of her hand. It’s like looking into a storm. She tells herself as she switches off the light that she’s only taking the paperweight back to her study to sketch it, but she knows she’s going to keep it forever.
When she returns to her study it’s nearly dawn. Dr. Eleven, the landscape, the dog, a text box for Dr. Eleven’s interior monologue across the bottom: After Lonagan’s death, all of life seemed awkward to me. I’d become a stranger to myself. She erases and rewrites: After Lonagan’s death, I felt like a stranger. The sentiment seems right, but somehow not for this image. A new image to go before this one, a close-up of a note left on Captain Lonagan’s body by an Undersea assassin: “We were not meant for this world. Let us go home.”
In the next image, Dr. Eleven holds the note in his hand as he stands on the outcropping of rock, the little dog by his boots. His thoughts:
The first sentence of the assassin’s note rang true: we were not meant for this world. I returned to my city, to my shattered life and damaged home, to my loneliness, and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.
Too long, also melodramatic. She erases it, and writes in soft pencil: I stood looking over my damaged home and tried to forget the sweetness of life on Earth.
A sound behind her. Elizabeth Colton leans in the doorway, holding a glass of water with both hands.
“I’m sorry,” she says, “I didn’t mean to disturb. I saw the light was on in here.”
“Come in.” Miranda is surprised to realize that she’s more curious than anything. A memory of the first night at the Hotel Le Germain in Toronto, lying beside Arthur, the awareness of a beginning. And now here’s the ending standing in her doorway half-drunk, legs like pipe cleaners in her skinny jeans, tousled and in disarray—smudges of mascara under her eyes, a sheen of sweat on her nose—but still beautiful, still one of the finest specimens of her kind in Los Angeles, of Los Angeles in a way Miranda knows she never will be, no matter how long she stays here or how hard she tries. Elizabeth steps forward and sinks unexpectedly to the floor. By some small miracle she’s managed not to spill the water.