Station Eleven (Page 37)
“Eleven years,” she said.
“Please, have a seat. Can I offer you something?”
“Do you have any tea?”
“I have tea.”
“I thought you would.” Miranda shed her coat and hat and sat on one of the sofas, which was exactly as uncomfortable as it looked, while Arthur fussed with an electric kettle on a countertop. Here we are, she thought. “How are the previews going?”
“Fine,” he said. “Better than fine, actually. Good. It’s been a long time since I’ve done Shakespeare, but I’ve been working with a coach. Actually, I guess coach isn’t the right word. A Shakespeare expert.” He came back to the sofas and sat across from her. She watched his gaze flicker over her suit, her gleaming shoes, and realized he was performing the same reconciliations she was, adjusting a mental image of a long-ago spouse to match the changed person sitting before him.
“A Shakespeare expert?”
“He’s a Shakespearean scholar. University of Toronto. I love working with him.”
“It must be quite interesting.”
“It is. He has this extremely impressive pool of knowledge, brings a lot to the table, but at the same time he’s completely supportive of my vision for the part.”
Supportive of my vision? He’d adopted new speech patterns. But of course he had, because since she’d last seen him there had been eleven years of friends and acquaintances and meetings and parties, travel here and there, film sets, two weddings and two divorces, a child. It made sense, she supposed, that he would be a different person by now. “What a great opportunity,” she said, “getting to work with someone like that.” Had she ever in her life sat on a less-comfortable sofa. She pressed her fingertips into the foam and barely made an impression. “Arthur,” she said, “I’m so sorry about your father.”
“Thank you.” He looked at her, and seemed to struggle to find the right words. “Miranda, I have to tell you something.”
“This doesn’t sound good.”
“It isn’t. Listen, there’s a book coming out.” His childhood friend Victoria had published the letters he’d sent her. Dear V.: An Unauthorized Portrait of Arthur Leander would be available for purchase in a week and a half. A friend who worked in publishing had sent him an advance copy.
“Am I in it?” she asked.
“I’m afraid so. I’m sorry, Miranda.”
“I mentioned you sometimes, when I wrote to her. That’s all. I want you to know that I never said anything unpleasant about you.”
“Okay. Good.” Was it fair to be as angry as she was? He couldn’t have known Victoria would sell the letters.
“You might find this difficult to believe,” he said, “but I have some sense of discretion. It’s actually one of the things I’m known for.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, “but did you just say you’re famous for your discretion?”
“Look, all I mean is, I didn’t tell Victoria everything.”
“I appreciate that.” A strained silence, during which Miranda willed the kettle to start whistling. “Do you know why she did it?”
“Victoria? I have to assume it was the money. The last I heard, she was working as a housekeeper in a resort on the west coast of Vancouver Island. She probably made more on that book than she’d made in the previous decade.”
“Are you going to sue?”
“It would just be more publicity. My agent thinks it’s better if we just let the book run its course.” The kettle whistled at last; he stood quickly, and she realized he’d been willing the water to boil too. “Hopefully when it comes out it’s only a story for a week or so, then it sinks and disappears. Green tea, or chamomile?”
“Green,” she said. “It must be infuriating, having your letters sold.”
“I was angry at first, I’m still angry, but the truth is, I think I deserved everything I got.” He carried two mugs of green tea to the coffee table, where they left rings of steam on the glass.
“Why do you think you deserved it?”
“I treated Victoria like a diary.” He lifted his mug, blew on the surface of his tea, and returned the mug very deliberately to the table. There was a studied quality to the movement, and Miranda had an odd impression that he was performing a scene. “She wrote to me at first, in the very beginning. Maybe two letters and three postcards, back when I first started writing to her from Toronto. Then a couple of quick notes telling me about changes in address, with a cursory note at the beginning, you know, ‘Hi, sorry for not writing more, I’ve been busy, here’s my new address.’ ”
“So all the times I saw you writing to her,” Miranda said, “she never wrote back.” She was surprised by how sad this made her.
“Right. I used her as a repository for my thoughts. I think I stopped thinking of her as a human being reading a letter.” He looked up—and here, a pause in which Miranda could almost see the script: “Arthur looks up. Beat.” Was he acting? She couldn’t tell. “The truth is, I think I actually forgot she was real.”
Did this happen to all actors, this blurring of borders between performance and life? The man playing the part of the aging actor sipped his tea, and in that moment, acting or not, it seemed to her that he was deeply unhappy.
“It sounds like you’ve had a difficult year,” she said. “I’m sorry.”
“Thank you. It hasn’t been easy, but I keep reminding myself, people have much worse years than mine. I lost a few battles,” he said, “but that isn’t the same thing as losing the war.”
Miranda raised her mug. “To the war,” she said, which elicited a smile. “What else is happening?”
“I’m always talking about myself,” he said. “How’s your life?”
“Good. Very good. No complaints.”
“You’re in shipping, aren’t you?”
“Yes. I love it.”
“My position on the subject hasn’t changed. You had a son with Elizabeth, didn’t you?”
“Tyler. Just turned eight. He’s with his mother in Jerusalem.”
There was a knock at the door just then, and Arthur stood. Miranda watched him recede across the room and thought of their last dinner party in the house in Los Angeles—Elizabeth Colton passed out on a sofa, Arthur walking away up the stairs to the bedroom. She wasn’t exactly sure what she was doing here.
The person at the door was very small.
“Hello, Kiki,” Arthur said. The visitor was a little girl, seven or eight years old. She clutched a coloring book in one hand, a pencil case in the other. She was very blond, the sort of child who appears almost incandescent in certain lighting. Miranda couldn’t imagine what part there could possibly be in King Lear for a seven- or eight-year-old, but she’d seen enough child actors in her time that she could recognize one on sight.
“Can I draw in my coloring book here?” the girl asked.
“Of course,” Arthur said. “Come in. I’d like you to meet my friend Miranda.”
“Hello,” the girl said without interest.
“Hello,” Miranda said. The girl looked like a china doll, she thought. She looked like someone who’d been well-cared-for and coddled all her life. She was probably someone who would grow up to be like Miranda’s assistant Laetitia, like Leon’s assistant Thea, unadventurous and well-groomed.
“Kirsten here likes to visit sometimes,” Arthur said. “We talk about acting. Your wrangler knows where you are?” In the way he looked at the girl, Miranda saw how much he missed his own child, his distant son.
“She was on the phone,” Kirsten said. “I sneaked out.” She sat on the carpet near the door, opened her coloring book to a half-completed page involving a princess, a rainbow, a distant castle, a frog, unpacked her pencils and began drawing red stripes around the bell of the princess’s dress.
“Are you still drawing?” Arthur asked Miranda. He was noticeably more relaxed with Kirsten in the room.
Always. Yes. When she traveled she carried a sketchbook in her luggage, for the times when she was alone in hotel rooms at night. The focus of the work had gradually shifted. For years Dr. Eleven had been the hero of the narrative, but lately he’d begun to annoy her and she’d become more interested in the Undersea. These people living out their lives in underwater fallout shelters, clinging to the hope that the world they remembered could be restored. The Undersea was limbo. She spent long hours sketching lives played out in underground rooms.
“You’ve actually just reminded me. I brought you something.” She had finally assembled the first two issues of the Dr. Eleven comics, and had had a few copies printed at her own expense. She extracted two copies each of Dr. Eleven, Vol. 1, No. 1: Station Eleven and Dr. Eleven, Vol. 1, No. 2: The Pursuit from her handbag, and passed them across the table.
“Your work.” Arthur smiled. “These are beautiful. The cover of this first one was on the studio wall in L.A., wasn’t it?”