Station Eleven (Page 57)
“What’s this?” she asked, mid-chocolate, picking up Dr. Eleven, Vol. 1, No 1: Station Eleven from the coffee table.
“My ex-wife dropped those off a couple weeks back.”
He felt a flicker of sadness. This was a sign of having gone seriously astray, wasn’t it? Having more than one ex-wife? He wasn’t sure where exactly he’d gone wrong. “The first one. Miranda. I’m actually not sure what to do with them.”
“What, you’re not keeping these?”
“I don’t read comic books,” Arthur said. “She gave me two copies of each, so I sent the other set to my son.”
“You told me you’re trying to shed your possessions or something, right?”
“Exactly. They’re lovely, but I don’t want more things.”
“I think I understand.” Tanya was reading. “Interesting story line,” she said, a few pages in.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I never really understood the point of it, to be honest.” There was relief in admitting this to someone, after all these years. “The Undersea, especially. All those people in limbo, waiting around, plotting, for what?”
“I like it,” Tanya said. “The art’s really good, isn’t it?”
“She liked drawing more than she liked writing the dialogue.” He was just now remembering this. Once he’d opened Miranda’s study door and watched her work for some minutes before she realized he was there. The curve of her neck as she stooped over the drafting table, her absolute concentration. How vulnerable she’d seemed when she was lost in her work.
“It’s beautiful.” Tanya was studying an image of the Undersea, a heavily crosshatched room with mahogany arches from Station Eleven’s drowned forests. The room reminded Arthur of somewhere he’d been, but he couldn’t place it.
She glanced at her watch. “I should probably go. My little hellions are due in fifteen minutes.”
“Wait, I have something for you.” A glass paperweight had arrived by courier two weeks ago, sent by Miranda from her hotel after he’d seen her. She’d explained in her note that Clark had brought it to the house in Los Angeles and that she regretted taking it, that she felt certain Clark had meant it for Arthur, not her, but when he held the glass lump in his hand he found there were no memories attached to it; he had no recollection whatsoever of Clark having given it to them, and anyway the last thing he wanted in his life was a paperweight.
“It’s gorgeous,” Tanya said when he gave it to her. She peered into the cloudy depths. “Thank you.”
“I’ll give you a call if Kirsten shows up here. Will I see you after the show?”
She kissed him. “Of course,” she said.
When she was gone, he lay on the sofa and closed his eyes, but Kirsten was at his door fifteen minutes later. His exhaustion was taking on the force of illness. Sweat beaded on his forehead when he stood. He let her in and sat down quickly.
“My mom bought a book with you on the cover,” she said. She sat across from him on the other sofa.
The only book in existence with Arthur on the cover was Dear V. He felt nauseous.
“Did you read it?”
“My mom won’t let me read it. She says it’s inappropriate.”
“That’s what she said? Inappropriate?”
“Well,” Arthur said, “I think it’s inappropriate that the book exists. She’s right not to show it to you.” The one time he’d met Kirsten’s mother, she’d cornered him to ask if he had any projects coming up with a part for a small girl. He’d wanted to shake her. Your daughter’s so young, he’d wanted to say. Let her be a kid, give her a chance, I don’t know why you want this for her. He didn’t understand why anyone would want their child involved in movies.
“Is the book bad?”
“I wish it didn’t exist. But you know, I’m glad you came by,” he said.
“I have a present for you.” He felt a little guilty as he handed her the Dr. Eleven comics, because after all Miranda had intended them for him, but he didn’t want the comics because he didn’t want possessions. He didn’t want anything except his son.
When he was alone again, Arthur put on his costume. He sat for a few minutes in his finery, enjoying the weight of the velvet cape, left his crown on the coffee table next to the grapes and walked down the hall to Makeup. The pleasure of being with other people. He must have eaten something bad, he decided. Maybe at the diner. He had an hour alone in his dressing room, where he drank chamomile tea and spoke lines aloud to his reflection in the mirror, paced, prodded at the bags under his eyes, adjusted his crown. At the half-hour call, he phoned Tanya.
“I want to do something for you,” he said. “This will seem very sudden, but I’ve been thinking about it for a week.”
“What is it?” She was distracted. He heard the three little girls bickering in the background.
“How much do you still owe in student loans?” She had told him once, but he couldn’t remember the number.
“Forty-seven thousand dollars,” she said, and he heard the hope in her voice, the not-daring-to-hope, the disbelief.
“I want to pay it off.” Wasn’t this what money was for? This was what his life was going to mean, finally, after all these years of failing to win Oscars, this string of box-office flops. He would be known as the man who gave his fortune away. He would retain only enough money to live on. He would buy an apartment in Jerusalem and see Tyler every day and start over.
“Arthur,” she said.
“Let me do this for you.”
“Arthur, it’s too much.”
“It isn’t. How long will it take for you to pay it off,” he asked gently, “at the rate you’re going?”
“I’ll be in my midsixties, but it’s my debt, I—”
“Then let me help,” he said. “No strings attached. I promise. Just come to my dressing room after the show tonight, and let me give you a check.”
“What do I tell my parents? If I tell them, they’ll want to know how I got the money.”
“Tell them the truth. Tell them an eccentric actor gave you a check for forty-seven thousand dollars, no strings attached.”
“I don’t know how to thank you,” she said.
When he ended the call, he felt an unexpected peace. He would jettison everything that could possibly be thrown overboard, this weight of money and possessions, and in this casting off he’d be a lighter man.
“Fifteen minutes,” the stage manager called from just outside the door.
“Thank you fifteen,” Arthur said, and began running his lines from the beginning. At “our eldest born, speak first,” he glanced at his watch. It was still only six a.m. in Israel, but he knew Tyler and Elizabeth got up early. He negotiated his way past his ex-wife—“Two minutes, Elizabeth, I know he’s getting ready for school, I just want to hear his voice”—and closed his eyes to listen to the rustling of the telephone being transferred into his son’s small hands. My eldest born, my only born, my heart.
“Why are you calling?” That suspicious little voice. He remembered that Tyler was angry with him.
“I wanted to say hello.”
“Then why weren’t you here for my birthday?” Arthur had promised to be in Jerusalem for Tyler’s birthday, but he’d made that promise ten months ago and had frankly forgotten about it until Tyler had called him yesterday. Arthur’s apologies hadn’t landed.
“I can’t be there, buddy. I would if I could. But aren’t you coming to New York soon? Won’t I see you next week?” Tyler had nothing to say to this. “You’re flying to New York tonight, aren’t you?”
“Did you read those comic books I sent you?”
Tyler didn’t respond. Arthur sat on the sofa, and rested his forehead in the palm of his hand. “Did you like them, Tyler? Those comic books?”
“Ten minutes,” the stage manager said at the door.
“Thank you ten. I looked at the comic books,” Arthur said, “but I don’t think I completely understood what they were about. I was hoping maybe you could explain them to me.”
“What about them?”
“Well, tell me about Dr. Eleven.”
“He lives on a space station.”
“Really? A space station?”
“It’s like a planet, but a little planet,” Tyler said. “Actually it’s sort of broken. It went through a wormhole, so it’s hiding in deep space, but its systems were damaged, so on its surface? It’s almost all water.” He was warming to his subject.
“All water!” Arthur raised his head. It had been a mistake to let Tyler get so far away from him, but perhaps the mistake wasn’t unfixable. “So they live in the water, Dr. Eleven and his—his people?”
“They live on islands. They have a city that’s all made of islands. There’s like bridges and boats? But it’s dangerous, because of the seahorses.”