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 youre going is perfectly safe, Clark told her. Hed assured the conductor of the same thing a few days earlier. Traders come up from there sometimes.
But its not our usual territory, Kirsten said, and if Clark hadnt 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, Ill 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. Theres 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 Clarks 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 Arthurs 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. Hes 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 hasnt 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, its pleasant to consider the possibility. He likes the thought of ships moving over the water, toward another world just out of sight.