She never would have imagined

Excerpt from Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Photo by Unseen Studio on Unsplash

This is an excerpt from the book Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.

Miranda is at work when Arther Leander calls her again. She’s an administrative assistant at a shipping company, Neptune Logistics, where she spends quiet days at a desk shaped like a horseshoe in a private reception area outside her boss’s office door. Her boss is a young executive named Leon Prevant, and his door is almost always closed because he’s almost always out of town. there are acres of gray carpeting and a wall of glass with a view of Lake Ontario near her desk. There’s rarely enough work to keep her occupied for more than an hour or two at a time, which means she can often spend entire afternoons sketching—she’s working on a series of graphic novels—with long coffee breaks, during which she likes to stand by the glass wall and look out at the lake. When she stands here she feels suspended, floating over the city. The stillness of the water, the horizon framed by other glass towers and miniature boats drifting in the distance.

A soft chime signifies and incoming email. During the long period when her position was staff by an incompetent temp—”The winter of our discontent,” Leon Prevant calls it—Leon took to outsourcing his travel planning to his subordinate Hannah’s administrative assistant Thea who is impeccable in a smooth, corporate way that Miranda admires, and who has just forwarded Leon’s flight confirmation emails for next month’s trip to Tokyo. In Thea’s presence she feels ragged and unkempt, curls sticking up in all directions while Thea’s hair is glossy and precise, her clothes never quite right whereas Thea’s clothes are perfect. Miranda’s lipstick is always too gaudy or too dark, her heels too high or too low. Her stockings all have holes in the feet and have to be worn strategically with specific pairs of shoes The shoes have scuffed heels filled in carefully with permanent marker.

The clothes are a problem. Most of Miranda’s office clothes come from a bargain outlet just off of Yonge Street, and they always look okay under the dressing room lights but by the time she gets home they’re all wrong, the black skirt shining with acrylic fibers, the blouse in a synthetic fabric that clings unpleasantly, everything cheap-looking and highly flammable.

“You’re an artist” her boyfriend Pablo said that morning watching her while she tried various layering options under a blouse that had shrunk in the wash. “Why would you want to conform to some bullshit corporate dress code?”

“Because my job requires it.”

“My poor corporate baby,” he said. “Lost in the machine.” Pablo talks about metaphorical machines a lot, also the Man. He sometimes combines the two, as in “That’s how the Man wants us, just trapped right there in the corporate machine.” They met at school. Pablo graduated a year ahead of her, and at first his career seemed so brilliant that she stopped being a waitress at his invitation he sold a painting for ten thousand dollars and then a larger one for twenty-one thousand and he was poised to become the Next Big Thing, but then a show got canceled and he sold nothing else in the year that followed, absolutely nothing, so Miranda signed with a temp agency and found herself a short time later at her desk in a high tower outside Leon Prevant’s office door. “Hang in there, baby,” he said that morning, watching her dress. “You know this is only temporary.”

“Sure,” she said. He’s been saying this ever since she registered with the temp agency, but what she hasn’t told him is that she went from temporary to permanent at the end of her sixth week on the job. Leon likes her. He appreciates how calm she always is, he says, how unflappable. He even introduces her as such, on the rare occasions when he’s in the office: “And this is my unflappable assistant, Miranda.” This pleases her more than she likes to admit to herself.

“I’m going to sell those new paintings,” Pablos said. He was half-naked in the bed, lying like a starfish. After she got up he always liked to see how much of the bed he could sleep on at once. “You know there’s a payday coming right?”

“Definitely,” Miranda said, giving up on the blouse and trying to find a T-shirt that might look halfway professional under her twenty-dollar blazer.

“Almost no one from that last show sold anything,” he said, talking mostly to himself now.

“I know it’s temporary.” But this is her secret: she doesn’t want it to end. What she can never tell Pablo, because he disdains all things corporate, is that she likes being at Neptune Logistics more than she likes being at home Home is a small dark apartment with an every-growing population of dust bunnies, the hallway narrowed by Pablo’s canvases propped up against the walls, an easel blocking the lower half of the living room window. Her workspace at Neptune Logistics is all clean lines and recessed lighting. She works on her never-ending project for hours at a time. In art school they talked about day jobs in tones of horror. She never would have imagined that her day job would be the calmest and least cluttered part of her life.

Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below!

Station Eleven – Summary

Here is the book summary from Goodreads:

Set in the days of civilization’s collapse, Station Eleven tells the story of a Hollywood star, his would-be savior, and a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.

One snowy night a famous Hollywood actor slumps over and dies onstage during a production of King Lear. Hours later, the world as we know it begins to dissolve. Moving back and forth in time—from the actor’s early days as a film star to fifteen years in the future, when a theater troupe known as the Traveling Symphony roams the wasteland of what remains—this suspenseful, elegiac, spellbinding novel charts the strange twists of fate that connect five people: the actor, the man who tried to save him, the actor’s first wife, his oldest friend, and a young actress with the Traveling Symphony, caught in the crosshairs of a dangerous self-proclaimed prophet.

Copyright © 2015 by Emily St. John Mandel.

You can find more details here on Goodreads and on StoryGraph.

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