Snow was falling on Yonge Street. It startled Jeevan when he left the theater, this echo of the plastic translucencies that still clung to his jacket from the stage. A half dozen paparazzi had been spending the evening outside the stage door. Arthur wasn’t as famous as he had been, but his pictures still sold, especially now that he was involved in a gladiatorial divorce with a model/actress who’d cheated on him with a director.
Until very recently Jeevan had been a paparazzo himself. He’d hoped to slip past his former colleagues unnoticed, but these were men whose professional skills included an ability to notice people trying to slip past them, and they were upon him all at once.
“You look good,” one of them said. “Fancy coat you got there.” Jeevan was wearing his peacoat, which wasn’t quite warm enough but had the desired effect of making him look less like his former colleagues, who had a tendency toward puffy jackets and jeans. “Where’ve you been, man?”
“Tending bar,” Jeevan said. “Training to be a paramedic.”
“EMS? For real? You want to scrape drunks off the sidewalk for a living?”
“I want to do something that matters, if that’s what you mean.”
“Yeah, okay. You were inside, weren’t you? What happened?” A few of them were speaking into their phones. “I’m telling you, the man’s dead,” one of them was saying, near Jeevan. “Well, sure, the snow gets in the way of the shot, but look at what I just sent you, his face in that one where they’re loading him into the ambulance—”
“I don’t know what happened,” Jeevan said. “They just dropped the curtain in the middle of the fourth act.” It was partly that he didn’t want to speak with anyone just now, except possibly Laura, and partly that he specifically didn’t want to speak with them. “You saw him taken to the ambulance?”
“Wheeled him out here through the stage doors,” one of the photographers said. He was smoking a cigarette with quick, nervous motions. “Medics, ambulance, the whole nine yards.”
“How’d he look?”
“Honestly? Like a fucking corpse.”
“There’s botox, and then there’s botox,” one of them said.
“Was there a statement?” Jeevan asked.
“Some suit came out and talked to us. Exhaustion and, wait for it, dehydration.” Several of them laughed. “Always exhaustion and dehydration with these people, right?”
“You’d think someone would tell them,” the botox man said. “If someone would just find it in their hearts to pull one or two of these actors aside, be like, ‘Listen, buddy, spread the word: you’ve got to imbibe liquids and sleep every so often, okay?’ ”
“I’m afraid I saw even less than you did,” Jeevan said, and pretended to receive an important call. He walked up Yonge Street with his phone pressed cold to his ear, stepped into a doorway a half block up to dial Laura’s number again. Her phone was still off.
If he called a cab he’d be home in a half hour, but he liked being outside in the clear air, away from other people. The snow was falling faster now. He felt extravagantly, guiltily alive. The unfairness of it, his heart pumping faultlessly while somewhere Arthur lay cold and still. He walked north up Yonge Street with his hands deep in the pockets of his coat and snow stinging his face.
Jeevan lived in Cabbagetown, north and east of the theater. It was the kind of walk he’d have made in his twenties without thinking about it, a few miles of city with red streetcars passing, but he hadn’t done the walk in some time. He wasn’t sure he’d do it now, but when he turned right on Carlton Street he felt a certain momentum, and this carried him past the first streetcar stop.
He reached Allan Gardens Park, more or less the halfway point, and this was where he found himself blindsided by an unexpected joy. Arthur died, he told himself, you couldn’t save him, there’s nothing to be happy about. But there was, he was exhilarated, because he’d wondered all his life what his profession should be, and now he was certain, absolutely certain that he wanted to be a paramedic. At moments when other people could only stare, he wanted to be the one to step forward.
He felt an absurd desire to run into the park. It had been rendered foreign by the storm, all snow and shadows, black silhouettes of trees, the underwater shine of a glass greenhouse dome. When he was a boy he’d liked to lie on his back in the yard and watch the snow coming down upon him. Cabbagetown was visible a few blocks ahead, the snow-dimmed lights of Parliament Street. His phone vibrated in his pocket. He stopped to read a text message from Laura: I had a headache so I went home. Can you pick up milk?
And here, all momentum left him. He could go no farther. The theater tickets had been intended as a romantic gesture, a let’s-do-something-romantic-because-all-we-do-is-fight, and she’d abandoned him there, she’d left him onstage performing CPR on a dead actor and gone home, and now she wanted him to buy milk. Now that he’d stopped walking, Jeevan was cold. His toes were numb. All the magic of the storm had left him, and the happiness he’d felt a moment earlier was fading. The night was dark and filled with movement, snow falling fast and silent, the cars parked on the street swelling into soft outlines of themselves. He was afraid of what he’d say if he went home to Laura. He thought of finding a bar somewhere, but he didn’t want to talk to anyone, and when he thought about it, he didn’t especially want to be drunk. Just to be alone for a moment, while he decided where to go next. He stepped into the silence of the park.