Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Night is a Shadow Cast By the World (Chapter 7)

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Night is a Shadow Cast By the World by Brian Panhuyzen

Toronto writer Brian Panhuyzen's ambitious new novel, Night is a Shadow Cast By the World, is a gripping literary adventure about books, aviation, travel and love. We will be serializing a portion of the book on Open Book: Toronto, with a new chapter posted every Tuesday and Thursday.

Read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 and Chapter 6 of Night is a Shadow Cast By the World.

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Chapter 7

Marla starts at the sound of the coffee grinder, leaps out of bed and careers down the hall, tying her bathrobe’s sash, not yet conscious of what has launched her from slumber. She stands trembling and bleary-eyed in the kitchen doorway, panting, and when Pippa sees her expression she sets down the grinder and strides forward, hugs Marla, calling, “What is it, what is it?”

“Cordell grinds the coffee,” she says. “I thought he . . .”

“Oh Jesus,” Pippa replies, stepping back, her face flushing. “I should have thought. I wanted to make . . . I mean I thought you would need . . .”

“It’s all right, Pip.”

“I didn’t know it would be so loud. Galina and I just came back from a walk . . .”

“You walked Galina?”

The dog starts from beneath the table at the sound of her name, nuzzles Marla’s palm.

“And checked the mailbox. Nothing there, I’m afraid. I want so much for there to be something for you to hold onto, to steady yourself.”

“Coffee would help,” Marla replies, lifting the grinder from the counter, tipping the grounds into the filter, adding her spicy chai blend, sniffing her palm. Pippa watching, smiling.

As they sit and drink Pippa describes her walk with Galina, the quality of the morning, the landmarks that caught the dog’s attention, but Marla’s thoughts are far away, and at last she says in a dazed voice, “Pip, what if he wasn’t kidnapped?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well,” Marla replies. “What if he was having an affair?”

“No,” Pippa replies instantly. “He has you. Why would he need anyone else?”

“I mean,” Marla continues, “What if she’s a pilot?”

“Who?”

“The woman with whom he’s having the affair.”

“What affair?”

“The hypothetical affair. I couldn’t see the person inside the plane. It could have been a woman.”

“It could have been an alien with a tremendous blue head and tentacles.”

“All right, all right,” Marla replies, managing a laugh. “It just seems like the most sensible explanation.”

“It’s not. Really, Mar. He loves you madly. Look, I need to go home to feed my cat. But I’m coming right back.”

“That’s not necessary, Pip. I think I need some solo time. I might attempt a little woodwork today. Distract myself.”

“You’re sure? I’d be gone twenty minutes.”

“Really. I do need some time to process everything.”

“If you say so. Promise you’ll call me if there’s anything.”

After Pippa is gone Marla showers and dresses, enters the garage. She props open the door to the house so she will hear the telephone, spends a moment unclamping the corner dovetails of a little walnut box she has been constructing for Cordell’s birthday, which is months away. She inspects the joints, sands away the ridges of glue. In her state she finds such delicate labour frustrating, would rather be sawing chunks of hardwood or beltsanding a tabletop, but power tools would drown out the phone. She sets the box down, retires to the living room sofa, considers locating her book but feels restless, needs fresh air. Galina is staring at her from the windowsill cushion, leash clutched in her jaws. How can Marla consider going out when Cordell — or his abductors — may telephone? She must stay home and wait.

But she will have to go out sooner or later, to replenish the refrigerator, to pay the bills, to continue with some kind of life. Dogs need exercise. She and Cordell and Galina always walk in the hills on Sunday. It looks like rain, but Marla has a yellow mackintosh and rubber boots, and Galina likes getting wet. She bends to the side table and presses the answering machine’s record button.

“Hello, if this is Cordell, I apologize love but I had to take Galina for a walk. I hope you are well. Please leave a message and let us know where you are and when you will be home or if there’s anything you want us to do.

“Mercy,” she says to Galina. “What if it’s the kidnappers calling?”

She hits the button again and says, “Hello, if this is Cordell, Galina and I went for a walk. Please leave a message and let us know where you are and if you need us to do something. We miss you. If this is not Cordell but in fact his kidnappers then we must talk. I’m sure you want a ransom, so if you would be so kind as to leave your demands on the machine and perhaps a number where we can reach you. Thanks.”

Perfect — unless it’s a regular call. She punches the button again, records a new message, plays it back.

“Cordell: we went for a walk. Kidnappers: ransom demands after the tone, please. Caller for Cordell: he’s been kidnapped. Leave him a message. He’ll get back to you later. For Marla: leave me a message. I’ll get back to you sooner. Thanks for calling.” Beep.

She draws her mackintosh and boots from the closet, sees Cordell’s own coat. She steps among the jackets and presses her face to the collar and sniffs, smells nothing but canvas and rubber.

They exit through the back door, cross the field. No rain yet and the jacket’s hood hangs loose, cradling the spill of her dark hair. She unhitches Galina’s leash and the dog tears towards the hills. Marla pivots and looks at the house, which crouches meek and small beneath ashen cloud.

She enters the brush which fringes the hills, locates the path, follows its incline. Raspberry bushes and blackeyed susans crowd the path’s margins. Galina appears in a clearing ahead, watching Marla’s approach before darting into the foliage. Aspen and birch rise around Marla as the path ascends, and hidden birds converse about the imminent rainfall. A mosquito hums past her ear and she waves it away.

A sudden train of wind charges through the trees; leaves hiss, branches creak, and a drop of rain strikes her forehead. The path bores deeper into the forest and continues to rise. Cordell always walks too fast, long legs bearing him quickly up the slope, and Marla has to hurry to keep up. But not today, she thinks with a sigh.

The light grows sombre and as the foliage thins Marla buckles her jacket and raises the hood, listens to the pelt of raindrops against the mackintosh. The path steepens until she must pitch forward (Cordell would offer a slender hand), and a railing appears where the path meets a walkway of dun wood. She steps onto the planks. The few boughs that overhang the boardwalk offer no protection and the rain streams down her coat while beads of water ornament her bangs.

She approaches the lookout where Galina is waiting, the dog’s drenched and woebegone appearance contradicted by her wagging tail. Marla rests her arms atop the railing and gazes over the mist-shrouded town. Three church steeples stand among the houses and trees, and the courthouse’s clock tower is veiled in drizzle. Cars with shining headlights ride atop their reflections on the slick streets. The field lies below the lookout, obscured by trees, and Marla spies their home, darksome amid the lucent windows of other houses. She studies the sky. Cloud stretches to the horizon, and Marla wonders if it extends as far as the sky above Cordell, scattering sweet rain upon him.

She’s about to set off when a familiar figure approaches, an elderly gentleman wearing a trenchcoat and rain hat and ambling with the aid of a cane. He nods at her, shuffles to the railing, and steadies himself against it, gazing down at the town. Galina trots to him, startles him by nuzzling his hand.

“Oh, hello,” he says softly. “Lovely dog. What breed?” He pets her head.

“She’s a Border collie.”

“Ah, those are smart ones. Does she do any tricks?”

“Some,” Marla says. “Actually, she’s got a new one. Galina, come here.” Marla squats and the dog scampers over, leans against her. “Galina. Galina, where’s Cordell? Where’s Cordell?”

Galina’s head darts about; she tries to escape Marla’s clutch. “Where’s Cordell? Galina! Where’s Cordell?”

The dog’s snout shoots skyward and she howls with such power that the man drops his cane and clamps his hands over his ears. Galina’s voice booms across the town.

“Sorry!” Marla cries, collecting the man’s cane, standing.

“Heavens!” the man cries. “She sure misses Cordell!”

“We both do,” Marla sighs, handing him the cane.

He accepts it and looks into the sky from which fatter raindrops begin to fall. “I’d best get going. Nice to meet you. And your dog.” He shuffles away, prodding an ear with a finger.

Galina heels as they hurry down the boardwalk. They negotiate the muddy path and when they reach the field they run to the house and rush inside. Marla leans against the closed door, listening to the rain while Galina visits her food dish, shedding a puddle upon the tile floor.

Marla enters the living room and draws a sharp breath. The answering machine message light is blinking. She perches on the couch and touches the play button. The machine clicks and whirs and a voice issues from the speaker.

“Hi there,” a canned voice says. “Have you ever wanted to earn money in your own home? With little more skill than it takes to lick an envelope, you can —”

“Blast!” Marla cries, punching the erase button.

She hangs her mackintosh and goes into the bathroom where she fills the tub. She peels off her clothing, collar and cuffs moist from the rain, removes socks and bra and knickers, pulls on her bathrobe and carries the clothing into the laundry room and loads the dryer. While passing the living room she considers updating the answering machine’s outgoing message, but she hears the water running.

She spills rosemary bubblebath into the stream, watching as foam swells beneath the faucet, spicing the air. She steps out of her bathrobe and stands naked before the mirror, brushing her hair. She frowns and sucks in the bulge of her tummy, studies her features, her café au lait skin, chestnut eyes, salient nose, and what Cordell describes as her “sumptuous” lips, then looks at her eyebrows, her wretched eyebrows, which rise into high arches, granting her face a perpetually naïve expression. Cordell, aware of her sensitivity, teasing her, calling her his “little brown pixie.” Her five foot three to his six-five.

She longs for Cordell’s touch, for his huge hands, for his mouth. Before the thought can take effect, she pins her hair up, screws the faucets shut, steps into the hot water. Once submerged she lets out a long breath. Galina noses the door open, looks at her in the tub, exits. Waterdrops fall one by one from the faucet. Rain pounds the roof. She closes her eyes.

“Kabul? It’s in Afghanistan.”

“No.”

“Hong Kong.”

“Yes.”

“Taipei?”

“Yes.”

“Australia?”

“Yes. Just Perth.”

“Istanbul?”

“Yes. Or was it Constantinople?”

“Antarctica.”

“Yes. No wait, that was just winter in Ottawa.”

“Toronto?”

“Ah. That’s where I found my dream.”

“I’ll take that as a yes. That’s a yes for me, too. On both counts. Let’s see. Tel Aviv?”

“Yes.”

“Athens?”

“Yes. Crete too. Oh, and a great heap of Greek islands. I can’t remember which.”

“Poor you. Mmm, what else. Singapore?”

“I don’t know. Sounds familiar. I’d give a tentative yes. My parents would know.”

“Jakarta?”

“Yes.”

“Manila?”

“Of course. It’s where I purchase my envelopes.”

“Funny. Baghdad?”

“No.”

“Tokyo?”

“Several times. Ask me Osaka.”

“Osaka?”

“We lived there for a year.”

“A year? Why don’t I know that?”

“You do now.”

“Care to share details?”

“Mum.”

“The expected reply. Can you at least tell me if you learned any Japanese?”

Ie. That means ‘no.’ So actually, hai.”

“Phnom Penh?”

“Where’s that, Vietnam?”

“Cambodia.”

“No.”

“Bangkok.”

“Hot and smelly.”

“Do you want to know the score so far?”

“Score? You’re keeping score?”

“Yes, do you want to know how we compare?”

“Okay.”

Cordell counts. She takes her eyes off the road to glance at the book; he’s been circling cities on a map in the almanac.

“All right, here’s the score at halftime. Marla, not including a heap of Greek islands: fourteen. Cordell: one. Well, I guess if we’re including birthplaces your score should include Delhi, so that gives you fifteen. All right, round two. Cairo?”

“Yes. Was that a whimper? Cordell, are you whimpering?”

“No. Tunis?”

“Yes. . . .”

The phone rings and Marla opens her eyes, the scene of that car trip evaporating. She begins to rise but hears her own voice from the answering machine, “Cordell: we went for a walk. Kidnappers: ransom demands after the tone. . . .”

She holds her breath. The beep.

“Hi there. Have you ever wanted to earn money in your own home? With little more skill than it takes to lick an envelope, you can make hundreds, even thousands of dollars . . .”

Marla sinks back into the foam, listening to the rest of the message, growling.

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Read Chapter 8 of Night is a Shadow Cast By the World by Brian Panhuyzen.

Night is a Shadow Cast By the World is available as an ebook priced at $2.99. To purchase it, please go to www.nightisashadow.com/acquire.php.

Brian Panhuyzen’s first book was a collection of short stories entitled The Death of the Moon, published by Cormorant Books. He has worked as a publisher, magazine editor and as a typesetter for House of Anansi. His new book, a novel entitled Night is a Shadow Cast By the World, is available exclusively as an ebook. He lives in Toronto with his wife and two boys.

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