Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Night is a Shadow Cast By the World (Chapter 4)

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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 and Chapter 3 of Night is a Shadow Cast By the World.

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Chapter Four

Marla clicks endlessly through television channels, local news, national news, talk shows, even cooking shows, watching each briefly before moving on, hoping, praying for some mention of last night’s events, for an acknowledgement of Cordell’s disappearance. But there is nothing, and as she crushes her thumb against the channel button, making the stations strobe past, she begins to realize that she can do nothing but wait and hope that Cordell is safe, hope that someone is out there searching for him.

She sets the remote down and bows her head into her hands, massaging her temples. She hasn’t had coffee yet, hurries to the kitchen, grinds the beans, scoops from a porcelain jar a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, and nutmeg, crushing the blend in her palm before sprinkling it over the grounds. Chai coffee, her own recipe.

Caffeine chases the ache from her head and brings a provisional calm. Cordell is no doubt doing everything in his power to return home. Meanwhile, elite forces — the OPP, RCMP, Interpol — are engaged in a sweeping search for the rogue aircraft. Aeroplanes are large, highly-regulated vehicles; it won’t be long before the craft is located and its priceless cargo returned to her.

She considers phoning her friends Pippa or Rose or Lorraine to explain the situation, but why alarm them when Cordell could walk through the door at any moment?

What a story she’ll have to tell! She sits at the kitchen table, chin in palm, visualizing a homecoming party during which she holds her friends rapt, recounting the moment that Cordell disappeared within the aeroplane.

But while in her imagination the table is surrounded by friends, Cordell remains stubbornly absent. Each time she conjures him his image shudders and disperses, like a reflection in a pool rippled by wind.

She shuts her eyes, focuses on breathing. No. She will not be overcome. She goes to the living room, finds Galina’s “baby” — an old knotted T-shirt — and waves it around. Galina leaps from her pad and seizes it in her jaws, and they each tug furiously, spinning, growling at each other. Galina soon relents and lies panting as Marla wriggles the rag at the dog’s snout, her persistence an inversion of their normal roles at play.

What they both need, Marla thinks, is a walk, but she is concerned about abandoning the house while Cordell might telephone or reappear. But she can’t just wait.

The smell of sawdust fills the garage. Marla switches on the spotlights above the lathe where a one-inch dowel is mounted between the stocks. She dons her goggles and gloves, starts the lathe, and sets the skew chisel onto the rest. As the blade is about to bite the spinning wood, she jabs the cutoff switch with her knee and stares at the ceiling. Was that the buzz of an aeroplane? She listens. A neighbour’s lawnmower. She restarts the lathe but immediately shuts it off, listening. Then she tugs off the gloves and goggles and throws them onto the workbench.

It’s Saturday. Cordell always cuts the grass on Saturday. He claims that the grass learns to expect it on a particular day and that one must be consistent.

“Otherwise?” Marla once wondered.

“You’ll make the grass paranoid,” Cordell replied.

The garden shed is hot and smells of oil, and dry grass encrusts the lawnmower. She wheels it onto the lawn and listens to the harmonizing of other mowers up and down the street, a chorus she is about to join. She starts the machine and shuts it off. No. It will drown out the telephone.

“Hello, Marla.”

Marla whirls, startled from her thoughts. Her neighbour Mrs. Pardo, wearing shorts and a T-shirt with a dancing cow on it, stands at the fence. Gigantic sunglasses conceal most of her freckled face, and she clutches a martini glass.

“Problem?” Mrs. Pardo asks.

“I beg your pardon?”

“With the lawnmower. Is there a problem?”

“I’ve changed my mind. I’ll do it later.”

“Doesn’t Cordell usually do that?”

“Cordell’s away.”

“I gathered. I hope he’s not planning to commute like that every day. That airplane made a racket! It startled me.”

“Hope you didn’t spill your martini.”

The phone rings and Marla scoots into the house.

“Hello? Hello?”

She hears a faint click followed by a shriek of feedback. Then silence. After a few seconds she says, “Cordell?”

Nothing. She’s panting, the earpiece crushed to her ear, listening to a distant white fizz. Another click, then dialtone. She reluctantly hangs up, spots clouding her vision, head throbbing. Ring again, she thinks. Please, oh please ring again. But it doesn’t.

She’s failed. That was Cordell. It had to be Cordell, and she answered incorrectly. Of this she is convinced. She has no concept of how she should have replied, she knows only that she has bungled. She stares at the phone, begging it for another chance.

Then she lifts it and dials.

“Pippa.”

“Hello? Who is this? Marla?”

“Come over.”

“I hardly recognize your voice. What’s wrong? What’s going on?”

Marla pauses, says softly, “Pip. Just come.”

She hangs up and is deluged by weariness, rests her head on the table facing the sink, seeing the dish rack and the towel crumpled beside it. A tableau of their final moments together. She closes her eyes.

The doorbell’s chime awakens her. She bolts to the door.

Pippa sees Marla’s expression and cries, “Oh no! Worse than I thought!”

Galina leaps against Pippa, tail fluttering. Pippa squats and rubs the dog’s head.

“Cordell is gone,” Marla says.

“He left you?” Pippa cries, standing.

“Well, no. Yes.” A sob rises in Marla’s throat and she flees through the house and out to the backyard with Pippa in pursuit.

After soothing Marla’s tears, Pippa sits on the edge of a lawn chair while Marla paces the yard, exclaiming her tale. Pippa listens, head tilted, twining fingers through her tight brown curls. Marla concludes with the police officers’ visit and then sits, stands, and sits, and just as her face is about to melt into tears Pippa leaps from her chair and kneels before Marla, gathering her into her arms and cooing a jabber of vacuous solace which brings to Marla an unexpected calm. As Pippa lets go and sits back in the grass she swiftly knuckles tears from her own eyesockets, then to hide her embarrassment she opens a pack of cigarillos and offers one to Marla, who declines. Pippa withdraws a lighter, and with a hand cupped against the wind she lights one, filling the air with cherryscented smoke. She gazes out at the field for some moments before looking back at Marla.

“This is crazy. Mar, do you have any idea how strange this is? Cordell has been kidnapped by the occupants of a plane named the Lucky Duck.”

Marla asks, “Why do you believe he was kidnapped? Why don’t you think he climbed aboard willingly?”

“Mar, listen. Cordell is a smart, careful man. He’s got his doctorate. He runs a bookstore. And most importantly, he has you. He’s not going to hop into any strange plane that happens to land behind his house. But think for a moment: his parents are loaded, right?”

“From what Cordell tells me.”

“He had to have been threatened. Maybe someone inside with a gun?”

“That’s what the police speculated.”

“They also think he was abducted.”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what I think.”

“Do not doubt, Mar. Cordell loves you with all his heart. He would never willingly put you in this state.”

“Yes,” Marla replies without conviction.

“You gave up your degree in veterinary medicine to be here with him.”

“Well. I gave it up because it wasn’t my dream. It wasn’t what I wanted.”

“I know. This is what you wanted,” Pippa replies, taking in the yard and house with a gesture.

“Yes,” Marla answers, but softly.

“Isn’t it?”

“It doesn’t matter right now,” Marla replies firmly. “What matters is finding Cordell. And you’re absolutely right. Cordell is a good man, a careful man, and there’s no way he would hop aboard a mysterious aircraft and take off, leaving me mad with worry.”

“It’s true. He was kidnapped. It’s the only explanation. But what do we do?”

“We wait. For a ransom demand.”

“And then? What do you think they’ll want for him?”

“I don’t know.”

“I mean, I have some retirement funds and a little room on my MasterCard . . .”

“Oh Pip,” Marla replies. “You are wonderful. But if it’s his family’s money they want, then his family will have to pay.”

“His family. You sure you could do that? Talk to them?”

“It’s not for me. It’s for him. They’ll do it for him. They can’t detest him so much that they won’t stump up to save his life.”

“I hope you’re right.”

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Read Chapter 5 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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