Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Night is a Shadow Cast By the World (Chapter 3)

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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 and Chapter 2 of Night is a Shadow Cast By the World.

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Chapter 3

At dawn’s threshold, when pink pierces the sky’s ultramarine dome and the chatter of birds begins anew, Marla and Galina, exhausted from their nighttime vigil, slip into thick slumber, Marla with her husband’s pillow and the trace of his scent clutched in her arms, Galina at the foot of the bed where his giant feet should be.

It’s still early when the doorbell chimes. Galina lifts a lazy head and it rings again. She jumps from the bed and trots to the front door where she fixes her gaze on the doorknob. A third ring followed by a brisk knock draws three barks from the dog. Marla leaps from the bed and sweeps a bathrobe around her brown body before rushing to the door. She opens it against the security chain and sees two police officers, a man and a woman, pressing their badges to the gap. All at once the previous night’s events crash down on her.

“Mrs. Bechard?” the man asks. “May we come in?”

Marla runs fingers through her hair, then unlocks the door and steps back. The officers move warily inside, the man glancing about with overt curiosity until the woman, who has already removed her cap to reveal orange hair bound into a hard bun, nudges him with an elbow, and he too plucks off his cap, tucks it beneath an arm, smoothes his pale, cropped hair. The man introduces himself as Constable Bailey, his partner is Constable Pelham, and they endure sniffs from Galina before they each grant her a tenuous pat. Marla leads them into the kitchen where they sit at the table and decline offers of coffee and tea and orange juice. She sits too and Galina darts beneath the table and settles there.

“Ms. Bechard, you have a lovely house,” Pelham says.

“Yeah,” Bailey exclaims. “The wood. I love all this wood.”

“Thank you,” Marla replies, pressing her feet into Galina’s back.

Bailey consults his notepad. “About this airplane. Which got your husband?” He stretches his neck in a gesture of mild disbelief, and Marla glances at the woman who is sitting rigidly upright in the chair, hands in her lap.

“Listen,” he says, leaning across the table. “It’s illegal in Wannup Township to make a non-emergency landing on property not” — and here he reads from the pad — “‘designated as an aerodrome.’”

“Then I suggest you locate the pilot and arrest him,” Marla replies. “And perhaps you’ll find my husband.”

Bailey sits back and smiles uncertainly.

Marla feels deep within her bones a kind of rambling dread, as if her marrow were aquiver.

“I apologize, that was rude,” she says, recognizing that the police may be her only hope for recovering Cordell.

Pelham sits forward, opens her own notepad, says gently, “Ms. Bechard, can you describe the aircraft?”

Marla thinks a moment, says, “It was silver, rather large. It seemed old in a way. From another era. Like an Art Deco lamp or ashtray. Six or seven square windows along the side. Two propellers.”

“We spoke with a neighbour when we arrived,” Pelham says, flipping back a few pages. “He claimed it was a Douglas DC-3 Dakota.”

“Ah,” Marla replies. “That would’ve been old Mr. Rowat, formerly of the RAF. I’d believe him. But there was also a kind of cigar-smoking duck painted on the nose. And the words ‘Lucky Duck.’ I don’t know if that helps.”

“Everything helps,” Pelham replies. “Can you describe what happened? How he ended up boarding the aircraft?”

“Well,” she says, pushing the chair out, stepping to the sink. “We were here, washing dishes and talking.”

“About what?”

But Marla fails to reply, for she is staring at Cordell’s wristwatch on the windowsill where he placed it before taking up the dish towel. It seems an affront to her despair that its face should display the correct time, that the timepiece should continue to function, oblivious to its owner’s disappearance.

“Mrs. Bechard?” Pelham prompts.

“Kites,” Marla replies. “He was going to fly one of his kites.” Bailey is writing furiously. She continues, “We heard a tremendous roar. Cordell went out to investigate. I stood right here and watched the whole thing. The plane lands. He walks out. Door opens. He chats with someone inside. Gets in.” Marla grips the counter as if she is dangling from a precipice. “He gets in and it takes off.”

Pelham is beside her now, a hand on Marla’s forearm. “Which way?” she asks. “Ms. Bechard, do you know which way it went?”

Marla points east. She listens to the scratch of their pencils for some seconds before she asks, “What happens next?”

Pelham looks up from her notepad. “I’ll check the radar records at Lemmox; it’s the closest control tower. See if they know this Lucky Duck DC-3. In the meantime, you should file a missing person’s report.”

Bailey stops writing and taps the pencil against his nose. “Your husband a gambler, Mrs. Bechard?”

“Absolutely not.”

“Owe anyone money?”

“Mr. Bailey, Cordell loathes debt. He says credit cards have created a new age of peonage.”

“The what, huh?” Bailey asks.

“Peonage,” Pelham explains. “In which debtors are slaves to their creditors.”

Bailey’s eyes cross mildly, and then his attention shifts, flutters past Marla’s shoulder, and he asks, “Are those maple?”

“I beg your pardon?”

“The cabinets.” Bailey stands, starts opening cupboards and drawers, examining the fittings, the dovetailing. “My wife and I are redoing our kitchen. This is good work.”

“They’re birch,” Marla replies impatiently.

“Really fine work. Who did them?”

“I did. Mr. Bailey, please!”

“You did? You do . . .” He looks around the room. “The table too?

“Ted,” Pelham says, and his given name checks him to the spot. He delivers a galled expression and lifts his pad.

“Where does Mr. Bechard work?” he asks in a stolid voice.

“He owns a shop.”

“Oh,” he replies, looking up, inspecting her. “Oh, I see. Like a convenience store.”

Marla hears Pelham’s exasperated huff but replies temperately, “A bookshop.”

“It’s downtown. Near the station. Bechard’s Books,” Pelham says, and when Marla looks at her she sees the hint of a smile.

“I’m trying to picture it,” Bailey replies, his eyes panning left and right as he mentally scans the storefronts.

“It’s the one with the books,” Pelham snaps. Then she says to Marla, “A wonderful store, Ms. Bechard. I especially like the extensive collection of desert books.”

“Sounds yummy,” Bailey says.

“Sure, if you eat sand and iguanas,” Pelham retorts.

Bailey inhales to rejoin, but composes himself, asks Marla, “You from India or something?”

“What does that have to do with anything?” she demands.

“Well, you look Indian. Or maybe Pakistan? What?” he says to Pelham’s glare. “I’m just curious. She hardly has an accent.”

Marla says, “I was born in India. Cordell was born here. He’s Caucasian.”

Bailey writes this or something like it down. When he looks up Pelham is proffering his cap. “You’d better call this in,” she says significantly, and Bailey looks at the hat as if at something hazardous. “Call it in, Bailey,” she says louder, and he takes the hat and puts it on his head and nods to Marla and goes out. Pelham waits for the sound of the front door closing before providing Marla with a look of exasperation. She withdraws from inside her jacket a folded form.

“This is a missing person’s report,” she says, unfolding it, looking it over. She puts it on the table. “If you fill it in now I can file it right away.”

Marla prints in heavy, black letters, Name: CORDELL BECHARD. Height: 6 FEET 5 INCHES. Weight: 190 POUNDS. Distinguishing marks: A SAD SMILE.

Pelham’s radio squawks and she reduces the volume, says to Marla, “Ms. Bechard, how are you?”

“Lost,” Marla replies without thinking. She immediately wants to take it back, to respond with confidence, or fury, or lightness. But she feels lost.

“In your opinion, did your husband climb aboard that plane willingly, or was he coerced?”

Marla looks into Pelham’s eyes. “What are you suggesting?”

“Could the person inside have been pointing a weapon at him?” She raises her hands at Marla’s alarmed expression. “I don’t say this to scare you, it’s just a thought. It’s essential that we try to determine the circumstances of his departure.”

“Of course.”

Marla completes and signs the form. “I’ll have to hunt around for a recent photograph,” she says as she hands it over.

“Bring it by the station. Here’s my card. Look, he’ll probably turn up or telephone. Let us know if he does. When he does.”

They shake hands and Pelham exits. Marla stares at the tabletop, submerged in the house’s bleak silence, before shoving the chair out. Galina follows her out to the garden where Marla passes her gaze over English lavender, the jocular cosmos, the august sunflowers, before she and the dog slip through the gate. A hot sun beats down, the air is sweet, and a breeze sets the dandelion heads nodding. The windsock is twitching, swollen with wind. She examines the cloudless sky, looks north and south, straining her ears for the hum of aeroplane engines, but she hears nothing except the zephyr’s sibilance through the grass and the hot flux of blood through her body.

Did Cordell leave her?

Or was he forced?

Leave?

Forced?

She can think of nothing more important than the answer to this question.

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Read Chapter 4 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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