Night is a Shadow Cast By the World (Chapter 10)
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.
The launch for Night is a Shadow Cast By the World is on Thursday, February 9th at the Lazy Daisy's Café. See Open Book's Events Page for details.
Marla shuts off the engine and hears a distant howl, sees Galina in the window barking and pirouetting madly. The key in the lock silences the dog, and when the door opens Galina is there, panting, tail wagging. Marla strokes the dog’s head and scoots to the answering machine. The message light is dark. She goes to the bedroom — Galina trailing with the leash in her mouth — where she exchanges the skirt for jeans.
Outside, with Galina wrenching against the lead, Marla is irked that the neighbourhood appears normal. Ms. Vermeer kneels in her opulent garden, and here comes Shannon Brant pushing her twins in their stroller. Children ride scooters and skateboards or swap cards or smoke cigarettes. Squirrels and cats slink beneath shrubs, and Marla tightens her grip on the leash, tilting back to counter Galina’s considerable power. She and the dog navigate the curve shaded by oak and birch and pass the public school, its classrooms dark, chairs upturned on the desks.
In the playground a pregnant woman is sitting on a bench, staring into space. A goldenhaired girl in a puffy dress sits grounded on the teeter-totter, which is useless without a companion. The girl begins to bawl, and her mother squawks, “Yes yes yes! I’m working on it!”
Galina tows Marla to a fire hydrant and sniffs it. Marla watches the girl ride down a slide and she attempts to summon a maternal longing. She knows her desire to procreate is dormant, waiting . . . for what? The return of her husband, obviously, but what else?
She has never needed a man, a lover, has always prided herself on her independence. She’d told her sister: “A man should be an accessory, an appliance, like a dishwasher. It makes life good, but you can always live without it.”
“Yeah,” Tara had replied with a smirk. “You can always do the dishes by hand.”
She hadn’t been searching for anyone when she met Cordell. She’d been studying relentlessly and working at the library, wonders if she was susceptible to his influence because around that time she’d started thinking again about the flute. When she left India she was on the threshold of something magical, a new milestone of musical ability. A wave of despair begins to mount, but before it can overwhelm her she turns her thoughts to home, suddenly convinced that a breakthrough regarding Cordell’s disappearance is imminent. She hauls on Galina’s leash so abruptly that the dog yelps, and they hurry home.
The mailbox is empty. The answering machine display is dark.
“Fuck!” she yells. “Whoever the hell you are who took my husband, just fucking get it together and tell me what you want!” She slumps on the couch and buries her face in her hands. She does not cry. Galina rests a paw on Marla’s knee, but Marla does not respond, sits with her face covered, trembling with rage. Galina whimpers, then barks. “Shut up!” Marla roars, and pushes the dog away. Galina, unbalanced on three paws, falls to the floor and tumbles onto her side, then scoots away.
“Mercy!” Marla cries, and pursues the dog. “Galina, Galina,” she calls as the dog dodges around the kitchen before racing to the bedroom where she darts beneath the bed. Marla drops to her belly and lifts the bed’s dustruffle. “Galina, Galina, I apologize,” she wails to the frightened dog. “Forgive me, won’t you forgive me?” Galina’s great brown eyes stare at her from the dimness, and Marla rests her head on the rug and begins to cry. She expects to shed a few tears to relieve the bands of stress constricting her chest, but the crying escalates to wailing, and she contracts into a fetal ball, wracked by sobs. Whenever recovery seems a breath away, a new wave of despair rolls in. Suddenly Galina is there and Marla clutches her, pressing her soaked face into the dog’s flank. Galina pules and struggles for a moment before lying still, absorbing Marla’s tears and lamentation.
When the flood has subsided Marla rolls onto her back, an arm beneath the dog, and stares at the ceiling, sniffling. “Oh, Galinaji. What are we going to do?” She closes her eyes.
The phone wakes her. Finding herself lying on the bedroom floor disorients her, and by the time she has lifted the handset from the bedside table the answering machine is babbling to the caller, “Cordell: we went for a walk. Kidnappers: ransom demands after the tone, please. Caller for Cordell: he’s been kidnapped. . . .”
“I’m here!” she cries over the sound of her own voice. After the beep, her friend Lorraine’s raspy voice cries, “Aha! I knew it was true! Pippa wouldn’t give me the goods, but I heard rumours about an airplane and Cordell. Leave it to him to make a dramatic exit. So he left you, honey? How’re you holding up?”
“I’m okay,” Marla replies. “Kidnapped, Lorraine. He was kidnapped.”
“Right,” Lorraine sighs. “In any case, he’s gone. You poor dear! Well, that didn’t last long. Men!”
Marla lets Lorraine drone on for some minutes before interrupting, “Lorraine, love. I have to go. We can’t tie up the line.”
“Oh, right. If he calls. Anyway darling, if you need advice, you phone me. I know a brilliant lawyer. We were at Queen’s together. We had a thing. Years ago, but he still does me favours.”
Marla hangs up and glances at the clock. She slept for hours. She rises and lets Galina into the backyard and makes dinner. She boils rice, makes a salad, prepares a salmon steak. She sets one place setting, steps back and looks at it, pulling her fingers through her hair. She puts down a second set of cutlery and a plate. It is 6:25. Cordell comes home at 6:30. She lets Galina in and feeds her.
Marla sits before her plate, excited, butterflies populating her gut. For some reason she expects to hear the car in the driveway. She listens and Galina notes her attentiveness and listens too. Cars pass on the street.
Marla tries to visualize their car entering the driveway, but the image is untenable because their car is already parked there. How can he pull into the driveway if the car is already there? She thinks about moving it and is about to rise to do so when she recognizes the senselessness of this impulse.
She grills the fish and eats.
She washes and rinses the dishes, including the unused set. She plays Cordell’s role, dries each dish, the forks, the knives, the plates with their pattern of blue cats, before putting them away. She averts her eyes from the field because it fails to present a plane stopping beyond the fence, door swinging open, Cordell descending and marching with an expression of fatigue and triumph through the gate, across the thick grass, into the back door, into the kitchen, into her arms. None of this happens. Instead the sun sets and evening descends and stars emerge one by one through the sky’s ebbing blue.
She brews a pot of camomile tea and is about to take it into her workshop – is in fact grasping the doorknob to enter the garage – when the prospect of lathing and cutting and sanding seems ridiculous. She often works after dinner, while Cordell disappears into the basement, his study, a place that Marla avoids, not because it is distasteful but out of respect for a man’s sanctuary. She hasn’t ventured there in some months. Like her father, Cordell requires an exclusive space for his own interests, his own secrets, a chamber immune to her contrivances. His “lair” Marla had once described it, which annoyed him. A man needs his refuge. A man needs his refuse.
What to do instead of working? She has a book on the go, a crime novel which gripped her for hours on Friday — before he left. The thought of settling down to follow a detective on the tail of his vicious prey — some eccentric, literate, but ultimately banal serial killer — wearies her. So she chooses the glow of television.
After exhausting the news channels and finding the prevalent nothing about Cordell, she sifts through sitcoms and reality shows and news magazines, seeking intellectual distraction, finding in each inanity, depravity, corruption. She flips again and again, lands on a courtroom drama and eventually dozes. At 10:30 Galina’s tongue against her wrist awakens her, and she releases the dog into the backyard. She shuts off the television and washes her face and brushes her teeth and lets Galina in and falls into bed.
Read Chapter 11 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.