Night is a Shadow Cast By the World (Chapter 8)
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.
While rain hammers the roof, Marla sits in the kitchen slurping chicken soup. She flips through the first of two photo albums. A picture of Marla on the beach wearing a white bikini, lifting her sunglasses and winking. Verdant trees hunch over the pale sand, and a black lake shimmers in the background. A month ago, at Daniel Crawley’s cottage. A confident smile. Below it Marla landing a fish. She turns the page. Marla and Daniel, his pallid face tight with concentration as he watches her barbecue it. A shot of Marla’s back, the cascade of her dark hair, taken from the stern of a canoe. She flips until she reaches the blank pages at the back of the album, wonders if they will ever be filled. Not one photo of Cordell because he was always the photographer. Why did it never occur to her to seize the camera, to turn the lens towards him?
The second album contains wedding pictures. Toronto City Hall. Her family far away, in Delhi; his a few dozen blocks northeast in their Rosedale home, cursing them both. Cordell had bought a disposable camera minutes before, while she was purchasing flowers from a street vendor. The first overexposed shot shows Marla in profile stating her vows, flowers clutched beneath her chin. She barely remembers the bouquet, leans closer to examine it . . . roses and carnations. She cringes, recalls Cordell slamming down the payphone after failing to convince his parents to join them. Seated in a café, she in a dress of copper silk decorated with brocade dragons and he in a grey suit. Cordell had cried a little, then grown furious with his parents, deciding to punish them with defiance.
“I’ll marry you and screw them!” he’d cried. “Ha ha!”
She was taken aback, and then surprised that he failed to notice her hurt expression. But she forgave him; she knew that parental disapproval could promote unusual — indeed, radical — behaviour.
“My parents are assholes!” he bellowed, drawing glares from the other tables. “You’re lucky that’s all they are,” she wanted to tell him, but bit her lip before she could open her mouth and spoil everything.
Another overexposed flash photo, snapped a moment later, after the surprise of the first drew her face to the camera. The flash has obliterated her nose, leaving just a hint of a nostril. She examines it and thinks: I look good without a nose. In the next image she stands beside the Justice of the Peace, a rotund man with a wide, flat face and woolly hair. In subsequent photos she poses alone or adjacent to the Justice, then with two older women, tourists from Boca Raton who in the lobby had asked Cordell for directions. He’d invited them upstairs to witness the ceremony and they had gleefully complied.
She suddenly remembers that the Justice took a group photo, and she flips until she finds it.
Four people. Three heads. Cordell’s neck is severed by the picture’s top edge, and Marla imagines his gigantic smile. Because he was so desperately happy to be married to her. Wasn’t he?
She dabs her lips with a napkin. No pictures of Cordell. She resolves to arrange for studio portraits upon his return. He won’t like that. He feels awkward about his great height, his gawky build. But he has a beautiful face, with brilliant green eyes and a sharp, slender nose. His hair, which defies the most advanced hair products and remains in a constant state of dishevelment, is thick and brown. And he has a strong chin and sensuous lips.
The thought of his lips triggers a memory. She hurries into the bedroom and pulls a chair to the closet and steps up. Among the wrapping paper and shoeboxes she finds, precisely where she hid it, a picture of Cordell. His features are clear. It would make an ideal identification photo except that he is wearing lipstick and a sari, and a bindi is painted in the centre of his forehead. How she convinced him to dress up like that escapes her. The champagne helped. She studies the photo, remembering. He is frowning; she remembers his reluctance, but she had begged and begged, perhaps to test her new uxorial powers. It was the disposable camera’s final frame, taken in the Toronto Hilton’s honeymoon suite. Luckily she went alone to collect the prints from the developer.
She is placing the photo on the table beside the wedding album when she notes the corner of a picture peeking from the rear of the book.
An older man and woman she has never seen before — but they are obviously Cordell’s parents. His mother’s eyes are also green, her nose as sharp and slender as her son’s. Cordell’s father is chubby, balding, with a hard brow and a pinched mouth. The photograph is softly focussed, hazy, their expressions serene. Marla can’t believe that these are the tyrants who expelled Cordell from their lives for marrying her. His mother exudes a compassionate air. His father is gazing off to the right, smiling faintly. Marla stares and stares, the photo on the table between her elbows, her cheeks resting in her hands.
By the acerbity of his tone on the rare occasions that Cordell has mentioned them, she believes that there is more to his resentment than their disapproval of his selection of a bride. Are they simply bad parents? Or is there — as in her own case — a more specific reason for his acrimony?
And even if they’ve rejected him for marrying her, will they refuse to save his life?
A moment later she is dialling.
“For Toronto, please. Bechard, Gordon. Yes, B-E-C-H-A-R-D. Thank you.”
She scribbles the number, hangs up. Then she lifts the phone and begins to dial, but pauses successively longer after each digit until she stops and hangs up. What will she tell them? That he is gone, yes, but what else? That he was kidnapped? But she doesn’t know that, and even if he was, she is yet to receive a ransom demand. And if he left her willingly they will be pleased. Justified in whatever doubts they had about her. Thrilled that they were right.
She tears the page with the number from the pad and sticks it and the photograph to the fridge with a magnet.
Read Chapter 9 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.