Night is a Shadow Cast By the World (Chapter 1)
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 for the next eight weeks, with a new chapter posted every Tuesday and Thursday.
THE SUN HAS RISEN UPON INDIA, even as here, twelve thousand kilometres away in a town two hours north of Toronto, the Earth’s motion turns the vast, green field beyond the window towards night.
Marla watches the house’s shadow rise into the yard and pass through the chainlink fence, ready to begin its trek across the field.
It would be a perfect moment if Cordell were not so agitated. She glances up at him as he stares through the window, sees him wrench and twist the dish towel in his hands, wrestling with the moment, as if anticipating something. She sets a plate into the drying rack. He stands motionless, staring, then abruptly snatches up the dish, whisks the towel over its top and bottom, and sets it onto the stack in the cupboard.
She lifts another plate from the water and foams it with the brush, passes it through the stream from the faucet.
This plate lies neglected within the rack’s ribs as Cordell’s attention remains fixed on something beyond the window. Marla follows his gaze to the field, the green hills beyond it, but her survey retreats to the tall mast set inside the fence, on which flutters a sausage of orange fabric, the sleeve of a dismembered windbreaker mounted to serve as a windsock. Her gloved hands explore the sink’s depths, seeking cutlery. She clears her throat, interrupting Cordell’s reverie, and he snaps up the plate, tumbles it within the towel, and bangs it on the stack.
“How were things at the shop today?” she asks carefully.
“Oh,” he snaps. “Quiet.”
“Anything rare and exciting come in?”
“Nothing. We’re expecting a box from Thailand on Monday.”
“Ah,” she says. “That’s rather unusual.”
“Yes. A lot of rare books turn up there in English bookstores. Asia is an untapped market.”
He looks down at her from his great height, their eyes locked, but then he is gone, his gaze drawn away by the field, the windsock. Marla scrubs knives and forks, says, “I haven’t seen that out in awhile.”
“Yes. I . . . I was hoping to fly one of my kites this evening. Before it gets dark.”
“Ah,” she says, feeling something like relief. “Well,” she adds. “We’re almost done.”
Working faster now she pulls a saucer from the foam, scrubbing, setting it in the rack, drawing out forks, scrubbing, rinsing, dropping them into the basket. When she looks up the bungalow’s shadow is halfway across the field, and the sky’s brassy hue is fading, tarnishing. Windsock stirring. The last spoon. Cordell picks it up, folds it into the towel.
She is reaching for the stopper when something tremendous thunders over the house, rattling the plates and glasses in the cupboard, launching Galina, their black and white Border collie, from her cushion on the living room windowsill into a frenzy of barking.
“What was that?” Marla cries, looking at the ceiling. But Cordell doesn’t reply; he is staring through the window, his expression incredulous. He throws down the towel and bolts from the kitchen. Marla, her gloved hands still submerged in dishwater, hears the back door open and close, and watches Cordell jog through the backyard and out the gate into the field. He is looking south, the direction in which the roar was travelling. Marla leans forward, trying to see what he sees, but her view is obstructed by the window’s frame. She turns her attention to Cordell, who is frozen just beyond the gate, fixated on the southern sky. Despite his lankiness he seems small against the field’s expanse, and his brown hair sticks out in all directions. The back of his shirt is untucked.
“Cordell!” she calls through the open window. He does not turn. She hears from far off a low drone, growing in strength. “Cordell!”
The noise descends in pitch, softens, and coughs before catching again. Then it ceases completely, is replaced by an increasing rumble. Something big approaching. Cordell stares southwards. Marla presses her belly to the counter’s rim, straining to see.
An aeroplane appears, a silver relic from another age, a craft of rare antiquity to those accustomed to jets that crisscross the skies of this late twentieth century. It blinks in the gaps of sunlight shining between the houses fringing the field. The plane is big, with a windmilling propeller on each wing, and it rides a pair of fat tires up front and a smaller wheel under the tail. She squints to spy the pilot through the windscreen but the glass is gilded with sunlight. Each of the seven windows along its flank appears vacant. The craft’s nose is blue and displays an illustration of a cartoon duck in a bomber jacket beside which a manic script reads: “Lucky Duck.”
The plane stops immediately behind the house. Cordell watches with his arms at his sides, and by his posture Marla knows that his mouth is agape. The propellers have stilled and he pivots and looks at her for two seconds before he turns and walks with a long, bobbing stride towards the aircraft. When he is adjacent to the wing he stops and looks down at his shoes, his hand rising; she cannot see but knows that he is pressing it to his breast in an expression of awe. He looks up at the craft. Then the door swings outwards to reveal steps set within its curve. A shape appears in the doorway and Marla squints to see but at that moment the sun dips beneath the horizon. Twilight begins and she cannot discern the figure’s features. Cordell steps forward and a wisp of smoke lifts from the doorway. He stands frozen, and then it seems he is speaking. Something compels him to stride forward, scramble up the step, and disappear inside.
Marla withdraws her hands from the water and begins to peel off the dish gloves. They are snug and it takes many seconds. When she looks up Cordell is crouching in the plane’s hatchway, hauling up the door. She hears it slam shut. A great bark sounds from one of the engines, then from the other engine, and white smoke ascends into the evening air. The propellers whirling.
Marla emerges from the back door and darts across the yard, dew soaking through her socks. She rams aside the gate as the plane lurches forward. Galina is beside her and together they race after it. She smells burned fuel and wet grass. The clamour of the engines is deafening, and the aeroplane accelerates, speeding away down the field. And suddenly it is airborne and climbing rapidly into the indigo sky. Marla stops, panting, and watches it go, while Galina continues her pursuit before giving up too, her black snout following the craft as it heads northwards. It clears the hilltops and is struck by sunlight, the aluminum skin erupting in an electrum glare. It banks towards the east and is soon little more than a speck of gold as it retreats behind the hills and is gone.
Marla stands between the imprints of tires on the dewsoaked grass. Galina trots to and fro some distance down the field, her gaze fixed on the spot where the craft vanished beyond the hills. A few stars emerge from the dark velvet of the sky.
Read Chapter 2 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.