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Authors: Elizabeth Hay

Tags: #Contemporary, #Romance, #Adult

Late Nights on Air

BOOK: Late Nights on Air
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Late Nights on Air

“Written by a master storyteller.”

Winnipeg Free Press

“A mesmerizing novel…. Hay A mesmerizing novel.… a magnificent job of painting the North’s indelible effect on the people who try to make it home.…”

Calgary Herald

“Engrossing.… Like her earlier novels,
A Student of Weather
Garbo Laughs, Late Nights on Air
is elegant, polished and keenly intelligent. It is also deeply moving and wonderfully observed, a book the charmed reader will not soon forget.”

London Free Press

“Hay’s novel is magical.…”

Quill & Quire

“A love story, but of muted, smothered love, passion that blossoms not at first sight but at first hear.… Hay’s writing is so alluring and her lost souls so endearing that you’ll lean in to catch the story’s delicate developments as these characters shuffle along through quiet desperation and yearning.”

Washington Post

“An elaborate and finely honed narrative.… Hay is [a] skilled and original … writer.”

New York Times Book Review

“The novel unfolds as a long, lovely examination of how we learn to see ourselves in the places we choose to live.”

Chicago Tribune

“A splendid achievement.”

—Jury citation, the Scotiabank Giller Prize





Crossing the Snow Line
(stories, 1989)
Small Change
(stories, 1997)
A Student of Weather
Garbo Laughs
Late Nights on Air

The Only Snow in Havana
Captivity Tales: Canadians in New York




on the edge of Back Bay when at half past twelve her voice came over the radio for the first time. A voice unusual in its sound and unusual in itself, since there were no other female announcers on air. He listened to the slow, clear, almost unnatural confidence, the low-pitched sexiness, the elusive accent as she read the local news. More than curious, already in love, he walked into the station the next day at precisely the same time.

It was the beginning of June, the start of the long, golden summer of 1975 when northern light held that little radio station in the large palm of its hand. Eleanor Dew was behind the receptionist’s desk and behind clever Eleanor was the studio. She looked up, surprised. Harry rarely darkened the station door except at night when he came in to do the late shift and got away with saying and playing whatever he liked. He paused beside her desk and with a broad wink asked about the new person on air.

“Hired off the street,” she told him. “The parting shot of our erstwhile manager.”

“Well, well, well,” said Harry.

Despite the red glow of the on-air light, he then pushed through the studio door, only to be met by one of the great
mysteries of life. We look so very different from the way we sound. It’s a shock, similar to hearing your own voice for the first time, when you’re forced to wonder how the rest of you comes across if you sound nothing like the way you think you sound. You feel dislodged from the old shoe of yourself.

Harry had pictured somebody short and compact with sun-bleached hair, fine blue eyes, great legs, a woman in her thirties. But Dido Paris was tall, big-boned, olive-skinned, younger. Glasses. Thick, dark, springy hair held back off a wide face. Faintest shadow on her upper lip. An unreasonably beautiful woman. She didn’t look up, too intent on the newscast typed in capital letters on green paper, three-part greens, the paper-and-carbon combination the newsmen typed on.

He turned to check who was in the control room. Eddy at the controls and one of the newsmen standing at Eddy’s shoulder. An audience, in other words.

Harry took out his lighter, flicked it, and put the flame to the top corner of the green. And still she didn’t look up.

An upper lip as downy as he imagined her legs might be. And yes, when she stood up later and came around the table, her legs were visible below a loose blue skirt, and the mystery of her voice was solved. She was European. European in her straightforwardness, her appearance, her way of speaking, which was almost too calm, except when the page was alight. Then her voice caught fire. She stopped turning her long pencil end on end, pacing herself. Stopped speaking altogether. Her eyes went in two directions — one leg on shore, the other in the canoe, but the canoe was pulling away from shore and
— she picked up her glass, poured water on the flames,
and read with jolting speed, repressed panic, to the very last word at the bottom of the page.

The news clip came on, she switched off her microphone and looked up wildly at the man with the boyish gleam in his eye. But he wasn’t boyish, he was balding, bespectacled, square-jawed. She noticed his cauliflower ear.

“You’re Harry Boyd,” she said.

And she, too, had imagined another face—a big, bushy head to go with the relaxed, late-night growl that she heard only as she fell asleep. The man who’d once been a big name in radio, she’d been told. He was shorter than she’d expected and his hands trembled.

Half an hour later, perched on Dido’s desk, bumming a cigarette, Harry asked her how she’d come by her intriguing accent. She studied him, not quite willing to forgive his outrageous behaviour, until he asked if she was Greek. Then out bubbled her easy and seductive laugh.

No chance. She’d grown up in the Netherlands near the German border, the daughter of a Latin teacher who’d listened to the BBC and written questions to “London Calling” about expressions he didn’t understand. Her father had a reel-to-reel tape recorder and taped programs off the radio. She learned English at school, she told Harry, but her pronunciation was terrible and so she’d asked her father to make some tapes for her, and then she practised her English listening to Margaret Leighton reading Noel Coward and to Noel Coward himself, acquiring in that way her peculiar European-English accent,
which she hated. “I figured marriage to a Canadian would solve my problem, but it hasn’t.”

“Two minutes,” said Harry, “and you’re already breaking my heart.”

“It didn’t last,” she said.

“Then we have something in common, you and I.”

He slipped her glasses off her face and breathed on the lenses and polished them with his handkerchief, then slid them back over her nose, saying, “And Dorothy Parker said men never make passes at girls with glasses.”


“Dorothy. A writerly wit who famously claimed to be ‘too fucking busy and vice versa.’“

Dido was only semi-amused. To Eleanor the next day she called Harry “the loser,” a put-down softened by her accent; it came out “lose-air.” She said he’d taken a drag off her lit cigarette, then set it back on the ashtray. “So cheap,” she said with a shake of her head and a faint, unimpressed smile.

“But not without charm,” countered Eleanor. “Charm, sex, insecurity: that’s what Harry has to offer.”

Dido was more interested now.

“He’s too old for you, Dido.”

But his age was the last thing Dido minded.

Harry was forty-two. Winds of ill repute had blown him back up on these shores—a man with a nearly forgotten reputation for brilliance, one of those lucky luckless people who finds his element early on and then makes the mistake of leaving it—radio for a television talk show, where he’d bombed. In short order, he was fired, his personal life fell apart, rumours rose up and settled down. A year ago an old
boss stumbled across him sleeping in a hotel lobby in Toronto and pulled a few strings to get him a night shift in the Northern Service, the very place where he’d started out fifteen years ago. At square one again, but with a difference. Now he was an
fish in a small pond.

And yet it suited him—the place, the hours, the relative obscurity.

Stories about him circulated: how he had numerous ex-wives, and a tremendous tolerance for liquor, and some dark deed in his past—some disgrace. Professional, certainly. Sexual? No one was quite sure. His cauliflower ear suggested a life touched by violence. His trembling hands sent granules of instant coffee scattering in all directions. “Harry’s been here,” they would say in the morning, surveying the little table that held mugs, spoons, the electric kettle, the big jar of Maxwell House.

In that first conversation Harry asked Dido about her husband, tell me all about him, and she jested that she’d married almost the first person who asked her, a fellow student at McGill, but when he brought her from Montreal through the gates of his rich Halifax neighbourhood, she saw his father in the driveway. “And we just looked at each other,” she said, turning the oversized man’s watch on her wrist in what Harry would come to understand was a yearning, nervous habit. “We just looked.” Harry saw them, a man and woman unable to take their eyes off each other, and the picture cut into his heart.

After a moment Dido shrugged, but her face still ran with longing and regret. The situation became impossible, she admitted. She escaped the triangle by coming north.

“And your father-in-law let you go?”

She gestured towards the entrance of the station. “I half expect him to come through that door.”

The radio station occupied a quiet corner a block away from main street. It had been an electrical supplies store once, Top Electric, and was that size. A one-storey shoebox in a town that had sprung up in the 1930s on the gold-rich shores of Great Slave Lake, an inland sea one-third the size of troubled Ireland.

Entering, the first person you saw was Eleanor Dew, who managed to be pretty even though no part of her was pretty. She had rather bulging eyes and a chin that blended into her throat, yet she gave off an idea of Blondness, a sort of radiance that came from having her feet on the ground and her head in heaven. At thirty-six she was almost the oldest person in the station and a poet at heart, reading Milton between phone calls—the community announcements coming in, the complaints and song requests, the mixture of personal and business calls for the six announcer-operators or the two newsmen or the station manager, who had run off with a waitress a week ago.

Her desk stood next to a plate-glass window that overlooked the dusty street leading up to the Gold Range, also known as the Strange Range, and to Franklin Avenue, the main street with two stoplights. Turn left on Franklin Avenue and you passed on one side MacLeod’s Hardware and the Hudson’s Bay Store and on the other side the Capitol Theatre with its third-run movies and fifth-rate popcorn machine. Continue on in the same direction through the newest part of New Town, and then angle left, and eventually you came around to
Cominco, one of the two operating gold mines that gave the town its initial reason for being. If, instead, you turned right on Franklin Avenue you passed the Yellowknife Inn on one side and the post office on the other, you passed the public library and the clothing store known as Eve of the Arctic. Proceed in a down-sloping northerly direction and you reached the oldest part of Old Town, an array of little houses and shacks and log cabins and privies, of Quonset huts and trailers and motley businesses, all of which seemed perfectly at ease on this rocky peninsula under the enormous sky. Well, they weren’t competing with it. Yellowknife had only one high-rise and it wasn’t on main street, it was a lonely apartment building in the southeastern part of town.

BOOK: Late Nights on Air
6.13Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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