Excerpt: Late Nights on Air

Read an excerpt from this year's Giller Prize winner Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay, the Canadian Living Book Club pick for December.

By Elizabeth Hay

Excerpt: Late Nights on Air: 1 of 2
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Harry was in his little house 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.

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