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Tucked Away

a novel by Phyllis Rudin

Print: 978-1-77133-927-8
294 Pages
June 27, 2023

It seems like a dream gig when Daphne gets the job offer—live in Montreal’s Underground City for a full year and blog about the experience. The flip side of the city has all the creature comforts. The year will fly by. Except there’s a catch. To collect her whopping bonus for sticking it out till day 365, Daphne must agree never to set so much as a toe outside the territory of the Underground City, submitting to an ankle-monitor to keep her honest. Even if the conditions are hardcore, she doesn’t have much choice. Out of work, and sole provider for a grandmother whose bank account is likewise on life-support, Daphne signs on the dotted line. And that’s when her life goes into free fall.

Suddenly inspired by Daphne, her grandmother comes up with an underground plan of her own, sheltering illegal refugees at her granddaughter’s expense, ramping up the already significant pressure. But Daphne’s fury makes an about-face when she meets up with Chantal, a young runaway holed up in the Underground City, fleeing a threat she refuses to disclose. When Chantal later shows up on Daphne’s doorstep desperate for protection, Daphne must decide if she’s prepared to lay her future on the line to rescue a group of virtual strangers from discovery and ruin.

Tucked Away is a story about the bonds of family and friendship, even if those bonds can often chafe.

“At times both heartbreaking and hilarious, Tucked Away offers an intimate and irreverent tour of Montreal, especially its soc-called Underground City. In and around it Rudin sets an eclectic cast of characters and weaves their several stories together in a way that is surprising, moving and engaging at every turn. A tour de force!”
—Ann Lambert, author of the Russell and Leduc mystery series.

Tucked Away


Phyllis Rudin‘s writing has been published in numerous Canadian and American literary magazines including The Massachusetts Review, Agni, Prism International, and Prairie Fire. Her first novel, Evie, the Baby and the Wife, a fictionalized account of the Vancouver to Ottawa Abortion Caravan, was published by Inanna Publications in 2014. Her second novel, My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur, came out with NeWest Press in 2017. Phyllis Rudin has lived in the U.S. and France and now makes her home in Montreal which serves as the landscape for all her fiction. She is currently engaged in a project to walk the full length of every street in that city. www.phyllisrudin.com

Excerpt – Chapter Eight:

“So do you understand exactly what is being asked of you, Ms. Elman?” Larry said to her. Daphne had already advanced to the third and theoretically the final interview. It had all zipped along far more quickly than she’d ever imagined, her candidacy elbowing its way up and out of the slush pile, thanks no doubt to some energetic backchannelling from Professor Séguin.

“Yes, I read the dossier several times over,” Daphne said. “I’m fully aware of what would be required of me.”

Fully aware she might have been, but whether she could accomplish what was expected of her was another question entirely. The blog, for example. The trouble with a promo blog was that it had to be relentlessly upbeat. They were hiring a cheerleader for the Underground City but she wasn’t the rah-rah type. She tried not to let her doubts leach through to her face.

“I feel compelled to ask it even so, Ms. Elman, just so there are no misunderstandings going forward. You do not have any obligations, familial or otherwise that would prevent you from living in the Underground City for one full year, never leaving it ever?” Larry spoke ponderously, trying to attach to his words their full import. For all his solemnity he might have been intoning speak now or forever hold your peace.

No, she had no such obligations. That was abundantly clear. The night before, in a pre-interview exercise that ended up sinking her into an epic funk, she’d totted up all her current connections. The list was so minuscule it didn’t even fill up a Post-it. Her life rubbed up against so few others in any meaningful way that she could sink into the slurry of the Underground City without causing the slightest blip in the normal unfolding of the universe, even her tiny universe.

Who out there would miss her? Her grandmother, yes, but she’d slip into her old traces easily enough. Nora worried about her whether she was there or not, but when Daphne lived with her, in easy surveillance distance, the worries were magnified. Whenever Daphne was out late, Nora tossed and turned until she heard her granddaughter’s key in the lock. Daphne would be doing her a favour by moving out, allowing her to sleep through the night undisturbed. Other than Nora, though, nobody of any consequence would register her absence. She had friends, yes, but they were mostly of the virtual variety, no one who would miss the smell of her perfume. Theo, well, the less said about him the better. She had to face facts. As far as the earth was concerned, it was just humping her along as so much excess baggage.

Daphne wasn’t born to be a loner; she was a sunny, gregarious child. The condition crept up on her. It started when she was old enough for Nora to explain to her about her parents, how, when she was no more than a baby, first her mother had died, and then, soon after, her father. Daphne’s takeaway, upon learning that those closest to her seemed to have a habit of dropping off the edge, was that the best way not to lose anyone else was not to find anyone else, and she folded in on herself like an origami swan. Over the years, a few people did manage to sneak in past her firewall, but they tended not to hang around for long. The chill she exuded didn’t encourage lingering. So if Daphne was crippled in the relationship department, at least she came by it honestly, not that it was any comfort now, in front of the administrator of the interview panel. When he asked her if there were any impediments to her living like a mole for a full year, she had to answer, in all mortifying truthfulness in the negative.

Daphne presumed that her application had been well-received because of her expertise on the subject. Her research into the underground cities of Cappadocia under the direction of Professor Séguin, set her up as the perfect candidate. She knew all there was to know about subterranean life. In ancient Turkey anyway. But to Daphne’s way of thinking, the underground networks of Cappadocia and Montreal weren’t all that much different from one another, even if their periods of peak construction were separated by millennia. They both had miles worth of tunnels running up down and around, ant-colony-like, connecting shops, houses, churches, schools, and storage areas. Every day, in each network, thousands of people trundled along, going about their business, all their needs met beneath ceiling not sky. Cappadocia was Montreal’s twin, minus the halogens.

It would have astonished Daphne to learn that her assumption regarding her application was way off the mark. The committee was drawn to her in the first instance because she was so completely and utterly unattached. None of the other aspirants was nearly so solitary. Their lives were complicated by all sorts of hangers-on; spouses, children, exes, infirm parents, pets. They’d never last out the year. But in Daphne they had a lone wolf. Except for some granny who was fully ambulatory, thank God, she was gloriously alone. In addition to that she was photogenic enough, and bilingual. That she had some expertise in underground living was just frosting. Her writing sample was a bit arid for a blog, it sounded like it was meant to have footnotes, but they’d find someone to help her in buffing off her bookish edges. Yes, she was the ideal candidate. They were itching for her to sign off and make it official.

But the point had come in the interview where it all threatened to implode. “You understand,” Larry said, not without a certain degree of discomfort, “that we have to have some way of proving to the Tourism Board that the chosen candidate is in fact restricting all their movements to the Underground City.” Daphne nodded her comprehension. “And to do that,” he said, “one of the requirements is that you’ll have to be fitted with an ankle monitor.” Those last two words fell out of his mouth like a couple of rotten molars. The ankle tracker had been very contentious in the committee’s deliberations. Frankly, it sounded, well, pedophilish. But there was no way around it that they could come up with. They’d batted it about for hours. It wasn’t like Tourisme Montréal would be satisfied with Daphne’s solemn oath though Larry had tried valiantly to persuade them. No, those nitwits wanted scientific confirmation that they were getting their money’s worth and in the end Larry had to give in. “It’s completely waterproof,” he went on inanely, “you can shower and swim with it. It has a slim unobtrusive design. It won’t impact on your daily life in any way.”

Entrapment, that’s what it was. Entrapment pure and simple. They’d reeled her in with a bevy of enticements at the earlier interviews, piling them up at her feet like it was a bloody bridal shower, and now they throw this kink into the works? It shouldn’t have mattered except that Daphne had always assumed that she would be able to sneak out of the Underground City on the sly once in a while. Not for any frivolous reasons; she was an honourable person. She’d just check up on her grandmother and scoot right back, no one the wiser. So much for that idea. Her future overseers had already smoked out all the escape routes and plugged them with cement.

For a millisecond Daphne was tempted to tell them where they could stick their ankle bracelet, but she wasn’t the confrontational type. Besides, the perks were nothing to sneeze at; an apartment in the Underground City rent free for the year, a monthly stipend of five thousand dollars and a bonus of twenty-five thousand dollars if she made it to the finish line. On top of that there were the other little gifties. As blog assists they were handing her over a new laptop and a real camera. Then there was an Opus card good for unlimited travel on the metro, a free membership at the underground Y, a fat coupon book for restaurants and shops all over the network, and passes to Place des Arts and the Maison Symphonique. She’d barely have to shell out for anything.

More important than any of that, though, the contest would deprive her of the distractions that always kept her from applying herself to her dissertation. Once her underground countdown began she would be making no more midnight trips to Fairmount for an Everything Bagel when her attention was flagging, no more runs past the ponds and waterfalls at Parc Lafontaine, no more trips to the Tam Tams on a sunny Sunday afternoon to get her juices flowing amid all the stoked revellers. The Underground City in its exquisite sterility would never have the pull on her that the blood and guts city exerted. What could she do in that subterranean isolation booth other than write? At the end of the year she’d be able to take her pages, bind them in buckram, assuming that there was a bindery underground, and plunk them down on Professor Séguin’s desk. She could already hear the satisfying thunk.

“What’s your feeling on the anklet, Ms. Elman? Is it acceptable to you?” The thought that he might have to start again at rock bottom had Larry reaching for his antacids. They had been his constant companions ever since this farkakte Underground City business started up. Marius’s year-long challenge idea was a good one in theory, but it all hinged on getting the right person, and Daphne Elman was precisely that right person. The other candidates in the pool were non-starters, every last one of them, so pathetically unsuitable he’d have to send out a new call if she conked out, and that would set them back months. The timing for the campaign kickoff would be all crapped up.

Daphne weighed her options one last time until she realized that they weren’t really options plural at all. In her present tapped-out circumstances, there was only one choice open to her. “Yes, I would be willing,” she said, “the anklet wouldn’t bother me.”

Larry’s relief was palpable. “In that case, welcome on board.” He shoved a contract written in lawyer under her nose and she signed away 365 days of her life.

At least it wasn’t a leap year.

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