Excerpted from Acceleration by Graham McNamee Copyright © 2003 by Graham McNamee. Excerpted by permission of Ember, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
This is a nightmare.
Working at the Toronto Transit Commission's lost and found. Nine to five. Monday to Friday. A little slice of death, one day at a time.
For me it's a two-month sentence, July and August. I would have been happy bumming around till September, but Dad called in a favor to get me in here. And at least I don't have to wear a uniform like my bud Wayne over at the Dairy Barn. Wayne's planning to torch the thing on Labor Day (the uniform, not the Barn) before we head back for our last year of high school.
So I'm here under protest, a political prisoner of the capitalist overlord otherwise known as Dad.
Here's the one-minute tour of the place. First, to get here you have to come to Bay subway station and take the service elevator down to the subbasement. At the end of the hall to your left you'll find the door marked lost and found. Jacob, my supervisor, sits at the front counter cataloguing the lost junk that comes in from the buses and subways in the transit system. If you think of a half-deflated soccer ball with two of the hairiest ears you've ever seen attached to it, you've got a good picture of Jacob. Past the counter there's a maze of stacks holding row after row, shelf after dusty shelf of lost stuff.
I'm trying on a black leather jacket in the stacks when the bell at the counter dings. The jacket's term expires in a week, so it'll soon be appearing in my closet as part of the Duncan collection. One ding of the bell means Jacob needs me to search for something. Two dings means hurry up. Three dings--things get ugly.
When I get to the counter, Jacob's asking an old woman about the weather up on the surface. Spending eight hours a day in this dungeon, you tend to forget that the sun is still shining up there.
"They say it's going to hit a hundred and three today," the woman tells him. "Not a cloud in the sky."
It's been six weeks with no rain. Major heat wave. But down here you'd never know. The city could be bombed to ashes and we'd still be here sorting through the piles.
"Duncan, we're looking for a pair of glasses," Jacob tells me. "Silver frames. Bifocals."
I sigh. "Right. This might take a while."
Eyeglasses rank in the top four on the list of most often lost items, right up there with umbrellas, cell phones, and books.
I'm the runner, the one who does the actual searching. Jacob does the actual sitting.
I don't know who did this job before me--don't know if anybody did it before me--but the place is a mess. The way it works, stuff gets held here for three months. Everything's got a Post-it with an expiration date. Anything unclaimed gets boxed up for the quarterly sale down at the YMCA. But if you poke around, you'll find stuff that's been here for two years or more. I pulled a college sweater off the top shelf the other day, and the dust coming off it drifted down like snow.
Lost junk is organized in sections. All the jackets are together, including my black leather beauty. Dozens of umbrellas are heaped in a pile, enough rain protection to keep every last flea on Noah's ark dry. There's a library of forgotten books overflowing the packed shelves. And there are two boxes of eyeglasses, separated into sunglasses and regular. I dig in.
There's an amazing variety, everything from prescription swimming goggles to your basic thick-black-framed geek glasses to your old-lady specials with the necklace holders attached to the arms. I find a pair that fits the lady's description--bifocals, silver frames. Holding them up to peer through the lenses, I see they've got enough magnifying power to count the hairs on a mosquito's butt.
"That's them," the old woman says after trying them on.
Jacob makes her sign the claims book, as if the glasses are worth more than the dollar they'd get at the Y sale.
"I'm lost without these," she tells us. "I'm so blind without them, I didn't realize until I was halfway here that I'd put hand lotion on my face instead of sunscreen. I can already feel a burn starting up."
Jacob nods. "Yeah. With the holes in the ozone and global warming, the sun's not as friendly as it used to be."
The woman shivers, pulling her jacket closed. "Well, it's certainly cool down here."
"We're about fifty feet underground--deeper than the subway tunnels--so the temperature stays a constant cool year-round. This must be what it feels like to be buried alive." That's Jacob's idea of funny. I think he's been down here too long.
The woman gives him a nervous look and mumbles her thanks as she makes for the door.
"You've really got a way with the ladies," I say when she's gone.
I fill a paper cup at the cooler, leaning on it as it gurgles to itself, and watch the clock crawl toward eternity. Jacob goes back to reading the newspaper.
Past him, there's a glass case on the wall that once held a fire axe but now has an artificial leg standing inside. That leg is like the official mascot of all the forgotten junk in the lost and found. There's a worn-down blue men's Puma running shoe on its foot, and it's obviously been well used. It always gets me wondering--how do you lose something like that? I mean, didn't the guy notice something was missing when he went hopping off the subway--that the world was bouncing up and down more than usual? What happened, that he never came back to claim it? Jacob says the thing's been here for three years.
From the Hardcover edition.