The Curator of Forgotten Things


The image above is entitled [Reminisce] and is a view out the window of the old Loblaws building at the foot of Bathurst Street in Toronto. The image is by Chris Smart and is used in accordance with his Creative Commons license.


There’s an ancient Volkswagen in a field.

I pass it every day as I go to and from work. It’s been there for as long as I can remember.

It used to be yellow. Now it is pale white. The grasses have gathered over its wheels, and a sapling has grown through an open window and is sprouting branches inside the cab.

I sometimes wonder who put the car there. It’s behind a chain link fence, parked by a dilapidated storage shed. It didn’t get there by accident or fall from the sky. Somebody drove it, or possibly had it towed. They opened the gates, placed it just so, and walked away, and never came back. Ever.

Who owns it? Is the name still on a database somewhere? When they finally get around to redeveloping this scrub field, will somebody have to look up the license plates, or check the VIN number? Will they write a letter, or make a call? And if they make a call, will somebody answer? Or has the person who forgot about their car themselves been forgotten?

People can be forgotten too. There’s a story I heard somewhere, about Vaclav Havel, a persecuted writer who rose to become the president of Czechoslovakia (another forgotten country). One day, as he was walking through the rambling presidential mansion for the country that had once imprisoned him, he found a closed door. Trying the handle, he found it locked. Curious, he went on a hunt for the keys to open it.

Took him the better part of a week. When he finally came back and opened the door, he found an old man sitting behind an empty desk, twiddling his thumbs. It was hard to tell who was more surprised to see whom.

“Who the Hell are you?” said the man behind the desk.

“I’m Vaclav Havel, president of Czechoslovakia,” Havel replied. “Who the Hell are you?”

“I’m the man paid to sit behind this desk,” came the reply.

It’s a joke about East Block inefficiency, bureaucracy gone mad. It couldn’t possibly happen in a free country.

Except that it can. That’s my job.

I was hired as an admin assistant straight out of high school. I was living alone for the first time; my folks had moved off to Vancouver. I thought I’d earn some money before going to university. I reported to my job at one of their branch factories, and arrived to find it being shut down.

“It’s okay, Miss Shaw,” said my supervisor. He sniffed into the box of possessions he was carrying. He’d just been laid off. He pulled himself together and gave me a sympathetic smile. “Lucy. You just… stay put. Your desk is right there. You still got a job. Somebody will be along from head office to reassign you to another department.”

So I sat, beside a computer and a phone. The factory emptied out around me. My keys still worked. I came back day after day. The cheques got deposited to my bank account, regular as clockwork. I waited for somebody to come and tell me where I’d be reassigned.

But nobody ever did.

It’s now been a year.


I’ve just written this down, so it’s a first draft. This idea came to me earlier this morning as I happened to notice a pile of bricks stacked out back behind a coffee shop, and realizing that they’d been there for months. Was anybody going to come to claim them? Then a bunch of things clicked, and now I have a character named Lucy Shaw who is being paid to do nothing.

Well, nature abhors a vacuum, so I bet something interesting would happen if she kept on coming in to work at a job doing nothing. What? I have no idea. Yet. But I think it will be fun to explore Lucy’s world and see what she finds.

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