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Issue number eleven




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Lost and Found by Louisa Howerow

We carry only small items," said the uniformed agent.  He gestured to the shelving units against the wall crammed with brown leather suitcases, canvas knapsacks, sports bags, attaché cases, straw satchels. A few baseball caps. A wooden drum filled with umbrellas sat under a modest sign, black letters on white: Lost and Found.

"Can you make a public announcement?" asked Mr. Ignatief.  "Perhaps she's still in the building."

"We don't want to alarm the others." The agent leaned across the counter, lowered his voice.  "And please don't mention the police.  It doesn't work that way here."

"And if she were abducted?"  Mr. Ignatief tapped his fingers on the counter in a staccato outburst.

"Our citizens are not attracted to crimes," said the agent firmly.  "That's why you came for a visit, because you wanted something quiet, staid.  May I even suggest, bland?  Now, we do cheat at cards, but that's an entirely different matter."

"The reputation of your citizenry is not in question."

"Your wife's whereabouts are."

"A house detective then.  Do you have one of those?"

"If I didn't have a soft heart, I would tell you bluntly that train stations are not in the habit of hiring house detectives or train station detectives," said the agent.  "But come.  Show me where you left her."

Mr. Ignatief, temporarily mollified by the gesture of goodwill, led the way to the bench by the side of an open door.  "She waited here while I went to get tickets."  He sat down precisely where his wife had sat, as though by occupying the same space he would surmise where she had gone.

"You wanted her to take advantage of the cool breeze, perhaps amuse herself with people-watching."

"Simply put:  I'd get the tickets and we'd be off," said Mr. Ignatief.

"But it's not so simple, is it?"

"We were to celebrate our ninth wedding anniversary." He pulled the tickets out of his breast pocket.  Outside the door, passengers were queuing up to board the train.  Everything seemed to be in order.

"You decided where you were going.  Planned the itinerary," said the agent.

"Of course.  She had no head for planning."  The annoyance in his voice was barely contained.

"We all make assumptions. You are not the first."

Mr. Ignatief's gaze followed the agent's pointing hand to the raised balcony along the far wall. Four mounted telescopes--the type often found at tourist attractions, one at each end and two in the middle--were focused on the open door.   Upholstered armchairs, in a green plaid, much worn, were lined up in a row. A clock hung from the balustrade. Mr. Ignatief checked the time against his watch: half past eleven.   "I can't imagine how this escaped me."

"You had no need.  Impressive, isn't it! Seating is priced by the hour.  We do have special rates for those wishing to stay days or months."

"Rent?" said Mr. Ignatief, incredulously, and remembering that he had still not found his wife, added, "My business is my wife."

"Ah, but this business has everything to do with lost wives, lost husbands, lost mates."

"I want-- "

"Yes, so do they.  Mrs. Charbeneau, the lady in the flowered hat, second from the right, lost her husband two months ago.  She's our most loyal client.  Put him on the same bench where you put your wife. The others-- come and go."

"What is the rate of return?"

"Low. Very low.  But hope springs eternal, doesn't it, Mr….  We haven't been properly introduced. My name is Stuart Matthews."

Mr. Igantief shook the extended hand, more out of habit than will. "Peter Ignatief."

"Take my case, Mr. Ignatief.  I lost my Sally ten years ago.  She melded into the crowds, just like your missus.  I rented a chair for a month, deposited coins in the telescopic viewer--to no avail."

"Were there no letters? No rumours?"

"None. When this job presented itself, I jumped at the chance to be here, in case she came back. Sometimes I glimpse her profile, a walk, a favourite colour. But it's never Sally. "

"You've given up?"

"I have come to understand the essence of lost objects, lost mates, Mr. Ignatief."

"My wife is not lost."

"And, yet you came to my counter--lost. Is this not so?"

"Only because you were the only one around.  My wife and I became separated, and now I need to find her."

"Yes, but does she need to find you? Excuse me for pointing out the obvious, but you are one side of the equation,  Mr. Ignatief.  One side.  I understand your perplexity, but in my position I've seen hundreds of cases like yours.  Each tugs at the heart."

Mr. Ignatief looked up at the balcony.  The clock was still at half past eleven. A man, his age, sat down near the woman in the flowered hat.  They seemed to be greeting each other like old friends.

"I can help you fill in the forms," said Mr. Matthews.

"Thank you, but I'll look for her on my own terms."

"I repeat," said Mr. Matthews.  "You are one side of the equation.  Think of the poor valises on my shelves.  Do you think they'd be there if somebody really wanted them back?  A phone call, a letter, a short visit would be enough to have them reunited with their owners.  But no.  The owners have probably replaced them with something new."  He patted Mr. Igantief's arm. "Shall I save you a chair at the hourly rate, to start?"

Louisa Howerow's short stories have appeared in on-line journals, such as Drexel Online Journal (DOJ), The Danforth Review, E2K, SmokeLong Quarterly, and the-phone-book. Her stories are also found in print: Front Page, Room of One's Own, The Antigonish Review, and Canadian Ethnic Studies. A short story was a finalist in the Canadian Literary Awards Contest and submitted to the Journey Prize (1999).

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