by Patrick Waddington
Marc Girondin had worked in the filing section of the city hall's engineering department for so long that the city was laid out in his mind like a map, full of names and places, intersecting streets and streets that led nowhere, blind alleys and winding lanes.
In all Montreal no one possessed such knowledge; a dozen policemen and taxi drivers together could not rival him. That is not to say that he actually knew the streets whose names he could recite like a series of incantations, for he did little walking. He knew simply of their existence, where they were, and in what relation they stood to others.
But it was enough to make him a specialist. He was undisputed expert of the filing cabinets where all the particulars of all the streets from Abbott to Zotique were indexed, back, forward and across. Those aristocrats, the engineers, the inspectors of water mains and the like, all came to him when they wanted some little particular, some detail, in a hurry. They might despise him as a lowly clerk, but they needed him all the same.
Marc much preferred his office, despite the profound lack of excitement of his work, to his room on Oven Street (running north and south from Sherbrooke East to St. Catherine), where his neighbors were noisy and sometimes violent, and his landlady consistently so. He tried to explain the meaning of his existence once to a fellow tenant, Louis, but without much success. Louis, when he got the drift, was apt to sneer.
"So Craig latches on to Bleury and Bleury gets to be Park, so who cares? Why the excitement?"
"I will show you," said Marc. "Tell me, first, where you live."
"Are you crazy? Here on Oven Street. Where else?"
"How do you know?"
"How do I know? I'm here, ain't I? I pay my rent, don't I? I get my mail here, don't I?"
Marc shook his head patiently.
"None of that is evidence," he said. "You live here on Oven Street because it says so in my filing cabinet at city hall. The post office sends you mail because my card index tells it to. If my cards didn't say so, you wouldn't exist and Oven Street wouldn't either. That, my friend, is the triumph of bureaucracy."
Louis walked away in disgust. "Try telling that to the landlady," he muttered.
So Marc continued on his undistinguished career, his fortieth birthday came and went without remark, day after day passed uneventfully. A street was renamed, another constructed, a third widened; it all went carefully into the files, back, forward and across.
And then something happened that filled him with amazement, shocked him beyond measure, and made the world of the filing cabinets tremble to their steel bases.
One August afternoon, opening a drawer to its fullest extent, he felt something catch. Exploring farther, he discovered a card stuck at the back between the top and bottom. He drew it out and found it to be an old index card, dirty and torn, but still perfectly decipherable. It was labeled RUE DE LA BOUTEILLE VERTE, or GREEN BOTTLE STREET.
Marc stared at it in wonder. He had never heard of the place or of anything resembling so odd a name. Undoubtedly it had been retitled in some other fashion befitting the modern tendency. He checked the listed details and ruffled confidently through the master file of street names. It was not there. He made another search, careful and protracted, through the cabinets. There was nothing. Absolutely nothing. | |
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Once more he examined the card. There was no mistake. The date of the last regular street inspection was exactly fifteen years, five months and fourteen days ago.
As the awful truth burst upon him, Marc dropped the card in horror, then pounced on it again fearfully, glancing over his shoulder as he did so.
It was a lost, a forgotten street. For fifteen years and more it had existed in the heart of Montreal, not half a mile from city hall, and no one had known. It had simply...