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Strong Beginnings

Excerpt: Magnified World by Grace O'Connell

We are collaborating with Toronto's festival of the mind Luminato, and reaching out to Canadian writers to find out about the decisions they made when choosing to open their most recent works.

Here is an excerpt of Grace O'Connell's book Magnified World. Afterwards, be sure to read our Q&A with her about how she decided to start this book.

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Magnified World.jpg

Toronto, late 1990s

The first time it happened, I didn't open the store on time. I found myself standing on the sidewalk outside the locked door at noon, the Queen streetcar going by behind me in a baritone of metal complaints. It was two hours after I was supposed to have opened and I had no memory of anything after going to bed the night before. The brown canvas shoes I had on were pinching my toes. I’d never seen the shoes before in my life and it seemed obvious that I was dreaming. If I was dreaming, my mother would be there like she always had been. But when I let myself in, there was no one.

Then my father was running down the stairs from our apartment on the second floor and I knew I was awake.

“Where have you been?” he said.

“I don’t know.”

“What? Where have you been?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know.”

His mouth opened and I knew he was going to ask me again.

I was lying on the floor. I could see that the bottom shelf of the Fortune and Foretelling section was filthy with dust. It took me a moment to realize I had fainted. My mother was the one who fainted. Who used to faint. I’d never fainted before.

My father picked me up—he actually lifted me up onto my feet, which I didn't realize he was capable of doing. When I wobbled he set me back down again and knelt beside me and all I could think was that it must hurt his knees to be like that. I could see into the collar of his shirt. His chest was that of an old man, an older man than him: a dull red unrelated to the colour of his face, a lattice of grey hair. I didn't want to look.

“Where were you? Are you sick? Where were you?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“I don’t remember.”

He seemed to bite down very hard; I could see a tendon in his neck jump. My head ached.

“You don’t remember.”

“I went to bed. After A Bit of Fry & Laurie.” My boyfriend Andrew had come over to the apartment where I lived with my father above the store. He had rented the show at Queen Video and we watched it together after dinner, curled up on the couch. My father walked by in his pyjamas at one point, holding a cup of tea, and said, “That’s a good one. That British humour. Funny stuff .” Near the end of the video, with my father in bed in his room, Andrew started to kiss the back of my neck. He slid his arms around me and ran his spidery hands over my breasts. His lips on my earlobe sent fizzing little darts of pleasure all over. Then the shush of water running came from my father’s washroom, over our shoulders, and we moved apart.

Excerpted from Magnified World. Copyright © 2012 Grace O'Connell. Published by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.

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