She sat across him, 1000 puzzle pieces strewn between them. Putting it back together seemed possible. He said it would take a focused commitment. She thought they would need a bit of patience, for the work might become tedious and its completion depended on dogged determination. On this they agreed.
And so they began. She lit a lavender scented candle. He silenced his phone. Through the window pane, days and nights blended in rapid succession. And with daylight, the parting of a soft curtain, and with night, a drawn curtain and a candle snuffed signaled time’s passing. At first, they worked in obvious commonalities: the flat edged pieces were somewhat easy to place together. The task had a rhythm and it led to repeated small victories. But soon that tactic failed once the outer frame took shape. The interior was daunting. All its indiscriminate pieces, its vagary, their common frustration. And that act, of sorting, finding, and discarding what worked and that which didn’t, tested him, tested her and it tested their resolve. And then, on occasion, that seldom found puzzle piece and its mate and its unexpected connection to another, a shared respite. But most often, for her and for him, this puzzle and its defeating unsolvability flung them apart in fragmented pieces.
Separately they pieced apart this great big strange thing, each working together and alone, silently, and soon the wholeness of the act mattered less than the race to the finish line. Both were indifferent to the light and to the dark, the parting and the drawing of the soft curtains, the candle, the lavender, and its flickering light, meaningless.
She thrilled in her individual assembly, the act of finding, fitting and placing. The invisible check mark against what is right and what is wrong, her scorecard beside her as he fell away, veered off course, his defeat, his resignation, his shrinking away, his predictability, a testament to her resolve, her commitment, her hypocrisy. Oh and she reveled in her individual victory, the validation, her vindication. Of course, she’d stay the course. Of course, he couldn’t. Of course he wouldn’t. Of course.
There were times he wandered in, his callous fingers skimming the sturdy mahogany table, leaning in with an unrequested suggestion, a failed assembly or two, and that seldom lucky placement, and now the crack in her veneer. The failure. Her anger: how could she miss that? The flickering candle and its fraudulent lavender, its heavy sweetness, thick in the air between them, enraged her. And how in that moment, she hated him. These futile thousand pieces, now fewer by a hundred or so, completely unsolvable and utterly pointless without him to measure up against, the assembly, her scorecard, absurd to her.
That night she ripped the puzzle apart. She blew the candle. She flung open their soft curtains. She crumpled her scorecard. She saw all she mistook, what she was and he was not. And she saw. And he noticed.