by Than Pence
Cramp Winner: Charles puts puzzles together differently
The image was blank.
Years ago, Charles had decided that jigsaw puzzles were too easy for him. He then saw a Beatles-themed puzzle that seemed like a big joke: it was all white. Charles didn’t understand why it was all white or how it related to the Beatles. He did like the challenge of putting together a jigsaw puzzle that was nothing but the easily recognized shapes.
The puzzle occupied nearly six months of his life. He thought he was going crazy sometimes. Finally, on May 11th, 2011, he finished it. Believing it to be a feat, he signed and dated the puzzle before arranging to have it framed.
Now, looking up briefly from his latest masterpiece, he glanced at that white square hanging on his wall. It was almost like another source of light for his dining room, a room that rarely hosted diners.
The cardboard rectangle before him itched to be turned over, he imagined. Charles wanted to see if he had put it together properly. The image on the other side would ultimately tell the truth. First, he signed his name and date in the corner on the blank side: May 1st, 2017.
Allowing the ink to dry, Charles used the bathroom, washed his hands twice, and retrieved his clear composite plastic panes. He’d perfected the art of turning over a puzzle over the years. The first time he tried had been a disaster. He had assumed that by stretching the puzzle taught, that he’d be able to simply lift it and have faith in the interlocked pieces reinforcing each other for the transition like good little soldiers.
He has not purchased a Cardinal-brand puzzle ever since.
Dropping the first pane onto the top of his blank masterwork, he noticed some papers on the hutch bristle, displeased with the new air currents. He winced, the papers a reminder that this wasn’t the right way. The other pane doesn’t always slide under the puzzle, Chuck. Removing the pane, he remembered the console table in the living room: it was almost the same height as the dining room table. I’ve been doing this so long, I almost forgot my perfect techniques!
Setting the console table next to the larger table, Charles placed the first clear pane on it and started gently pushing the puzzle to the edge and beyond. The first line of pieces that touched against the plastic reminded him that he forgot to put a sock under the clear plastic to elevate it more. It was too late so he continued, his heart in his throat the entire time.
When he was done, he wiped his forehead on his sleeve and immediately grabbed the other pane and turned the puzzle into a giant, inedible sandwich. The papers rustled again, making Charles smile. He picked it up, applying pressure in the center from both sides. This part always made him nervous. He would turn it over and see if everything was right. He’d once dropped the entire puzzle during this point. It was almost enough to make him give up the craft.
A few times, he turned it over and held it, only to see pieces that physically fit together form behind didn’t visually go together. Most puzzles were currently cut to make uniquely-shaped pieces only fit one way, but the puzzle he’d chosen this time was worryingly older and many pieces were deceptively similar.
Biting his lip and holding his tongue, Charles flips the beast and closes his eyes. Familiarity allows him to set the puzzle and plastic panes back onto the table. He waits several beats before opening his eyes to see his work.
The light above reflects harshly against the plastic, calling for Charles to remove it. Seeing the puzzle again for the first time, Charles felt tears well.
The picture was perfect.
It was the first time he’d managed to complete a puzzle with all of the pieces in the right spot. The image itself was a mystery to Charles. There were flowers everywhere and women holding ropes attached to a pole, as if they were horses on an archaic horse walker. He knew it was a classic painting of some type but he threw the box away once he had dumped the pieces.
Satisfied and nearly overwhelmed with emotions, Charles decides to shower thoroughly before getting the glue to start the arduous process of turning a puzzle into a framed portrait. He still can’t decide if he will frame it so the picture is viewable, or if his signed date is more important.
Word Count: 785