by Regina Thomas
We’d needed a trip to get away. From what, I’m not sure. But Geneve said we needed to get away, so we got away. The first night I was the one who made the mistake of discovery. I’d been looking around for any possible entertainment after determining that the cabin had neither TV nor Wi-Fi. Located in the living room closet was an old cedar chest containing an assortment of games and activities that would have satisfied even the purest of Luddites. There was an ancient Monopoly set that upon inspection only contained a weatherworn game board and a rusted thimble of a top hat, and thus, at least in my mind, rendered the game unplayable. The cedar chest of wonders also contained one completely intact Candyland set, as well as both an Uno and a traditional deck of playing cards.
At the bottom of the chest lay a rectangular box that caught my attention. The top was a photo of a sand-colored wall covered in vibrant, fruit punch pink colored flowers, with a desert terrain backdrop offset by a clear, periwinkle blue sky.
“Jordan, clear the table of everything immediately,” Geneve exclaimed, her previously sleepy-looking almond eyes now alight with glee.
She had just gotten out of the shower, her skin clad in only an oversized beach towel wrapped snugly around her small frame. I took Geneve into an embrace, hoping to move things into the bedroom. Instead of taking my lead, she detangled herself from my grip and stood up on her toes to kiss me on the very tip of my nose, as she always did.
“We’ve got a virgin puzzle on our hands,” Geneve said excitedly upon opening the box to discover that all of the puzzle’s pieces were still hermetically sealed in their original plastic bag. Breaking open the bag with her teeth, she splayed all one thousand pieces out onto the weathered hardwood table that, like this cabin, she’d told me, had been built by the hands of her great-grandfather.
I decided to humor Geneve that first night, but even then I felt a new obsession beginning to take hold. She immediately started barking orders, detailing what she called the “secrets to puzzle completion” that her grandmother had taught her as a young girl many years ago in this very same familial cabin entrenched deep in the Northern California redwoods.
First, you had to locate all of the outer edges that framed the four corners of the puzzle, the “flat pieces” as she called them. Sequestering the flat pieces as I tried to assist in the segregation, Geneve lectured me that taking the time to first complete the border parameter ensured the structural integrity of the entire puzzle. Second, you sorted the remaining non-flat pieces into different groups based on color palette and pattern. This was the step where she lost me for the night, and I retired alone to the lumpy bed of her forefathers.
I awoke to the smell of coffee wafting into the bedroom, as well as the realization that I was still alone in bed. Groggily, I made my way to the living room where Geneve sat huddled over the puzzle. She’d made impressive progress since I’d last laid eyes on the bougainvillea wall the previous evening, which was already a masterpiece taking form, now with a completed blue sky to accompany its secured perimeter.
As I prepared breakfast for us both, I suggested that maybe we try one of the trails located behind the cabin, or maybe even drive to the nearest town located 15 miles away to check things out. But again, no dice. Apparently, there was a puzzle that just had to be completed in the next 48 hours.
So I laced up my trail shoes and had a day to myself. A day that I spent obsessing over Geneve’s obsessive behavior. I reminded myself that it was just how she was, how she’d always been. My wife can be a bit, dare I say “batty,” and I mean that with love. Geneve works as a graphic designer for a big ad agency, where she comfortably spends entire workdays staring transfixed into her dual monitors, manipulating pixels into calls to action, visual representations of whatever sellable product required her expertise. We’d met when I’d still worked as a senior copywriter at said ad agency. I’d found her at the holiday Christmas party standing to the side of the bar, startingly beautiful and completely and unapologetically antisocial, transfixed by a game of Candy Crush that she was playing on her phone.
“There’s no time for me to make dinner tonight,” Geneve said that evening when I returned to the cabin. A fire was burning comfortably, and she was now backlit by three standup lamps repurposed from other parts of cabin with the intent to better illuminate her pressing work.
“How ’bout we order a pizza?” she suggested with a smile, as if she’d had a light bulb moment of a good idea.
“Who in the hell is going to deliver a pizza to this off-the-grid cabin in the middle of nowhere?”
“Maybe Domino’s…” she said, trailing off. Excitedly she picked up a multicolored puzzle piece and held it up to her face intently, bringing to my mind the image of a gemologist analyzing a valuable stone through a jewelers’ eye loupe. Hurriedly she found the piece’s home, connecting it to one of its brethren.
Now it’s our last day at the cabin, and it’s time for us to get on the road. It looks like Geneve only has thirty odd puzzle pieces to go until completion, and I’m struck by the beautifully rich form of finality laid out before her. I’ve given up on huffing and puffing my disdain; in fact, I’m starting to become a bit invested in the puzzle myself. Now I stand behind her chair as she sits hunched over her work, with me gently massaging shoulders that have tensed up under the strain of puzzling exertion. My hands knead lovingly, working out the knots of her toil. From above I see her ebony dark hair slicked back against the small, delicate shape of her skull. I resist the urge to tell her it’s time to go, that we need to leave now if we want to avoid traffic. Instead, I decide to sit down next to Geneve and lend a helping hand.
“That’s the Puzzle” is forthcoming in the Press Pause Press’ Spring 2022 Edition.
Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story