Puzzle Piece                      by Sherwood Gainer  © all rights reserved


My wife likes jigsaw puzzles.

I don’t.

If I’m going to devote several hours of my life to a task, I prefer to have something more to show for it than a picture that rarely inspires me; that someone else made or photographed; and that is marred by irregular seams.

Finishing a jigsaw never gives me the same sense of accomplishment as building or fixing something useful, creating something original, or even writing a good email.

My current task is to oil the squeeky closet door.

Still, I notice she’s stepped away from a new puzzle. She’s got the edges nearly done, so that it resembles an empty picture frame. There are pieces grouped by like colors inside and outside the finished rectangle -- at she’s approaching it with organization and efficiency.

Without trying, my casual, disinterested glance fixes on an edge piece -- one of the few still missing. As if on autopilot, my hand reaches to pick it up. A brief  look confirms it’s place along the bottom. It snaps satisfyingly between its neighboring pieces, joining two long segments.

I notice a cluster of pieces someone put together – a small island of completion adrift in the frame. The box cover shows it clearly belonging in the lower left corner, next to a curious yellow and black shape. Whoever finds the black and yellow piece will be able to connect the group of pieces to the frame.

Black and yellow. How hard can that be? The unique colors should differentiate it from the other pieces – it ought to visually stand out – almost leap from the table. I scan carefully. Twice. I turn on a lamp for better light, and scrutinize the table a  third time. It must be missing. No, this is a new puzzle, all pieces should be here.

I put my reading glasses on and look carefully at the image on the box and that lower left corner of the puzzle again. It is apparent where the elusive black and yellow piece will go. And the adjoining pieces reveal that “Black and Yellow” there have be two lumps – one on either side of an acute-ly angled corner. More of a point than a corner. In fact the combination of the lumps and the point form a likeness of a mouse’s head; the pointed nose, between the lump-ears.

I look for the mouse head shape, as well as black and yellow again. At the same time I’m conscious that I’m coining a vocabulary for the anatomy of puzzle peices – lumps, sockets, mouse-heads – I wonder if there are real words for these things.

The closet door can wait. Right now I need to find that black and yellow mouse head.

I remind myself I don’t like jigsaw puzzles.