It was a picture of a landscape that Ian was working on, piece by piece.
The puzzle had more than two thousand pieces, now spread over a large table. Ian lifted each piece, one by one, as he had done for the past three weeks. He looked at the piece, examining its grooves and extensions to see if it matched something he had seen before. If yes, he snapped it into place, whether it be part of the forest – which the box told him would go in the lower left hand corner – or part of the mountain that was slowly growing in the middle, thanks to the tectonic forces of Ian’s hands.
The outside, though, remained unfinished. One piece was missing. Ian didn’t know where it was, hadn’t found it yet, assumed that the last builder of the puzzle – Earl, the dottery geezer in room 204 – had lost it like he lost his glasses every other day, and even his own damn spoon in the dining room. Imbecile, thought Ian.
He picked up another piece. It was green. Three different shades. On two sides, the piece extended. On two other sides, it was concave. He looked down at the forest. No place for it there. Probably in the meadow. He added the piece to the disparate collection of meadow pieces and picked up another.
The hockey game on the television caused those watching to yell. Ian grimaced, and held the piece close to his eyes. It was grey, like the mountain. He reached up and tried to place it there, but it wouldn’t go.
He twisted the piece and tried it under the mountain. There was a sliver of grey in the forest, too, so he moved his hand over. As he did, he noticed it. The side. Three prongs, one flat. The last edge piece. He smiled. Earl hadn’t screwed the pooch after all.
Ian brought his hand down to the little opening that had caused him so much trouble, jarred every time his arm brushed it, pieces pulling apart. He put the piece down and was about to press it in, but stopped himself. He needed an end piece with one prong, one hole. Not all prongs. This piece wouldn’t go.
Damn Earl, he thought.
Still, the piece gave him hope. He walked over to the puzzle shelf and put the piece in the Lost Pieces bucket, with the other thirty or so there. He looked through them again, didn’t see the piece he needed.
Ian returned to his table and continued to comb through the cardboard.