The lid is bedecked with hundreds
of stars, large and small, overlapping as if fallen from a careless sky. Grace
opens the box, her fourth one, and touches the jigsaw pieces inside. In
ninety-three days she has created the World Trade Centre and the Taj Mahal and
the Eiffel Tower, one hour at a time, from thirty thousand unpromising pieces;
in only a week she must now rebuild the sky.
Holding a piece
of gold, she imagines Brent in the gloss and strokes where his spiky chin would
Five months ago
he’d leaned against the fridge, in T-shirt and jeans as though Spain - not Afghanistan - beckoned, given her the boxes and said, “I’ll be home before you even complete
them all, it’s only a six-month tour, remember.”
optimism, Grace kissed Brent’s smooth cheek, thinking how soon it would chafe.
“Don’t be sure you’ll be back before I finish them; I’m a talented girl, you
know,” she said.
When he smiled
and put his head on her shoulder the calendar fell off the fridge with a
disruptive rustle of pages, remaining open on a snowy January scene.
And then he was
Alone, Grace ripped cellophane from
the World Trade Centre box, scattering windows and steel and sky onto the
coffee table. She heard, in the soft pattering of cardboard pieces, cries of help
me and she had no clue how to. The answer came after a glass of wine. When
faced with such chaos it made sense to build from the edge. Then, once she had
a border, rigid and protective, all the pieces stayed safely inside and Grace
found she could sleep and the sadness was contained.
Brent phoned as
she constructed tower one, its gleaming expanse of silver deflecting the gaudy
city. “What are the buildings like in Kabul?” She held a miniature glass door
between finger and thumb as she dropped the question.
much of a postcard.” The words were sombre, reluctant, then gone.
Grace whispered “I
miss you” across the ocean and clicked his silences together to see what they
formed, but identical pieces are the hardest to find a partner for.
Soon jigsaws filled the lounge like
paintings in various stages of completion. Joining the pieces made time pass
faster, one day snapping to the next until it formed a month. Grace learned with
each box that you can’t build a picture without studying every segment, or
anticipate the mood of a boyfriend calling from overseas, but still she crossed
off the calendar days in red and coupled the pieces until his homecoming.
“I wish I could see you in your
combats,” Grace said during their October exchange. When Brent paused and
asked what she was wearing Grace felt his smile. Eyeing the threadbare
slippers and old vest and bottoms that was evening attire - the uniform she
wore to conquer world architecture - she lied.
The Taj Mahal puzzle began as ten thousand
insignificant parts and grew gradually from the infamous path where Princess
Diana sat without her husband, into white marble domes and the main gate (which
the box said imitated a bride’s veil on her wedding night) and cloudless sky.
It spread slowly across the dining table, swallowing teak expanse in its
domination of the room. Grace picked up her wine glass and took it into the
kitchen, leaving a circle of moisture, like a watery moon.
“When the moon’s full here, is it full
there too?” she asked in November.
silly.” When Brent laughed unsociable gunfire punctuated his better mood with
exclamation marks. “It’s the same sky here as there. Just one sky.”
She said the
stars must be the same then and when he didn’t respond, imagined his nodding.
After ten pieces of silence he asked how the puzzles were coming along.
“I finished the
Taj Mahal,” she said. “Next the Eiffel Tower, and then the stars.”
Grace discovered halfway into the Eiffel Tower that it’s best also to build by shade, and easier if those shades vary.
Pieces of similar colour like sadness or ocean are tiresome, impossible to mate
without great patience. When she clicked in the last piece, completing a string
of lights that made the French monument resemble an iron Christmas tree, she
“Do you remember Paris?” Grace
asked in December, the fireplace bare, her wine glass empty.
“Of course I do,”
he said softly.
that one day he’d take her again to a hotel where the staff called her
mademoiselle and left chocolate on the pillow, and Grace laughed down the
telephone because she’d clapped her hands when she saw that treat at bedtime.
She’d opened the window wide to reveal the western edge of the Eiffel Tower, and the lights had winked like they were laughing too.
“Let’s go in
spring,” whispered Grace.
Now the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal and a brand new World Trade Centre dominate the dining table. Only the
stars are in bits, being the toughest to recreate, and why Grace has left them
until last. Tonight her fingers touch one segment and the next and the next, but
nothing distinguishes them, no variation in gold or shine give clue as to their
place in the final puzzle. On the News at Ten buildings fall in Kabul and soldiers run and women cry and children scream and Grace builds her sky even
She has space left in the centre of
the puzzle for one more star, and Brent should be home tomorrow. But there
have been no phone calls for five weeks. The Christmas tree died long ago and the
fireplace is still cold. Grace has no heart for the sweet wine that warmed her
heart as she waited. Sixteen pieces that form the last, tiny star lie on the
coffee table, separated from one another by Grace’s choosing. She turns off
the lamp and goes to bed.
In the morning the light is already
there. Sun touches the bed where Brent sits, holding the remaining gold pieces
in cupped hands. His smile is surrounded by beard, his eyes by weariness.
“You said you’d
have finished them when I got home,” he says, touching her hair.
“It’s only one
star,” says Grace. “Why don’t you put it in the sky?”
©2009 Louise Beech
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