Puzzle Pieces – Samantha Hunter

I’m standing under a dome. My head tilts back, floating among clouds. The meticulous strokes of shade and light blur, leaving my eyes to absorb simple, white blobs. It’s round. I’ve never worked on one with no edges before. I don’t know why I’m nodding my head. The movement causes the cherubs to jostle and bounce from cloud to cloud. Their smudgy pink cheeks look lost underneath cold eyes.                               

The colors are so intense—so varied and brilliant, but the complex beauty is why it’s such a challenge. The voice whispering out of the phone fades into the disorderly realm inside my skull. The sharp clarity of pigment in the painted blue sky cuts into the cherubs, yet they smile—unlike their eyes.          .                                                                                                           

This morning, I had felt sharp. A chronic lack of sleep had injected my blood and organs with cement. The frozen tracks of someone’s previous slip crunched under my tread as my face fell prey to a vulgar seduction from the wind. It was licking me, dry tongues of glass forcing tears to leak out of their hiding places. I squinted into the wind. Everything was spinning. Blushing hilltops dusted with snow rose up as my lips cracked open to release the carbon I had been savoring.                                                                                               

The snow. It was not falling like a meteor shower of powdered doughnuts spasmodically approaching the earth, but was luminescing. The flakes were spinning together with glints of light in well-timed choreography.                                                                                                               The white chaos turned to black silence as I closed my eyes and imagined braille letters. Slowly, the snow’s rushed descent ghosted a message into my consciousness. I became a sheet of paper, ready for impact. A single dot pushed into me. Three prominent flakes followed; they shot through the left side of my body in a straight line. Then, a presence at my right shoulder echoed a feel at my left hip, forming a diagonal. Four caressing taps in the shape of an ‘L’ consecutively thumped onto my head. A pressure on my left shoulder almost covered the feel of an equal pressure on my right hip. I stayed like that, still and with closed eyes, as the word sang across my skin until I tasted it.

ALIVE.

In the midst of the snow, the cost of admission into the realm of aging had been an incomprehensible number. Now, I can hear the reality of age tinkling at the other end of the phone pressed to my upturned face. It’s intended for two or more to work on, but I’m doing it myself. Oh, you would just love the hummingbirds on it. They remind me of you, flitting around constantly, but these ones are just a picture.  I feel the 500 miles between us in my straining neck muscles.             

Blinking, the cherubs reappear on the mural. When did you say you sent your letter? I shift my weight—I can feel my forgetfulness, sealed and stamped, rubbing against me through my back pocket. My chin bumps repeatedly against my chest, knocking out a familiar apology.                                           

A tour of anxious high school students and their parents begins milling around the library’s dome shaped lobby—they watch me. I watch back. The cherubs watch nothing.

Our driveway was covered in ice. I had John come home from work to lay salt so I could check the mail, but there was nothing from you. I dance my feet around to try and shake an excuse out of my mouth so the words can find her hearing aid. The tour group is still watching me.

Wait, how much time until my next class? Did it snow on campus? Digging through my backpack to check for my homework, I mumble a response about the weather.                                                 

Finally, the swarm of sweaty seventeen year olds starts towards the exit. As I continue shuffling things around, the backpack falls over—the contents pour out across the tile floor. The sound of falling pencils echoes through the dome. I imagine the clatter mingling with the sound of the cherubs’ laughter. On my knees, the phone wedged between my left ear and shoulder, I look up at the slowly retreating parents of the tour group as I scramble for my escaping belongings. Yes, I tell them with my eyes, this is what your children’s’ future at college will look like.                                                                                    

We got two feet of the white stuff.  I watched it from my window while I was waiting for the mailman.  I inhale quickly. The snow, she had seen it. The wind, the glittering flakes, the taste of youth—had she experienced those things?                                                                              

Her voice comes across much clearer now, “It made me feel so young! Alive.” I stand up. “Do you remember how you used to build snow forts with your cousins in the backyard?” The taste from this morning clogs my throat. She continues, “Oh, my. And did I ever tell you about when your Granddad took me skiing for the first time? I think it was back in 1965—”                   

My head tilts back. The cherubs. Maybe their eyes are smiling. Maybe they are thinking of their grannies. The ones who speak in reverent tones about round puzzles of hummingbirds and call their grandchildren to remember how it feels to be alive.