What was the last puzzle you worked on?
The cabin was stifling in the summer afternoon sun. The first thing Elise did was to open the windows in the kitchen and dining room to let in some fresh air. A nice breeze off the lake would sort it right out. A fine layer of dust coated the table and counters. Those would need to be cleaned before anyone was going to eat from them.
She chuckled at that thought. No one would be eating here for a long while. She was only here to collect some of grandfather’s things. Her mother couldn’t bear to visit the cabin amidst all the funeral arrangements, so Elise had offered to go in her stead.
It was as good an excuse as any to be away from all the grieving and reminiscing for a while anyway. All those uncles and cousins who had never bothered to call on a dying man in his final hours but who were happy enough to claim his memory as being precious to them, only returning to their childhood home in hopes of reaping some rewards in his will. Did they even care how much he had wanted to see them?
Elise exhaled slowly through her nose. She was being unfair. They lived scattered across the country with various business pursuits and careers that did not leave much leeway for emergency traveling. Certainly that had to be the reason they couldn’t be at his side at the end.
She moved to the back of the cabin. The bedrooms could use some airing out too, she realized, and went through each room methodically, opening windows and checking closets for critters. Grandfather had once discovered a squirrel nest after opening the cabin for the summer when Elise’s mother was still a child. They heard the chittering in the closet as they were going to bed. Elise’s mother had been so startled that her reaction had been the punchline of family tales for decades. Of course, after that, Grandfather had always made sure to check the closets before anyone settled in.
Elise found no squirrels this year. A few spiders, plenty of dead flies, but nothing larger than a coin. Even the rat traps were empty. She was glad for that; she hated disposing of the poor things and besides which they left an awful smell if they’d been there any length of time.
The breeze was already doing work and she inhaled deeply of the old wood, then sneezed when she took in some of the dust. She could hear her grandfather chiding her for her silliness. She smiled up at the beams crossing the ceiling. This had been their special place, after all.
She went to his room and began piling clothes and photos on the bed, left behind from previous trips. On the dresser was an antique jewelry box that had belonged to her grandmother. Elise contemplated the pile for a moment before deciding she would bring the box back too. There might be something in it that would bring comfort to her mother. A breeze through the window lightly touched her shoulder. She could picture her grandfather with his hand there, nodding agreement. She blinked back tears of her own.
She needed a few trips to bring everything back out to the car. Once she was loaded up, she started closing the cabin back up. It pained her to do so. She wondered if anyone would come back here now that Grandfather was gone. He had loved that cabin. Surely he would have wanted someone to continue to use it?
Elise made a final circuit of the cabin to assure herself she hadn’t missed any of the windows. She hadn’t gone into the den, but for her own sanity’s sake went to double check it anyway. It was stuffier than the rest of the cabin, given that she hadn’t opened it, but what caught her breath was the folding table in the corner.
There, pieces scattered across the surface of the table, some joined, most loose, was the last puzzle she had ever started with him. The border had been completed. Edge pieces were the easiest to sort out. There were several chunks of white and blue pieces in the interior. The reflection of the moon in a river, placed roughly where they had thought it should be once the rest of the pieces were assembled. On the right side the birch trees were becoming recognizable, and near the top the full moon was mostly put together. The howling wolves were still among the scattered pieces, awaiting their place in the puzzle.
Tears streamed down her cheeks anew. They had started this one together last summer. Before they knew they would not be coming back together. Before he had gotten sick. Before he lost function in his hands. She looked up at the walls and all the puzzles they had completed and framed over the years. She had always looked forward to spending the summer with Grandfather at the cabin because they always did the puzzles together, no matter how long it took.
As Elise pulled away from the cabin, she made a promise to herself. Before it was out of sight of her rear view mirror, she swore she would finish that puzzle this summer.
Notes: My Poppy used to have a puzzle going at all times at his house. He and my grandma had a special puzzle mat that they would lay out at the end of the dining room table and they would work on it throughout the day when they had a spare moment. When we would spend weekends with them, we would try to put some of the pieces in too. We loved that. One year for Christmas, he had completed a puzzle with wolves staring out at the viewer under a snowy night sky that he sealed and framed for me. I still have it.
I also have this puzzle I described in the story. I bought it a few years ago thinking I would make good use of my free time and not waste it on my computer, but I forgot about cats and gravity. I couldn’t leave it out on the table like Poppy used to because I would wake up to the pieces all over the floor. I eventually got one of those mats that you can roll up and store and the pieces don’t move, but once I put it away I never went back and finished it. It’s a 750 pc Wildlife puzzle, titled Moonrise. There are three wolves on a forest riverbank, howling at the full moon overhead. (Yes, I was, and forever am, a wolf girl.)
I had half a mind to write a crime story where the puzzle was solving the crime, but I wasn’t clever enough tonight to come up with a puzzle and solution in a couple hours, so I wrote about a jigsaw puzzle instead. But there are other sorts of puzzles you could use as inspiration. Word puzzles, for one thing. Word searches, crosswords, cryptographs. There are also those brain teaser puzzles where you have to figure out how to put the thing together/take it apart. I like this prompt because there are plenty of ways it could go. How would you do it?
I hope you had a nice relaxing Memorial Day today. It was beautiful in upstate NY and I got to spend time with my family and eat lots of food. I know we’re at the end of the day, but I would be remiss if I didn’t also remind you to remember the fallen for which the holiday was created. It’s not just about the cookouts and kicking off summer, after all.
That’s all for me tonight. Have a great evening! See you tomorrow!
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