Pieces of a Puzzle

In the common room of the hospital, an idle television spoke to itself in the corner while two patients sat at the beige Formica table. Attired similarly in faded tracksuit pants and a loose t-shirt Jason wore a pair of woollen Ugg boots with his toes poking through. Morris fidgeted in a pair of Bart Simpson slippers. A plastic band around each patient’s wrist proclaimed name, date of birth and attending psychiatrist. One wore a red band indicating allergies to medications and foods.

“Right, let’s get this party started,” said Morris.

The lid of the puzzle box was flipped open and the contents poured out of the box, spilling all over the table. Fours hands deftly sorted through the pieces of a puzzle scattered between them. First, corners, then edge pieces. Beginning at the corners, the outline of the puzzle was constructed. An empty frame waited for the picture to be assembled.

The front of the box proclaimed a serene, pastoral idyll of green fields, wandering bovine, mountains and a vast expanse of blue sky. Colours were gathered into piles, like sorting a packet of M & M’s before eating them. Greens, reds, blues and partial shapes of cows.

“We should get Gracie in here. With her OCD she’d have the colours sorted in no time,” said Morris scratching at the salt-and-pepper stubble on his chin. “Didn’t see you at the ‘bus stop’ for meds this morning.”

“Psych session.”

“Still crazy?”

“Certifiable.”

Morris paused from sorting pieces and looked at the younger man over his spectacles. “You doing ok?”

A slight nod of the head from Jason, eyes focused on the puzzle pieces. Hunched shoulders and listless movements sifting through the pieces; a young man layered with melancholy and sadness. The television continued to talk to no one in particular from its corner.

“One thousand frickin’ pieces,” Jason mused. “Can you think of anything less relaxing than a puzzle for someone who’s depressed?

“What do you mean?”

“There’s gotta be a point when you’ve had enough bloody blue pieces of sky. Can you think of a more ironic colour? There is only so many times you can pick up a piece of blue sky and pray it fits.”

“There’s a nice ocean puzzle on the shelf if you want,” said Morris with a smirk.

Jason smiled wanly.

“So why are we doing it?” Morris asked.

“Because we’re depressed and screwed in the head.”

Morris chuckled in consolation. “Tea?”

“Yes, thanks.”

As Morris left the table, Jason fished through the pile of blue pieces, spreading them out on the table, hoping to find a pattern. Shapes, holes and tabs failed to lock together and form a picture. Instead he saw fragments and sections, disparate and disjointed from one another. One by one he chose a piece and tried to make it fit.

“How’d you go?”  Morris asked on his return.

“Two pieces of sky. Two lousy pieces of sky.”

“Try a more methodical approach. If a piece doesn’t fit, put it down in a different spot. Work your way through the pile. You’ll soon find the piece that fits and you then repeat.”

In the background the television droned on as pieces of the puzzle slotted into space. The beige background of the table poked through areas of the puzzle still unsolved. Gaps formed where pieces had been lost, disappeared or eaten by the vacuum cleaner. Stray pieces from other puzzles sat loose to one side, disconnected from their own box and scenic picture. Lost souls in need of a connection.

Jason scooped the loose pieces into his hand and prodded them with his finger, turning them over and over in his palm. With a guttural scream he launched the pieces into the air causing a sudden downpour. With a soft plop a piece fell into Morris’ teacup.

His head hidden behind his hands, Jason sobbed quietly. Morris fished the puzzle piece from his tea. Jason pulled at his face with his hands, stretching out his eyelids then lower lip, streaking the tears.

“It’s not about the puzzle is it?” asked Morris. He sipped his cooling tea.

“It’s about the picture in my head,” said Jason. “There’s a picture I have of what I was before I got sick.” His hands waved over the pieces, conjuring a memory. “But then there’s the picture in the darkest days of my depression and I ended up here.” Open palms, face up, in a gesture of supplication. “I cannot picture me when I leave here. None of it makes sense.”

Pulling a scrappy hanky out of his pocket he blew his nose and wiped his eyes.

“It’s like someone’s rearranged the pieces of puzzle; thrown some pieces away and replaced them with new ones. They fit, but the picture’s all wrong. I see familiar shapes, glimpses of me, but it doesn’t fit with the picture on the box.”

Across the table hundreds of loose pieces, in no particular order, scattered, waiting to be assembled.

“The picture of me has changed. Is the picture wrong?”

“Not wrong; you’re beginning to understand yourself and your depression better,” said Morris.

“I cannot see the picture of what I want to become. What do I do?”

Morris selected a random blue piece and placed it into the puzzle. “Start a new picture.”

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21 responses to “Pieces of a Puzzle

  1. Oh I loved this, it was funny, and yet touched upon a difficult subject with real feeling. I had some laugh out loud moments with this piece just to name a couple –
    “We should get Gracie in here. With her OCD she’d have the colours sorted in no time,”

    ‘he launched the pieces into the air causing a sudden downpour. With a soft plop a piece fell into Morris’ teacup.’

    I think you handled a sensitive subject with humour and understanding, it was a joy to read. ^__^

  2. This is a great story, Adam. I loved it. It’s not easy to talk about, let alone write about, mental illness. Yet you’ve written a charming, witty, and even serious tale about a man trying to find himself after depression. Well done.

    • This is not an autobiographical story, but some very dear friends have experienced the severity of depression and have been hospitalised for it. It’s my way of trying to make sense of an oft-misunderstood illness.

  3. I dug their puzzle and the notion of changes, extrinsic and intrinsic. Also relieved it doesn’t end in a solipsism-twist. If you want critical feedback, this story bears more standard dialogue tags than I’m used to in your work, Adam. From “There’s a nice ocean…” there’s a smirk, a smile and a chuckle. You might experiment with restricting tags and suggestions like that, and what you can elicit through pure wording of dialogue.

  4. This is really very good, and interesting. Nice one. A very workable metaphor that doesn’t feel forced or out of place.

  5. Like you Adam, I have people in my life who live with depression and your description of their angst is sensitive, thoughtful and accurate. We can never really understand how they feel but this certainly seems a realistic description. Well done my friend.

  6. Sheer brilliance Adam. Hopefully Jason’s new picture will be a good one.

    “Lost souls in need of a connection.”

    I think your described the lost puzzle pieces perfectly.

  7. “Start a new picture.” Pretty good advice for everyone.

  8. Great piece of flash with a deftly handled look at depression.

  9. I liked how Jason used the incomplete puzzle as symbols for his own problem. I thought maybe it was going to be the therapy… and the closing line was genius.

  10. The jigsaw puzzle has been used before as a metaphor for the mind, but I like the way you focus on the picture it’s going to be, and not just the act putting it together.

  11. You obviously have an understanding of this terrible illness.
    Great storytelling too.

  12. It’s a neat metaphor for depression, and as a sufferer, I empathise. Except for me, instead of starting a new picture, I just found pieces that would fit the holes.

  13. Jason’s plight connected with me. Very well told, Adam.

  14. I liked this. I think you walked the line between being moving and funny really well. Tough subject well handled, I’d say.

  15. Really liked the rapport between the two men. And I really appreciate the sensitivity and authenticity of the story. Peace…

  16. ” I see familiar shapes, glimpses of me, but it doesn’t fit with the picture on the box” – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt that way myself. Really great job, Adam

  17. Love the details in the story and the sense of pervasive sadness and loss you’ve threaded through the story, without becoming maudlin. Most of all, it’s a great ending – “start a new picture”. Every day is a new chance to re-create ourselves.

  18. This one really hit home. nailed it.

  19. Pingback: The #FridayFlash Report – Vol 3 Number 26 | Friday Flash

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