The Puzzle Piece Pt. 1 (A Short Story)

Mary Esther looked closely at her five-hundred-piece jigsaw puzzle strewn all over the oak table in her living room. A cold autumn gale whistled against the windows and chimney of her brick home as a small fire fed its meager heat into the chilly house. It had taken her two hours so far, but she was making great progress at solving the delightful mystery before her. A proverbial cup of homemade hot chocolate, unsweetened, at her side gave her the courage to continue her operation into the late-night hours. She had laid the foundation of another good round of jigsaw by aligning all of the outside pieces, first getting the border in place and then beginning to edge inward as she separated each piece by color and shape.

The picture on the front of the box depicted a stunning image of a gentle sunrise poking through an open kitchen window, a field of wildflowers painted on distant rolling hills and a few utensils hanging down. At the bottom sat the soft texture of a brown cat lying on its side at the window sill, paws curled and head reaching up to greet the back of an unidentified human’s affectionate hand. Atop the cat the sun glisten, glancing its warm rays off the cat’s speckled fir. Blooming goldenrod and coreopsis dotted the hillsides, sharing a warm and bright yellow that slightly contrasted with the yellow of the sun’s rays.

After another handful of minutes, Mary unfurled the mystery of the cat, the sunrise and most of the kitchen window. She was truly a master of the craft. Now, all that was left were the pieces that, according to the box, were supposed to comprise the entirety of the hill country in the distance. A few fir trees congregated on the top left of the picture, dark browns and swarthy greens that were sure to stand out among the remaining puzzle pieces, so that’s where she decided to start.

As she scanned through the few hundred leftovers, something odd caught her eye. A single piece of seemingly inappropriate color and somewhat irregular shape stuck out to her like a sore thumb. How come she hadn’t noticed it before? It was nothing like its brothers and sisters, and, try as she might, she just couldn’t make the piece fit in anywhere, neither by shape or texture or color. It just wasn’t a part of that particular puzzle–it couldn’t have been.

Its thumb-like insert just didn’t carry the same ovular shape as the rest of the pieces; it was too round. Worse, one side of it was a corner piece, though she had already completed the entire border.

Besides the flat side, it was comprised of two sides that were cut in to and a top side that jutted outward defiantly. It was painted a dark red; if Mary had not known better, she may have thought it was the color of blood. She wasn’t actually sure that she did know better. Its surface lacked that glossy finish that the rest of the pieces contained. It seemed so much more real, like the difference between looking at standard definition and HD. She wondered how on earth it could have gotten mixed in, and what kind of puzzle it could have belonged to.

She picked up the piece and held it close to her eye, inspecting it thoroughly. She had completed many such jigsaws in her past, most from the same manufacturer as the current one. She couldn’t think of any other set it may have belonged to, though.

It glistened. She crooked her eyes in interest. It wasn’t cardboard; it was some kind of sparkly, thick metal. The longer she held it, the heavier it seemed to grow, until what used to share the weight of a penny now shared the weight of a mason jar full of lead. At least, that was how much it weighed on her mind. It had fully confiscated her attention; she had such an affinity for puzzles that she allowed it to.

She accidentally dropped the piece onto the tiled floor; it hit with a gentle tap, as if it had lost its metallic qualities, and it certainly didn’t fall as quickly as it should have for its weight. She picked it up again, intent on setting it aside, when she noticed that the colors on it were now in motion. Huh.

Wait–they were moving?!

There was something of a soft red glow now emanating from the piece. The red liquid inside wasn’t just moving; it was flowing. Flowing!

That was when it happened: a bright flash, like that of a camera taking a picture, came from the piece, blinding her and sending a tremendous vibration through her chest. She thought a bolt of lightning had struck her. She rubbed her eyes but felt a cold burst of wind bitterly suck the heat from her face and exposed skin, like she had been plucked out of her house and thrown into the middle of the snow storm outside. The drowning sound of the wooshing wind consume her ears; she shivered and hugged herself for comfort, but no comfort was found.

Her vision returned, albeit blurry. She found that she was no longer in her cozy room at home; she really had been thrust into a completely different world, as if the blood had somehow reached out and touched her eyes and drawn her into a place and time utterly different from her own, leaving her brain uselessly struggling against the laws of logic and reason. It was like being turned upside down and inside out; she was going to vomit.

She felt disoriented and off balance, nearly falling out of the armless chair from her living room – the only thing that didn’t seem to have changed around her. A warm sun hung high overhead. The colors, the lights, the sounds, the sites–it all worked against her, fed her so much input that she was incapable of comprehending it all at once, excruciatingly so, though delightfully so, also. She had allowed herself to fall into this kind of daydream many times in her imagination, gazing at the finished products of her puzzle habit, imagining what life was like in each of those different worlds. But–this wasn’t just in her imagination anymore. It was real. It was all around her.

As the pain in her stomach subsided and the equilibrium in her ears balanced out, she took stock of her situation. She focused her vision on the blurry sun first, and then on the mountains surrounding her; she was no longer in her living room. She was higher up than she had ever wanted to be, sitting in a wooden chair atop the highest mountain for miles and miles. The cold wind continued to offer no reprieve, but she was so utterly taken aback by everything else that she had ceased to take notice.

The place she saw was certainly like earth, but it was also very different. Like earth on steroids. The sky was bluer; the clouds were fluffier and whiter. The snow was colder and softer. The songs of the fowl were more exemplary. The perennials bloomed so much more vibrantly, and the scents of the lilies and tea olives and jasmines carried for miles without losing their potency. In the dead of winter. The rocks and mountains hanging off in the distant seemed to have been cut by the hand of a mother nature so much more skilled and adept than our own–as if an artist had tried his hand at it, and had succeeded, only on a scale where the whole planet was his sculpture. A master painter must have visited also, for the colors of even the weeds to the tiniest lichen seemed to have grown deeper and wealthier than those of our own native localities. It was like gazing into a work of art which had come to life and swallowed up all of humanity in its awesome panorama.

At the same moment, a single word invaded her mind. It was spoken into her ear by a masculine voice so soft and gentle that she could have mistaken it for the whispered voice of her very own father, (whom she had known only during her childhood in the hills of Sarajevo). The voice, she knew, came from the world of the puzzle piece, which had so thoroughly rent asunder her grip on reality, had replaced it with a new reality.

     Coran.

“Coran,” she replied. It did not so much as occur to her yet that she had heard anything out of the ordinary, or that it was peculiar for her to offer a reply to the unseen, unaccounted-for vocalization, (which she did as a matter of course without any regard to the situation’s irregularity). “This is Coran?” It came out as a question, but it wasn’t at all a question. She believed. She didn’t need an explanation; it didn’t need to make sense. She knew it was real because somewhere, somehow, she already knew. She had already seen it.

      Your home world. I believe you have at last found the way home.

She was sure of it now. The voice could not have been any different than that of her Bosnian father’s. That was why she held no fear, though her father had passed away several years ago. She could never forget his broken English and the way he always tried to summon elusive words by sweeping his hands pleadingly, or by gesturing the object or action he wished to describe. It was always a game of charades. He was all heart and gusto, held back merely by a language barrier. This voice now carried those same peculiarities, and his English did not seemed to have improved much at all.

She could not see him, but she knew that her father’s presence was with her, now.

     Home, she thought. Coran. Coran. Coran. She reached out for it, scraping thin air for the answer to an unknown yearning in her soul – the yearning to know, or, better yet, the yearning to remember something. Something was poking out a torn hole in the fabric of her mind.  As images raced past her, engulfed her, she repeated the word Coran until something in her mind finally broke; a flood of long-lost memories came rushing back. As if night had been suddenly switched to day, a violent burst of imagery and emotion exploded into her brain with the force of a hurricane, and she remembered it all. What she had seen she could never describe, but in her heart she knew it well. She knew the world Coran and remembered everything that had happened on it: everything that had happened to her.

She struggled to breath; her body was shaking tremulously, and her mouth was suddenly very dry, but it could not keep her from speaking. A poem rolled forth from her lips, as if she had known it her whole life and was simply repeating something familiar to her. About halfway through, the voice of her father was added to hers.

Oh, the memories of sweet, radiant Coran.
Ring the bells, sound the gong.
Through the streets of Tfier we go.
Blast the trumpet, whistle the flute,
To Coran’s golden alter we go.

 Coran, awake, the sun rises on you.
May we abide in your streets forever,
May the light of truth emblazon your buttresses.
May the ivy never cease to crawl
The happy walls of your cathedrals.
Content, the man who lives within.
Content, he who loves sweet Coran.

     Sweet Coran, she thought. She was finally home!

     But you have always been home.

     “What do you mean?” she replied.

     You don’t remember? After all this time, you don’t remember?

     “Remember–remember what?”

     Sweet, radiant Coran. My daughter, Coran.

     She was Coran.

     She felt the weight of the world bearing down on her shoulders once more.

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