Evans by Django Gold

He has always enjoyed jigsaw puzzles, and now that he has the time, he spends hours a day at them. The rec room isn’t particularly large, and arguments often break out over who gets what tabletop, but since you can’t very well move a half-finished puzzle, and the other half of the pieces, he gets the same table every day, a long one in the comer with enough room to set up a 1000 piecer. He stalks around the table, searching for this or that flower clump or shingle or shadow, and when he tires, he sits, plotting his next move for when he’s got his gas up again. Overhead, a fan waves and games of rummy and backgammon shuffle around.

The rec room has a few puzzles of its own, but they’re junk mostly. The first one of theirs he tried, claimed to be a 500 piecer, but only ended up about 450 when he was done. Another one wasn’t anything but a bunch of checkers and a Scrabble score book and a single white plastic pawn. One he got, turned out to be already put together, just divided into four neat squares so it could fit back into the box. He removed the chunks, stared at them on the table for a bit, and after a bit folded them back into the box.

His daughter visits him twice a month and she brings him new ones. The boxes are sealed (you can open them with a pencil), and the pieces are sprinkled with pale sawdust. He’s done a flower patch

on the verge of a great lawn; a fleet of sailboats on a clear blue day; a menagerie of animals laying down to have their portrait painted. He did one with an old brick-red house and a group of people pitching horseshoes in the foreground: The men wore brown coats and moustaches that day.

One of the orderlies said to him one day that he should get a hold of some glue and spread it over a puzzle when he finishes with it, that way he could hang it up in his room instead of taking it apart and returning it to the box, and later stowing the box in his desk. He doesn’t see the sense in that. No, in fact, there isn’t much about the place or the people in it that he approves of. The air is yellow and there’s always a television on, even if you can’t see it you can hear it. Men sob in the open, women hide themselves in their rooms. There is a grim secret here and he has found it out. He doesn’t like not being told he will die.

One day it’s his birthday, and his daughter brings him the biggest puzzle he’s ever seen. It’s a standing one that you build from all sides. It’s the Empire State Building, and when it’s done, it’ll be taller than he is. It’s the first puzzle he’s ever seen that has written instructions. There are 768 big foam pieces, in varying shades of grey with thatched ends. It takes him days to get everything organized. He has to make the base first, then he can start climbing up the tower, piece by piece. As he gets higher, the walls narrow to a point at the top. At the top there’s a slot where he will insert the cardboard lightning rod. He’s going to have to be standing on the table at this point to reach the last piece in. The orderlies won’t like it, but they can’t stop him. He’s going to hoist himself up onto that table, stand up straight, and plant the rod in with one hand. The men and women inside the tower will gape through the windows at him, at the giant builder who has crafted walls from sawdust and air.


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