My wife and I used to have big nights.
A while back we had a preemie and a big hospital stay.
We discussed ways to renew. Something intimate and connective. A guilty indulgence to relish in our low lit home after our boy is asleep.
I did not expect the proposed solution of jigsaw puzzles to spill from my mouth.
My wife and I rock paper scissored. I won the privilege of driving alone to Barnes and Noble.
I drove slow. I tried to hit red lights. I coasted into the mall parking lot, ceding the right of way to everyone.
The chain restaurants were filling up. I caught a glimpse of a group of women wearing summer dresses and crossing their legs against the breeze at an outdoor table.
Jealous contempt flared in me. I envied these bachelorettes and their freedom. I wanted to hop the low fence and lean on their table.
“Enjoy this,” I would say. “Someday soon, you’ll be doing jigsaw puzzles for fun.”
And then I’d buy them all drinks. I would be a heroic sage.
This was the mental vignette that entertained me as I edged into a parking space.
I decided on the long way to the bookstore entrance despite a recent knee injury. I wanted another look at the bachelorettes. Maybe suck in my gut and catch one or two of them checking out the silvering fox.
But by the time I got back to the bachelorette patio, my knee was killing me. Every time my left foot touched the ground, I stifled grunts that almost qualified as whimpers.
I composed myself for the last few yards.
Then, from nowhere, a pair of elderly couples sauntered into my path. Like all octogenarians, they did not give a fuck.
They surrounded me with effortless, eerie precision. It felt like some kind of police maneuver, as if they had rehearsed the exercise for months.
My aching knee prevented me from dodging out of their midst.
So I drifted invisible past the bachelorettes, camouflaged by an escort of elderly couples who were also limping, just not as badly as me.
But I did get close enough to observe that the bachelorettes were not the naïve twenty-somethings I had presumed. They had already done their fair share of jigsaw puzzles.
This new knowledge of them granted me both disappointment and a relief I still do not fully understand.
The footpath opened up, allowing me to break free of my wizened escort.
I took a moment at the edge of the grass and watched the old couples weave away drunk on experience.
And then I resumed my errand, leaving the bachelorettes to their cocktails and the elderly to their own mischief.
My wife and I still needed a puzzle.
I let the path guide me down a gentle slope to the bookstore and melted into it.
The puzzles were displayed in the heart of the store. It occurred to me I had probably never purchased a jigsaw puzzle. The selection overwhelmed me.
I started taking photos of contenders, then loaded up a message with the following images:
- A thatched cottage at sunset. Minnie Mouse kisses Mickey Mouse in the yard.
- A collage of iconic Disney characters. An American flag peeks out between Pluto and Captain Hook.
- An early 20th century American village. The fire station dominates the foreground. A stooped, bearded fireman appears to fist bump a small boy wearing knickers.
- A rainbow. Belle and the Beast dance beneath it.
- Another rainbow. Cinderella and Prince Charming dance beneath it.
- The Amalfi coast at twilight.
- An Austrian mountain village.
- Dumbo grinning in a bubble bath.
I sent the images and invited my wife’s input with the typed question “Which one?”
Right away I realized I had not only sent this gallery to my wife, but to the ladies who operate my son’s daycare.
I hastened to un-creep out the daycare ladies. “Oops, wrong chat,” I typed.
One of them quickly sent me her pardon. “Hahaha no worries,” she said. A few seconds later, her co-worker granted me a pair of emoji monkeys covering their eyes.
I imagined the texts they were now assuredly exchanging.
Then I seized on a puzzle, one that was not in the tainted menu I had just sent to the entire cohort that tries to teach my fourteen-month-old son not to punch people in the face unless duly provoked.
I declined a bag at the register. I saw no point in hiding my jigsaw puzzle from the judgment of bachelorettes.
I hobbled back to my car and drove home.
Over the course of the next two nights, my wife and I settled into a system for building our slow image.
Sometimes our hands touched. Once or twice her hair grazed my face.
By Sunday night it was complete. Our dining room table was a world of horse carts. Pumpkins. Vegetable stands. Crows in a tree. Chimney smoke. A mill stream. A slumbering pig.