In winter, John and I know our marriage will be tested. It is cold and dreary, we are bored, and our two bodies are sharing way too much mutual space.
In an effort to keep ourselves from day after day of petty, annoying conversations that mainly focus on the weather, when the mailman is going to be here, and what to have for supper, I decided to buy a jigsaw puzzle.
I ordered a 1000-piece one—a collage of cereal boxes. When it arrived (from the mailman; we’d been waiting and discussing his route time, as usual), we sat and gazed at it for a while.
“Think we can do it?” John asked.
“We WILL do it,” I replied. We would sit at the table with eyes down and mouths closed and look at cardboard shapes. It would be more interesting than talking.
John volunteered to get all the pieces out. He started immediately; he picked up each piece, stared at the design, and plunked it onto the table.
I watched TV. Every second, I heard the PLUNK of a piece. I turned the TV up.
After about five minutes, John began announcing each piece of the puzzle as he picked it up. He broadcast his discoveries to me.
“Here is part of Honeycomb. I’ll start a pile for it over here. Oh. Cheerios…must be two of those, because the words are two different sizes. We’ll need to look at the box.”
“Okay,” I replied. He was just excited. The chatter would stop soon, I thought.
When the pieces were out, I trudged to the table to begin what John probably thought was a nice bonding activity. I just wanted to sit and assemble.
The plan seemed to work at first. In an hour or so, the border was complete. We’d only spoken a few times. Our eyes were on the puzzle and nobody checked the outside temperature once.
My strategy was to put the words together. I grabbed pieces with similar type and pulled them to my side of the table. John’s plan of action was different.
He picked up one piece and squinted at it as if it held secrets to the universe. Then he began a dissertation of where it might belong on the puzzle.
“Now. This could be some of that leprechaun’s hat from Lucky Charms. It’s really green.” He grabbed the box lid and peered. “I think it is! I’ll start looking for more green.” Piece by piece, minute by excruciating minute, John found new bits of cereal graphics and showed them to me. Even if I didn’t look up, I could see his hand clutching each one in turn and holding it up for scrutiny. I grunted and kept working. Things began to go together. I was happy to see cereal names begin to appear.
John, on the other hand, was ecstatic with his progress. Excited. Proud. I knew this, because each piece he put in successfully was CLICKED into place. And after each CLICK, his happy index finger flew to the air and dive-bombed toward the table, tapping the piece triumphantly. CLUNK.
Click. Clunk. Click. Clunk.
I tried to ignore it. He didn’t know how annoying each tap was; they came at random and with a flourish that made me jump in my chair. And we weren’t talking about anything but the puzzle. So that was okay.
Then he started humming. Humming odd little ditties that may have been cereal commercials. After each serenade, he looked at me and waited for his audience to smile.
Click. Clunk. Hum. Our house (and my ears) rattled with these noises until we finished the puzzle. I love him. I really do. But I was happy when the puzzle was finally completed and we could go back to our seasonally stunted lives that find fighting over the thermostat setting a worthy winter activity.
• • •
Contact Robin at email@example.com