In a box in the lower cupboard of my china cabinet, I found a puzzle that belonged to my brother Stephen. I lifted the puzzle from under a leftover packet of number two pencils and a package of red stick pens. I spread the various supplies in the box across the table, then disregarded them all to gaze at the puzzle.
I moved the pieces around, as I have done countless times since I came to possess it. I touched the contours of the empty space into which those trying to solve the puzzle slip pieces from time to time, juggling others left, right, up, down. I almost completed the picture two or three times, a decade ago. I almost get it this time: but it confounds me. I search the Internet for a photograph of the original work, and stare at it. I think to myself, If only I could figure out where each piece goes relative to the other. I ask myself, Is it possible Stephen took some of the pieces out and re-ordered them? Is this a puzzle that cannot be solved?
After an hour or so, I shoved the puzzle into a drawer in my secretary. I sat, quiet, in my little chair; I pulled the drawer back open, took the puzzle out, tried one more time, failed one more time. But I’ve begun again now. It no longer hides under the pile of office supplies purchased for my son over his years of bringing home lists for each new school year. All of those — the pencils he never needed, the pink erasers, the dried-out glue sticks — go back into the lower cupboard. The puzzle stays out; and from time to time, I fool with it.
I think I can solve it now. It will just take time. I don’t mind; it no longer burns my hand when I take it out, it no longer reminds me of my brother’s death. I smile when I see it. I picture him leaning over the bar at O’Connell’s Pub, shirt sleeves folded back, cigarette in one hand, rocks glass in the other, looking down at this puzzle with his rueful half-smile. I wonder if he ever solved it. He certainly left it jumbled, ready to challenge me. I touch the plastic squares that he once touched, and somehow, I feel as though he still sits on that bar stool, flashing a grin in my direction, daring me to succeed.