Missing Pieces

Ruth

“Ruth!” I hear a man screaming from the other room. “You’re missin’ it, hon.”

“I can’t hear you right now.” I scrabble through the chocolate-colored drawers in the kitchen then pull on the gold handles to the matching, shiny cabinets. “I’m looking for my pieces.” Where are they? They’re always so hard to find. I walk into the hallway over a neatly trimmed, blue putting green. Or is it carpeting? It doesn’t matter. I’ve got to find the pieces. I pull on the closet door. A string dangles in front of me from the ceiling. I pull on it. A yellow light shines in front of me illuminating the shadows inside. Oh, my gosh! What was that! “Have you seen this thing? A light just came on when I pulled this string!”

The man says nothing so I hunt with my hands through the hanging clothes. They’re in here somewhere. My hands part the clothes. The hangers squeak like rats. The rats are in my head.

Those pieces, where are they? The pieces are hard to find, not like putting the puzzle’s border together. I can do that easily. I bet I could find them then. I look beneath the sweaters stacked on the shelf above the hangers. They aren’t there. The pieces are always so hard to find.

“Ruth. Come’ ere a second.”

Maybe he knows where the pieces are. I move to the other room as fast as I can.

“Hi.” I greet the stranger. “How are you?”

“I’m fine, Ruth.” He inhales, and raising his eyebrows, closes his eyes. He opens his eyes, looks at me, and shakes his head.

I study his face. He looks like he was once handsome, but now he has a red nose and thin red lines on his cheeks under the surface of the skin. His hair is silver and parted to the side.

He looks at the TV again.

“How did you know my name? And how did you get in here?”

“It’s me, Jack, your husband,” he says.

“Oh.” I stop. “Do you know where my pieces are?”

“Ruth, we’ve been over this a hundred times. That puzzle is finished and framed. It’s with your daughter in Stockbridge. Remember we gave them to her after we got married last year. Does that ring a bell? Us married, puzzle pieces in Massachusetts.” The lines on his forehead bunch.

“No.” I’m not married. I’ve just lost my pieces.

“We are.” He says and looks at the TV. “All the puzzles are finished and framed. Your daughter, she, has them all.” His body is stiff as he talks. He closes his eyes again, and he sighs.

“Are you tired?” I ask him. He opens his eyes again, and he looks back at me.

“No, I’m fine, Ruth.” He exhales through his teeth. “Why don’t you sit down and watch some golf with me?” He points to a green leather couch across the room.

I walk around his footstool and have a seat. It’s a golf tournament. A man with a red sweater and black pants takes a big swing at his golf ball. A memory shoots through me of Robert playing golf. Wait! I sit up straight. “Where’s Robert? I think we have a tee time today.”

The man tries to smile.

“You play golf? My husband, Robert, is really good. He is a scratch golfer. We play everyday. He is so good that when the pros come to town they call him up to play.” The man doesn’t say anything, just looks at the TV.

“Yes. I played golf with your husband while he was here.” He looks at me then turns again.

“He is a scratch golfer,” I say.

“Yes. He was.” The man doesn’t look at me. He finishes his drink, looks down at his glass, and shakes it; the ice rattles inside. “Would you be my girl and get me another drink?”

“Sure.” I get up as quickly as I can. “Comin’ up.” I take the cool, wet glass from him.

“Bourbon with just a splash of water, on the rocks.” He turns up the sound on the TV.

I walk into the kitchen. “Where do you keep the poison?”

“The bourbon is in the pantry to the left of the refrigerator.” He yells above the TV “It says Jim Beam on it.”

I walk barefooted. The tile is cool. The kitchen is dark and haunted. The finish on the chocolate cabinets shines in the lighting. I reach the cabinet, open it, and look inside. Jim Beam. I grab the half full bottle and slam the cabinet shut.

“Remember to put a little ice in there, too, will ya, babe.” He says louder than the TV.

I reach inside the freezer . . .

It’s February. The snowball stings in my hands. Robert is calling. I can’t hear him so I just smile, feeling the cold on my face. He tells me in his scratchy New England accent, “I love yuh smile, Rutie.” I throw snow at him as he whispers it again. “I love yuh, Rutie.” I never took compliments well but he knows that . . .

Posted in Fiction, Short Stories