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The Puzzle

by John Hawfield

A man stands before his puzzle. Its pieces, shiny and new, are all there, laid out before him like the shattered remnants of a mirror reflecting time itself. The puzzle looks vast and undoubtedly will be complicated. But this does not daunt the man, for all that matters now is to solve that which he has sought since its conception.

He picks up the first piece, running his finger slowly along its twisting edges, examining the intricate shape. The man tries to make sense of it, to understand exactly where it will fit, before finally setting it in place. His confidence rises as each piece under careful scrutiny reveals its secrets, showing him exactly where it belongs, and why. Each one becomes a tiny monument instantiating his achievement.

But with every piece solved, the man notices that there seems to be more and more appearing in their stead, filling their absence. And each new arrival is more challenging than the last. No longer are the shapes well defined, becoming more obscure, more oblique. He presses himself to find a way to make them all fit, certain that the pieces must have an order, that there must be a solution. What does not fit is set aside, becoming a discarded memory abandoned like so many hopes and dreams.

Somewhere, seasons pass. The man is now impatient with the puzzle, having devoted every minute of every hour of every day toward its completion. He only glances at each new piece, no longer trying to find a meaning, instead trying just to find the solution. With the puzzle only halfway completed, time is wearing heavily upon him.

The man is now very old. The years hang heavily from his tired eyelids. He reaches out a shaky hand for the final piece of the puzzle. But he does not examine it, does not try to find where it will fit. Instead he holds it in his hand allowing his nearly blind eyes, for the first time in many years, to see the results of his labor. The puzzle stretches beyond his grasp of vision, encompassing all around him, its expanse quickly filling with great black abysms of nothingness.

He turns the last piece over in his hand to find that it is colorless, shapeless, meaningless. The puzzle cannot be completed. In frustration the man tears apart the puzzle, scattering the pieces of his life across the years. He drops to his knees, feeling his failure crushing him.

He is now dying. In his mind he can see the puzzle spreading out anew before him. He can see himself as a young man picking up the first piece of the puzzle, examining its intricate shape, the determination spreading across his face. He can see himself surrounded by the ever-changing pieces of the puzzle, each one stacking up against him. And now that he can finally see, it is too late. His eyes have gone black, blacker than he believed they ever would be.

Copyright © 2006 by John Hawfield

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