She sits at her glass table—the one he dislikes—sorting through the pieces of a new jigsaw puzzle. She sorts by pattern, colour and design. She lifts a piece, judges it with squinted eyes, moves it to a pile, and lifts another. He often teased her for this pleasure, rolling his eyes and letting out a huff of air that sounded like a hog’s snort whenever he saw a puzzle laid out. In those happy times, she’d giggle and slip her arms around his neck, nibble his ear and whisper, “What else am I to do when you’re not here?”
Most of the edges are in place. That’s the easy part. And so satisfying too, to mark out a territory, leaving a blank interior to be filled section by section, piece by piece, until a picture emerges after a great labour.
The puzzle is part of a vigil. She’s lit a candle too, and in the flickering light, her wine glass shines. She takes a sip, savours it, makes a toast to him. It’s a wine he likes, one they’ve shared together often. And the music that plays, his favourite too. With enough details and enough concentration, the spell will work. She’s certain. The phone will ring and it will be him.
“Ruby-rube,” he’ll say, “it’s me.”
She works for an hour, fitting together a section of the puzzle that forms a swirling skirt. When this passes, she thinks, and we’re together again, I’ll dance for him. She shuts her eyes and creates a dance in her head.
From her computer at the other end of the table, two flat notes announce a new message. Her eyes fly open. She leaps up, bangs her knee against the table and puzzle pieces skid.
Never mind, she thinks, it doesn’t matter.
Nothing matters except the message.
She clicks on New Messages and taps her fingers. Her heart sings, Let it be from him, let it be from him.
His name appears at the top of the column, and she sinks into the chair, choking back a sob.
Aloud, she cries, “Oh, thank you, thank you,” hurriedly dragging the mouse to his name. Click. In the moments of waiting, her heart beats wildly and a flush covers her cheeks.
She reads. “Hey—I’m writing now after these couple of months because I think it’s time for closure regarding this stupid thing we’ve been doing.”
She reels. Closure? Stupid? What does he mean? What is he saying? She reads on, each word a stab.
As she reads it on the computer screen, as she drags the mouse, finds the arrow in the corner and clicks, she wishes fervently that it had come in the mail. Not like this. She wants something to hold that she might crumple and throw across the room. She hides her face in her hands, wishing that when she came to raise her head, the crumpled page would be there lying on the unswept floor. A physical presence. And if she so wanted, she could cross the room, pick it up and unfurl it, smooth it out to read again. She might then rip it into pieces, hear the crisp sound of paper tearing, hold the pieces of her romance in her hands, a solid thing, his offering to her. She could watch the pieces fall to the floor, her hope turned into so many hard words, so few words in the end.
A moan escapes. It’s over. Just like that.
If his words had come in the mail, if he had sent a proper letter, if she had something solid to rip and shred, she might after a while gather the fragments, a confetti of sorrow, and press them to her cheek wet with angry tears. She might then even burn them and hear the hiss of her tears as the fragments blaze.
But this. The cool glow of the computer screen. The words there untouchable. The requirement that she must scroll downward every few lines, drag the mouse, place the arrow in the corner, click. Drag and place and click all with her shaking hand. Pressing too hard. Going too far. Missing something.
There’s no satisfaction in this. Her tears freeze under the spell of the screen. Anger fills her, flows through her veins and chokes every nerve cell. She feels each organ overtaken—her heart, her brain, her stomach, her spleen, her womb—but what she feels has no expression.
She can only receive.