Posted Tuesday, Jan 27th 2015 @ 14:48

I was still walking on eggshells when I visited Jill that evening. I’d never lost a family member, let alone a parent; so I hadn't really the means to understand her anguish. It was still fresh, too. We’d spoken since; enough for me to know the details. Still, she hadn't really broken yet. She was all cumulus-- with every cloud at capacity; but not a single drop on the pavement. Not yet.

“My car’s been acting up,” she said, idly. “A few of the engine mounts broke loose and it’s clanking about on the bumps and corners.” Jill tended to default to small talk, and I really couldn't blame her. Especially then.

“Hm,” I noted, agreeably. “Nothing particularly hot on the mounts. You can probably pin ‘em down with a few zip-ties.”

“Couldn't hurt.”

The air had a particular bite that winter. More rain than usual, and the cold was holding on well past its welcome. I noticed it as I stepped into the flat; I had held the door open a bit too long. I peeled a glove off with my teeth and took to another with my empty hand as I loosened my satchel and placed it on the end-table a bit too casually.

Jill’s flat was always dimly lit and uncomfortably cluttered. The furniture was rough oak, which looked almost like cherry in the pale yellow lamplight. It’s easy to admire a creature that prefers the flicker of a candle to electric light. A few books were piled on a plush red ottoman, under which a very lazy Samoyed convincingly pretended to be a bear-skin rug. This all seemed in place and in character. The keen preservation of the surroundings was in fact the very reason I noticed something out of place amidst the clutter.

It was a small green box: placed with intention beneath the hook where Jill kept her keys. I took a step towards it and adjusted my eyeglasses. “A puzzle?” I asked inquisitively, attempting to further the uncomfortable small-talk. “Don’t you hate puzzles?”

“Yeah,” she replied, with something of a quake in her voice. I made the connection, but it was too late. It was all coming down, now. “It was for Mom. I thought we could-- nevermind.” She stopped herself, overcome with embarrassment. “It’s stupid. Forget I said anything.”

I let out a small, stifled breath. Kath loved puzzles. Jill had wanted to work on it with her mother in her final days. But these affairs never seem to go as planned, and the puzzle remained on the little table by the door. I had a feeling it would stay there for some time.

The puzzle, for the record, was five hundred pieces; and its image was of a Basset Hound with his head cocked slightly to the left. Nothing special or interesting or beautiful. Just a stupid little dog, standing there. I don’t know why that image was so striking to me, but it never left. When I think of Kath, I think of that puzzle on the end table, Jill’s eyes welling up before the storm, and an ordinary Basset Hound.