Here’s a clue — Walmart is not guilty

By Renee Phile

A few weeks ago, my bestie from high school, Caren, flew up from Orlando to spend the week with me. I have only seen her maybe four times since we graduated from high school nearly 16 years ago, so, as you can imagine, we wanted to fill our time with plenty of meaningful, friendship-building activities.

After she arrived at the airport, we grabbed a bite to eat and then headed to the store to pick up groceries for the week. We decided, as we were throwing salad, quinoa and other organic items (I mean ice cream and four types of cookies) into the cart, that we needed some type of bonding activity. A puzzle was just the answer. We spent around 45 minutes in the puzzle aisle examining every single one while the ice cream in our cart melted. Right before we walked out of the store puzzleless, because I didn’t want to tackle an under the sea scene and she didn’t care to work on a Star Wars one, the answer, once again, became very, very clear: a 750-piece with a pink and purple sky, with mountains, a river and trees in their autumn peak, all surrounding a white castle flashed right before our eyes.

Our eyes met and we knew.

This was the one.

That night we started construction on the border. Our border. She took the sky, and I took the foreground, which were those blasted, confusing swirls of autumn trees.

Caren’s job allows her to work from her computer, so she stayed home with our puzzle while I went to work the next day. Around 2 p.m., a nagging feeling appeared in my mind. I sent her a text:

Me: 2:14 You better not be working on the puzzle

Caren: 2:16 I’m not

Me: 2:17 Yes you are

Caren: 2:18 Only two pieces

Me: 2:18 Stop!

Caren: 2:19 OK, no more. I will wait for you

An hour later. . .

Me: 3:15 Stop working on the puzzle!

Caren: 3:17 Only two more pieces

Me: 3:20 Ugh! I’m leaving work. Be there soon. Leave the puzzle alone.

We worked on our puzzle on and off through afternoons and evenings. Occasionally, my boys would help, but they typically lost interest within a few minutes. As the days crept by, we realized something was off. We had yet to connect the sides with the border, and we just kept thinking we had not found the right piece or there were missing pieces. The bottom border was almost a wavy line. I had put the bottom together and, while it was just a nagging feeling, I truly thought maybe Walmart had sold us a defective puzzle.

“I think this piece goes here, but I just need some scissors to trim the edge, and then it will fit,” I said, halfway kidding. Caren exploded with laughter, and we continued to work on our project.

One night after a very exciting SCC basketball game, we plopped down at the kitchen table to work on our puzzle. Caren peered at the bottom border pieces and burst into hysterical laughter, like to the point where I thought something might be wrong with her.

“Are you kidding me?” she said. “These don’t fit! This one doesn’t fit! This one doesn’t fit! Renee! You have been forcing pieces together that don’t fit!” I was a bit embarrassed, but mostly relieved, even if the problem was me.  Laughing, she pulled apart the border. She connected some, reconnected others, the wavy border straightened, and the mystery was solved. Shew. No more blaming Walmart.

Caren left for home before the puzzle was finished. A bunch of trees were left, and they literally looked as if autumn had thrown up. The oranges, reds and yellows all swirled together near the bottom of the puzzle. I didn’t go back to it right away. One Friday night, though, I decided I wanted to finish the puzzle, glue it together, and frame it.  I spent an hour or so connecting piece by piece until it was finished. Every piece fit. I snapped a picture of the masterpiece and texted it to Caren.

The next morning, I woke up, and with coffee in hand, I admired my work. Suddenly, I noticed something very peculiar. There was a piece missing from the sky. Just one. Gone.

I figured one of my boys snagged it to be funny. I asked each of them, “Have you seen this piece?”

“Nope.” David said, “Maybe you should ask Kevin.”

“Kevin, have you seen this piece?”

“No! I promise! David probably knows!”

With each passing hour, my technique changed:

“I really want to frame this picture and hang it up. Could you please give me back the missing piece?”

“Look, I don’t care who took it or why. Just put it back. Have it back by the morning at 6 a.m. I don’t even need to know who stole it.”

“No one is leaving the house until the piece is back.”

“We aren’t eating again until the piece is back.”

“Stealing puzzle pieces from your mom’s puzzle and lying are sins.”


No admissions. None.

I even questioned Bailey, my 2-year-old Rottweiler, and she claimed that she had no idea where the piece had gone.

Days later, the piece is still gone. No one will admit to it, and if it doesn’t appear by Friday, I’m just going to glue the puzzle and frame it with a hole in the sky. I’m done questioning the suspects. I don’t know what else to do.

I’m completely puzzled.   PS

Renee Phile teaches English composition at Sandhills Community College.

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