The Lost One

By Patricia Bell

I scatter pieces of someone else’s imaginary life in front of me. It has been expertly broken. It is up to me to put it back together.

I start with the smooth edges. The ones that slip through my fingers, that hide beneath the others, sticking and slipping. These ones have an end. A finite outline. You know where they go. I work for an hour, ignoring pins and needles, and the frame starts to take shape until the gaps cry out. I thought I had them all.

I break for lunch. Sort the single person bills. Straighten the towels. Avoid my computer. I pad over my new carpet in my bare feet to catch the magic. The pieces dip and settle when my toes come too close.

I pick up the blue ones, and run the sky through my fingers. Or is it the sea? It’s hard to tell. It pours towards the carpet, heiroglyphed keys twisting and catching in the wrong empty locks. There’s somebody for everybody, my mother used to say. White flecks, like afterthoughts, could be cloud or foam.

The sky is the worst. How can I tell what one goes where? There is no variance in texture; no relief. Just stretches of sameness. It’s a game of luck. I pick a piece. I turn it around and around in my hand. Tiny cardboard jabs remind me that it’s searching for something. I place it in a clear space on the carpet, a smudge of sapphire on a grey canvas, and gather others around it. Each piece can only make sense next to another. Each piece is entirely useless and entirely necessary. I turn them this way and that, trying to see the entire stretch of empty sky in my mind, all the way to the horizon.

I break for fresh air. I stand in my garden, messy and unfamiliar, and stare up at the blue. I squint and hold my hand in a salute to tame the sun. There are no clouds, but there are nuances. Whispers of weather, and of wind. I am determined to find them in the broken sky inside my house.

Armed with wine, I sit again.

I look for people. I want eyes, and hats, and shades of cheek, and single fingers, jabbing. I make faces. By the time the sun is slanting towards dinner my carpet is punctuated with half-smiles and bright dresses upside-down, and ears and heels and a tiny headless couple, embracing. Small gatherings of success. I haven’t placed them inside the unfinished frame yet. I don’t know where they go. I have no sense of orientation: the sky could be lining the grass and the sea running across the cobbles. This piece could be a rock or a pillow. This could be a child’s toe or a ship’s bow.

I feel faint for a second so I put my head between my legs and breathe deeply, in and out.

I pour another wine and walk around the imperfect perimeter of the life on my floor. It’s chaos, but it’s meant to be. Someone planned every separation with mathematical accuracy. It is a beautiful broken because I know it’s all there, just waiting to be put back together.

One piece catches my eye and I pick it up. It is a tiny fractured feather. I can only see a part of it, the tip I think, or perhaps it is the base on an angle. It is white surrounded by blue, with a tiny red flash peeking from an edge. Will it perch on a tipsy hat brim? Will it write a love letter? Will it pendulum down in dreamy sweeps, plucked by the wind from its oblivious owner?

I’m down on all fours, my wine finished in one jerky gulp.

I bat and flick, peer and discard. I am searching for every flash of red, every whisper of white, every wash of blue. It has become suddenly essential that I solve this feathery mystery, that I find a home for this piece with its hints of belonging, or decoration, or poetry, or freedom.

I find promising pieces. I make squares. Story fragments scatter before me, vignettes with no beginning or end. I find feathers, but the wrong ones. They are plump, or yellow, or complete. They are not my lost little one.

I turn on the lamp. The sky has turned brittle, the last of the blue glassy and tenuous. The pieces look different in this light. Less real.

Suddenly, I swoop. I see red, and a corner of white as it shines under the lamp’s sudden illumination. I dive. My wine glass topples, a single crimson drop christening the carpet. I grab.

It’s the right piece, I’m sure of it, but I still don’t see what it means. It is an inconsequential piece that makes no sense until joined with another.

So I pick up my tiny broken feather and I bring it and this missing piece together, and just as they are about to fit, to snap as one, I gasp with a sudden glut of loss, and I close my eyes and imagine a bird, fragile and weightless and embracing the sky, and that is how I stand until I am brave enough to know.

Patricia Bell has her own proofreading, editing, and writing business (www.bellbirdwords.com). Her non-fiction articles, poems, and short stories have been published in various literary journals, anthologies, and magazines.