The puzzle was one piece short, and it was driving Jenny crazy.
She had become something of a puzzle aficionado in quarantine. She started with 500 piece puzzles—of cats, ramen, and cacti—and after mastering those, she went up a tier to 1,000 piece puzzles of Paris, Harry Potter, and the solar system.
Due to a few setbacks, it had taken Jenny some weeks to do this puzzle. She set it up on her coffee table, thinking she could watch TV while building the puzzle, but as she completed the perimeter, she realized it was so big that she could no longer fit her glasses or snacks on the table. One day, she sat on the floor leaning over the table, her wine glass on the floor next to her. She made a sudden move, spotting a piece she had been looking for and knocked the wine onto the carpet. Want to guess what color the wine was? She had to order a new rug.
There was also the incident where Jenny’s corgi, Sherman, sat in her lap, demanding her attention. As she scratched Sherman’s back, he popped his front paws onto the coffee table, hoping Jenny could get a better angle on his long back and knocked a quarter of the puzzle onto the floor. In the scramble of removing Sherman from her lap to retrieve the still-intact pieces, they were torn apart, and she had to start that section over.
Finished but for one piece. Which piece you ask? It was a piece of Venus’s face, of course. Jenny had put together her dainty nose and plush lips, but she was missing Venus’s left eye. The one that seems to look directly at the viewer. The window into her soul. If it were a piece of the background—a tree, the sea, the shell—she could endeavor to ignore it. But Venus’s face? The main subject of the puzzle? Jenny felt like she was losing her mind.
She checked and rechecked the box. She looked under the coffee table, couch, and rug. She checked Sherman’s dog bed. She checked her clothes and socks, in case it stuck to their bottoms. She even checked her vacuum cleaner. The missing piece was nowhere to be seen.
She could barely focus on work. She couldn’t cook anything requiring more attention than pasta or cereal. She woke up in the middle of the night, haunted by dreams of people with empty faces.
Finally, she decided to contact the site where she purchased the puzzle. When she explained the situation, the customer service rep asked, “Do you have a child or a pet? It’s possible that they ate the piece.”
This suggestion sent Jenny into a blind panic. She started following Sherman around the apartment, looking for signs of distress. She checked his poop every time they went for a walk, bringing the doggy bags back to the apartment to study the feces before flushing them down the toilet.
After a week of constant vigilance, Jenny ruled out Sherman’s culpability in the missing piece debacle and contacted the site again. This time, they offered to send Jenny a new puzzle. It was not until the puzzle arrived that Jenny realized she would have to spend a considerable amount of time searching through all of the new puzzle’s pieces to find Venus’s face.
She began searching for her missing piece, taking handfuls of the puzzle out and putting them on the floor to examine.
She discovered Venus’s eye within an hour, but she couldn’t stop building the new puzzle. She became manic. She felt compelled to finish it. She needed to snap every piece into place to make sure that there wasn’t another missing piece.
At 10:08 P.M., Jenny finished the puzzle. It had taken her just four hours to build. She placed the last piece that lay beside her on the ground, sat back on her heels, and took in her handiwork.
“No!” she said, firmly, shaking her head.
But it was true; this puzzle was missing a piece too. This time, Venus’s nipple.
Jenny stared at the puzzle. She looked over at Sherman, happily lounging in his bed. She looked back at Venus. She looked at the gaping whole where her left breast should be. Jenny let out a chuckle, which turned into a giggle, which morphed into full-body hysterics.
Sherman leaped up from his bed in alarm and came to Jenny’s aid, licking her face and breaking apart the puzzle with his little back paws. This made Jenny laugh even harder. Minutes later, tears streaming down her face, Jenny sat up with a hiccup. She gazed at her incomplete puzzle once more and removed Venus’s left eye. She walked over to the coffee table and pushed it into place.
Jenny now stared at her completed puzzle. Sherman made his way over to Jenny’s side. Jenny scratched his head. “I wish I could see her for real,” she said.
After a moment, she stood up from the floor and went to her laptop. She pulled out her credit card and booked a $800 ticket to Florence, optimistic that quarantine would be over by Spring of 2021, and that she would never have to do another puzzle again.