I scribble some words onto my hand as she practices a cantata from Après un rêve in her bedroom. “Who’s there?” She calls out. I put the pen and paper into my pocket and hide under the table. “Honey?” She says. Through the floral-patterned table cloth, I see her feet skitter across the linoleum floor. She pauses for a moment in front of the table, but then just walks to the sink, fills up a glass of water and goes back into her room. She hasn’t noticed me. I slip back up onto the chair and finish writing my note. “And I had to borrow our popcorn maker,” I write, “Sincerely, the boy from next door.” I hear her keys jingle, so I pull the popcorn machine out of the cabinet, and tuck it under my arm. I crawl through the hallway window, and tip-toe across the shared roof towards my bedroom.
When I get home from work the next evening, I find a note on my window that says, “There’s a box by your side of the roof. Please don’t surprise me anymore.” I reach my hands out of the window and pick up the cardboard box lying there on the perimeter of the divider.
I spread out all the puzzle pieces from the box onto my dining room table, and search around for the corners and edges. From across the roof, I hear her playing opera music again, this time it’s the first movement from Sonatine, played on cello and piano. She’s probably setting the table for dinner right now, laying out our old tupperware containers and putting a pot of hot water on the stove for tea. As I piece together the handmade puzzle, I pour some scotch whiskey into the cold cup of coffee that’s been sitting there since last night, when I’d made up my mind to sneak over there one last time. The coffee blots out the whiskey color, turning everything brown, but I can still taste the tinge of alcohol when I swallow. After all the corners and edges are framed, I put the center pieces in place. The last piece is a hastily cut-out fragment of my face, which in the 8×12 photoprint is squished right into hers from the night I surprised her at her first opera recital.
“What are the chances,” she’d told me that night, “that we’d move in next to each other? We work so well together. It’s like we were meant to be.” I remember saying back, “sometimes things actually work out for people.”
I put the whiskey and coffee down, and smooth my fingers across the completed puzzle. Each split between the shards causes a slight bump along on my trail. I thought a handmade puzzle would be a great one-year anniversary present. That was a few years ago, before the other guy came into the picture. I look down and see the scribbles on the back of my hand from yesterday, the makeshift rough draft I’d scrawled out in the moment. “I want my popcorn machine back…” It reads. I flip over and look at my palm. “And I want to put our pieces back together. If you don’t love me anymore, give me back our puzzle so I can do it myself.”
more by DOMINICK NERO
photograph by Leeroy