S&R Fiction

Scholars and Rogues Fiction: “The Jigsaw Man Explains His Work,” by Samuel Vargo

The Jigsaw Man Explains His Work

The puzzle is almost complete. All I need to do is fit together about two hundred more pieces of this 5,000-bit monster. Here comes the tricky part, though. The last are the toughest to crack. Too much gray. It’s a beauty, no doubt. “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee,” by Rembrandt. I was considering gluing its back, then framing it and hanging it on the wall. I hardly ever think of making one of these puzzles a wall ornament, but in this case I’m strongly considering it.

When it’s done, it will be so large I’ll need to get a frame as big as a children’s swimming pool. It’s covering the table. The oblong oak board takes up most of the living room. The painting shows a calamitous scene of Christ and his apostles involved with that violent storm at sea, with the boat tossing about violently. It illustrates and epitomizes in solemn oils the very earliest days of Christianity.

Though I’m not so much a religious man, it seems as if I put together a lot of puzzles of great paintings depicting the life of Jesus. We all worship in our own ways. I’ll leave the Rembrandt on the dining room table for a while, look at it as an accomplishment, tear it apart, put it back into its box; and then I’ll place the box in a corner of the living room on top of all the others I’ve completed.

I love putting together puzzles. The tactile nature of this avocation brings me serenity. I’m on a fixed income and finances are negligible. Hence, choices of hobbies are also limited. I’m very happy piecing together jigsaws. See, I tried going on facebook for a time, but after sending out throngs of `friends’ requests’ and getting so few takers, I decided to abandon it for my longtime love of assembling these stiff cardboard visuals.

I have a handful of nieces and nephews that accepted me as a facebook friend, but their interest in electronically looking me up faded quickly. Young people are too involved with other young people. There’s no time for an old goat like me. But I understand. Who needs friends, anyhow, particularly those generated through a computer!

Oh, that facebook frenzy! How exciting it was at first! Soon, it only led to disappointment. No comments. Not even an occasional tag or like click. I was alone again. Besides, with no laptop or cable-line computer system in my home, I had to venture to a local library branch to use public computers. Sometimes I’d wait an hour to be able to log into one. Then, after a half hour, when the computer room was busy, I’d be kicked off. Then I’d have to scan my library card again, wait around for my turn at a station, and most likely I’d be kicked off in another short period.

Such a vicious cycle for such small results. Sure, I may have continued with facebook had I found even a tinge of success in generating a social network of my own. At times I’d get a friend request and I’d always confirm, but usually these friends turned out to be opportunistic types who wanted me to send them money. Some of the inquiries were even of salacious and sordid intent. I’m on a fixed income and have little money for charity. I’m a charity case myself. And I’m hardly the type to be looking for any sort of wildlife. But you shouldn’t consider me a lonely man. I’m not lonely, no. I’m not lonely at all.

I get jigsaw puzzles at yard sales, church bazaars, Chinese auctions and from a few neighbors who look for them for me. A woman who lives down the street, a Mrs. Jeffers, brings one by every month or so. She says one of her hobbies of late is looking for puzzles for me. She admits that she has no interest in putting together these tedious, time-consuming things but she says she’s happy I have such a wonderful pastime. She lauds me for having a hobby.

Mrs. Jeffers is in and out the door all too quickly. I’d really like to talk to her a bit when she calls, but with a husband and children to tend to, she’s a very busy woman. I completely understand. I don’t even know her first name. I’ve never asked; I don’t think so, anyhow. Sometimes she brings me a large bowl of soup she’s made. I always accept her gift and act amicably, but I quickly dump it into the garbage disposal. I never eat food prepared by another. I don’t even eat at restaurants.

Sometimes I become so involved with this that I forget to eat. My doctor says I must force myself to consume some sort of food regularly since I’m diabetic. I have to watch what I eat, too. Diabetics are limited as to what they’re allowed and my “do not eat” list is long while my “this I can eat list” is short. Most of the foods on the list I can eat aren’t appealing while those on my banned litany are quite delectable.

Sometimes my sugar level is low, at other times it’s high. My doctor wants me to check my sugar level often. He says I ought to do it daily. I don’t, though. I normally do the pin-prick routine once a week. Sometimes once every two weeks. Tell you the truth, it’s not high on my list of priorities. I should eat better, no doubt. The other day all I had was some jello, a ham sandwich with cheese, and a granola bar. I think that was yesterday, but I’m not sure.

This jagged piece has been stumping me for hours now. It doesn’t look like much, such a wee widget, it is. With three bubbles on its side, it’s quite an oddball. Only a few small areas of the canvass remain. Parts of this puzzle comprised of off-colored hues were fitted together first. Most of these are dark blue and is water near the boat. Other spots are browns and tinges of tans, consisting mostly of the boat’s hull and the disciples’ robes. Since these are little spaces, they came together quickly. The painting then manifested outward, emanating from these off-colored zones of rare tones. What’s left are two anomalous areas. From the pieces left, I can tell they’re both the same shade of gray. Now the entirety sprawls before me with two relatively small holes inside. With all the unfit pieces laid out on a far side of the table, I sometimes can eagle eye the right fit. Some odd bubble jutting out in a particular way that I know will fit the piece I’m holding in my hand, that’s how it works. It usually comes in a flash! Then I find other bits that match. Here and there across the table, I have an assortment of two, three or four pieces fitting together. But getting them all into the greater puzzle proves challenging. I guess that’s why it’s called a puzzle.

I worked as a pressman for the local newspaper for years. One day a little more than six years ago, a spool of paper fell on me and I injured my spine. I was in the hospital for weeks recovering. Then I was in a rehabilitation center for months. The rehab was part of a complex that was actually a large nursing home. I was there for a time and discovered the joys of piecing together jigsaws. In the rehab’s day-room, dozens of boxes of these wonderful things were stacked on a shelf. Two elderly ladies and I, all confined to wheelchairs, sat around a long dining room table spending most of our waking hours working on them. How we hated when the physical or occupational therapists would come and call us to treatment! We were so involved that we didn’t want to leave our obsession, even for only a half hour or forty-five minutes. When I was done lifting small dumbbells; stretching those odd colored, long rubber bands; and riding for a few minutes on a stationary exercise bike; I always insisted on being wheeled back into the day room.

I couldn’t return to the press room upon my release. The physical nature of printing newspapers was out of the question. I didn’t know what to do, so I went to dollar stores and hobby shops, buying jigsaws to interlock. I began with 500-piece puzzles, soon graduating to 1,000-piece and 2,000-piecers. These days, I’ll tackle any sized job, but I prefer 5,000- to 7,500-piece monstrosities.

As soon as I finish one, it’s not long before another’s in pieces, laying before me. I’d really rather work, but cannot. I’ve always liked to work with my hands and there’s a certain mental challenge to jigsawing. My doctor says the hard labor of being a pressman would quickly put me right back into the hospital. With my back being in such decrepit condition, I’d even have a hard time holding a desk job and sitting all day long. I have no college degree or skills that could even qualify me for such a position. All I’ve ever known has been working in newspaper pressrooms where newspapers are printed. That’s all I want to do, really, and if I became part of the workaday world again, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

It’s getting very late. Three o’clock, the witch’s hour. I’ve been up, oh, it seems like days now, working on “The Storm on the Sea of Galilee.” I want to get it completed so it can sit on the table for a few days. I have another jigsaw I want to get to, pronto, of another great painting. This one, “The Holy Trinity,” showing Christ’s crucifixion, is much more colorful. It should be an easier nut to crack, too. Oh, I’m sick of the color gray, having stared at it for such a long time. “The Holy Trinity” was painted in the 15th Century and is today a famous museum piece somewhere in Europe. The boxes holding great paintings give descriptions of the works on the sides of their boxes. I’ve learned quite a bit about art just from jigsaws.

I hope Mrs. Jeffers doesn’t bring over another box anytime soon. I don’t want too many boxes on my ‘to do’ list since I can’t wait to start a new one, long before I put together the one that’s on the table. That’s just my nature. If I could, I’d piece them all together at once, in a matter of a half hour! Then what in the world would I do all day and all night?!

Look at all those boxes there, lining the wall! Past trophies of accomplished puzzle work! I keep all the boxes containing puzzles I’ve assembled on one side of the room and those I haven’t pieced together sit on the other side. Look at the side holding those already accomplished! It makes me proud seeing them, standing on top of each other like a legion of soldiers! In my case, maybe they’re all newspapermen!

It’s time for bed, but if only I could get a few of these bits to match up. I’ll stay up a few minutes more. It won’t be long. There’s work to be done here. When I get this completed, how wonderful it will look on the table! A great masterpiece! How I’ll love seeing it for a few days, before I tear it apart, place its pieces gently back into the box, then stand on tippy-toes, putting it on top of all the others. Then it’s time for “The Holy Trinity,” unless, of course, Mrs. Jeffers brings me another that looks more intriguing and inviting.