A group of writers in Chichester coming together once a month for inspiration, collaboration and sensation
As he turned the key in the back door lock, Dan thought about the last time he’d been here. It had been over three years since the final, most tumultuous row ever. The one where he had stomped off to his room, slamming the door behind him, later to decide, stewing on his bed, staring at the flowery curtains, to just go. Leave and never come back. He was sixteen after all, nearly sixteen and a half. It was warm, it was the summer, his GCSE’s were over. He knew his grades were going to be rubbish and it wasn’t worth hanging about for them. And so he’d packed a few things into a small bag and slipped out the back door just as the clock ticked 2am.
Now he was back. The moon was full and bright in the sky and the blind had not been pulled down in the kitchen. Some things had changed since he’d been gone. The kitchen was new. Just as well, he thought, remembering how he had scorched the work surfaces with hot pans, pulled drawers out and doors off their hinges in his tempers. He didn’t have so many tempers now. Perhaps it was because he was mellowing, his hormones calming down. Or perhaps it was because they weren’t part of him any more, taunting him with their constant moues of disappointment.
In the dining room the jigsaw was exactly where he thought it would be. He’d spent a long time choosing it. Remembering how they didn’t like chocolate box scenes of thatched cottages despite their propensity for chintz. It was two thousand pieces and a picture of Van Gogh’s sunflowers, a classic, he felt. They’d never encouraged his interest in art.
“You can’t make a living out of that,” they would say. Back in their house he could hear their voices again. “Disappointing,” one would start. “Why can’t you try harder?” the other would say. “Surely you can’t really be this stupid?” they would ask. It hadn’t taken much to drive him out the house but there weren’t a whole lot of places for him to go in this tiny village. No boxing or martial arts clubs for him to join. Just a bible group. Not likely. Smoking and drinking on the recreation ground with the other losers, that was his real home.
He’d left the jigsaw on the doorstep late on Christmas Eve. One of their neighbours was away and he had broken into their shed. It was surprisingly cosy, and he was finding it amusing living at the bottom of a garden like a gnome. He’d imagined them picking it up off the step all frosty on Christmas morning, both dressed and groomed for the day. They weren’t ones for dressing gowns. She would have earrings and perfume on, he’d be wearing a bow-tie. His obsession with bow-ties would be funny if it wasn’t tragic. He actually took them seriously. He had no idea how ridiculous he looked. Dan sighed.
The jigsaw was there, on the dining table. They’d already completed the edges. He could picture the pair of them, just like he’d seen them year after year poring over the box pulling out the pieces with the straight sides, putting together the frame. He wondered who they thought the jigsaw was from. They would never think it was from him, would they?
He knew that they’d tried to find him for a while after he’d gone. He’d seen his picture in the London papers. They’d guessed that right. Where else would he go, though? There were no brothers or sisters, they were too old to have parents themselves anymore so there was no little old Gran to go and hole up with. He’d been on his own.
And then he hadn’t been on his own, then he’d been kipping on the floor of some squat smoking delicious crack pipes and stealing bags on the street. Just what they thought he would do. He’d kept drawing though, and painting. Often on the walls in the street.
Being arrested wasn’t fun. Neither was being banged up. Still it wasn’t for long. That brief had been superb. She was what they should have been. She thought he was an artist. She’d got him into college. And found his GCSE results. He’d done better than he’d thought. An ‘A’ in art. She’d agreed they didn’t need to know where he was. He wasn’t a minor, after all.
He sat down and looked at the jigsaw. Yes, it was a tricky one. He flicked his torch off and a desk lamp on. He wasn’t worried about waking them. His nightly brandies knocked him out and she wore earplugs to keep out his drunken snoring. Plus, their bedroom was in the attic. It was warmer in here than the shed. He slotted a piece of yellow in.
He’d always done the jigsaws when he was growing up. But they’d never known. Like now, he’d do it whilst they were asleep. But back then, he would painstakingly remove the pieces that he’d placed before he went to bed. They’d drag him up at lunchtime, throwing their accusations about of laziness, unaware that he’d been up the whole night. They never once noticed that pieces had moved around the table. He couldn’t remember exactly where everything had started but it didn’t matter since they both thought that the other had moved them.
Now though, now he’d slip away back to the shed at four in the morning and leave behind a couple of hours work. There’s no way they could miss this. They must think that the jigsaw is doing itself. He smiled at the thought. Or perhaps they were rowing about which of them was doing it. Perhaps she was saying he was doing it while he was drunk and couldn’t remember. Perhaps he was accusing her of a failing memory, the madness that comes with advanced age, always hitting where it hurts.
Three nights later and the jigsaw was nearly finished. It looked like they were saving a few last pieces for the morning. The sunny summery flowers contrasted with the garden outside, ravaged by the winter’s frosts, all soggy brown sticks and icy mud.
Dan took a tube of superglue out of his pocket and picked up the bottom left hand corner and stuck it to the polished mahogany surface of his parents’ antique dining table. Piece by piece he removed the outer edge of the puzzle, gluing one on another in a pile.
When he’d taken all of the edge up he started working his way in a spiral around the inside. Piece by piece, he piled them up.
As a barn owl hooted outside and the first glimmer of light winked that the day was coming, he carefully placed the last piece onto the thin, tall, cardboard tower, now not far off the ceiling. He hopped off the chair he had stood on in his socks, making his sculpture from a picture. He picked up a silver cigarette box and a small gold carriage clock from the sideboard and tucked them inside his jacket.
That should be enough for a flight to Thailand, he thought, as he shoved his feet in his tatty trainers and locked the back door behind him, throwing his key into the shrubbery.