Louise clung to the cat until he turned into a jigsaw puzzle. His ears changed first. The pieces fell in clatters. Hearing footsteps in the hall, she kicked the puzzle under her bed and tied the bandages back on her hands. She listed the things she couldn’t touch. The garden had grown back. She didn’t know where her mother had hidden the jigsaws of magpies and rose bushes.
She walked to school behind her sisters, Mary and Enid. Their laughter was like spinning thorns. Her mother wouldn’t hold her hand. In the playground, Louise wandered alone, her hands hidden up her sleeves. The winds smelled of muffled words. When she touched daisies, she felt only her bandages.
Mary and Enid searched treetops and wardrobes, calling their cat’s name. At night, Louise put the puzzle together. She slept with it on her bed. When she woke, she pretended the cold quiet was fur sounds. The cat was the colour of river ash. Sometimes, she put the pieces in her pockets.
One day, Louise sat with the jigsaw. She’d given the cat a new name. Her mother stepped into the room. Her voice felt like tornado scratch. She took the puzzle apart, put it in a box, sealed it shut, and took it away. Louise ran outside. She gathered wood ends and bracken. That night, she settled them on her bed and pretended she had her jigsaw cat.
Louise ran behind her sisters; they didn’t wait. The fields were wide with poppies and swallows. Mary and Enid crammed a basket with flowers for their mother’s birthday. Back in the cottage, alone with the blooms, Louise wanted to touch the bright colours. She took her bandages off: the petals were soft as spring rain, but in her hands, they thickened into wood and paint. Jigsaw pieces dropped onto the table. She heard her mother shouting.
Summer brimmed. While Louise stayed at her window, her mother took Mary and Enid on lakeside ambles. They returned home bright as river glare. Louise asked to join them, but her mother turned away. Louise lingered in doorways, listening to their chatter: it felt like distant rooftops. She watched her mother brush Enid’s hair until it was sky smooth. She saw her mother place Mary’s hands on the piano keys and make stunted tunes.
One day, her mother was kneading bread. The kitchen smelled of lost cakes. Louise asked to help, but her mother didn’t answer. Louise undid her bandages. She reached for her mother’s hand. After her mother changed into a jigsaw, Louise counted the pieces. She hid them under a wobbly floorboard in her room and curled up on it while her sisters ran through the village looking for their mother.
The village searched. Days passed. From her room, Louise listened to Mary and Enid sobbing. She put the puzzle together on her floor and laid her blanket over it. She pretended her mother was asleep. Folk visited, but no one came to Louise’s room. Sitting by the jigsaw, she could hear their voices like steam shadows. When her sisters were taken away, she peeped from the window; they didn’t look up at her.
She threw away her bandages. She carried the puzzle pieces downstairs in her blanket and put them back together on the sofa. At the piano, her fingers plodded brittle melodies as she glanced at the jigsaw. She learned songs her mother had liked. She slept curled beside her and tried to hold her hand. When the garden bloomed, she carried puzzles of roses and buttercups inside and laid them by the jigsaw feet.
Rebecca Harrison sneezes like Donald Duck and can be summoned by a cake signal in the sky. Her best friend is a dog who can count. Through the WoMentoring Project, she was chosen by Kirsty Logan as her mentee. Rebecca’s been nominated for Best of the Net, and was a finalist in the first Wyvern Lit flash fiction contest. Her stories can also be read at Rose Red Review, Maudlin House, Luna Station Quarterly, and elsewhere.
Lead image: “Incomplete.” (via Flickr user Cinnamon Funch)