“The Puzzle-Master” by PD Penley
He made his way systematically down each alley with a pause and a glance into each cylindrical plastic container lining the narrow space. Observant only to minutia, he searched for anything of potential use. Anything at all.
Most call it garbage. He saw possibility. This daily scavenger’s walk was his routine, his comfort. He pieced together a puzzle: one which never perfectly aligned; one whose every piece must be coaxed into agreement with its new neighbor. This was art. This was his art. He was good at it.
As one man’s trash is another man’s treasure, one man’s art is another man’s inconvenience.
For 42 years, The Puzzle-Master lived in the corner lot at Abrams and Lucy. He watched as the widely-spaced homes surrounding his own forfeited their breathing room. One lot divided down the middle into two smaller lots one year, for the sake of city growth. Those same two lots found space to divide again the following year – property mitosis: the reproductive process of municipal population. City growth shrank many things in town. Not The Puzzle-Master’s lot, though. The Puzzle-Master did not oppose change, but he would not be its champion. He felt content, and he needed the green grass space for his puzzle pieces strewn throughout his now abnormally-vast property, and he noted how the number of cylinders where he found his treasures grew with each new unit built along his alleys. His puzzle neared completion.
People flocked to the alleys. They brought with them five-pound dogs and twenty-pound purses, wound-up dispositions and trickle-down economics. Their shiny space-ship vehicles rimmed The Puzzle-Master’s daily stroll and they sneered at his unkempt beard and torn white tee as he rifled through their rubbish bins. They formed HOA’s and wrote bylaws. They installed locks on their black plastic cylinders – there could be no dumpster-diving if they locked away the diving board. Slowly the world crept in and The Puzzle-Master recognized nothing as his own any longer. His art suffered. Without supplies, his puzzle, close to masterpiece, ceased progress.
Throughout his years of reticence, The Puzzle-Master’s beard grew long and his influence grew short. Space-vehicles slowed pace as they passed his property, their pilots commenting on the misuse of expanse, the misappropriation of the one large field left in the neighborhood, vacant except for rot and garbage. They licked their lips. The Puzzle-Master felt their stares, their misconception. He knew they would come for his land. Time ran short. But everyone loved art. Art, not garbage. They simply misunderstand. Maybe he could make them understand. Maybe he could slow time, shift opinion. Maybe it wasn’t too late. His puzzle waited, dormant and incomplete.
The Puzzle-Master abandoned the comfort of his front door and scampered down his long driveway. Through engagement and connection, face-to-face, he would save his art. He paused at the end of his driveway to check his mailbox – pieced together from a wooden birdhouse and red metal from a Radio Flyer Wagon. He pulled out a crisp white envelope, return address lengthy and official. He ran his finger through the envelope’s crease and pulled out a single sheet of tri-fold paper. He didn’t know where in the process “Notice” was, but he knew vaguely the words “Imminent Domain”. He stroked his beard with his hand and carried the letter back into the house, locking out the new world as time dwindled. His art needed him. His puzzle, once with the potential to become something inimitable, waited to become something. Anything at all.
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