The Heart Of The Matter by Jan Snook
The jigsaw was proving difficult, yet Anya wasn’t willing to give up . . .
WHERE are you?” Toby called from his parents’ kitchen. “I’ve made us some coffee.” “Dining-room,” Anya answered, and heard the clinking of mugs as Toby approached.
“I didn’t know I’d married a closet jigsaw fan,” he said.
“There are lots of things you still don’t know about me,” Anya replied, smiling up at her husband. “It would be a pity if there weren’t.
“After all, if you knew everything after only two years of marriage, what would we talk about for the next fifty or so?”
“Fair point.” Toby nodded, looking fondly at his wife, her eyes now scanning the scattered loose pieces of the halfcomplete jigsaw covering the table.
“I have something I want to talk to you about, actually,” Toby went on, sitting down opposite her.
Anya pounced on a piece and moved her hand towards its likely home.
“As it happens,” she said as if he hadn’t spoken, “I haven’t done a jigsaw puzzle since I was about ten. So I’m not a closet jigsaw fan, but I could get hooked quite easily.”
“Not on this one,” Toby said firmly. “My father gives my mother a jigsaw every Christmas and no-one else is allowed to touch it. In fact, I’ve been told off in the past for just suggesting where a particular piece might belong. She’s rather possessive about her jigsaws.”
Anya thought of her rather formidable motherin-law and smiled. Her being possessive about a puzzle was only too easy to imagine.
“She won’t remember exactly how much of it she’s done, though, will she?” Anya said reasonably. “By the time they get back she’ll have forgotten where she’s up to, surely?”
They both gazed at the jigsaw: the picture was a tangled mass of flowers, all pinks and mauves and yellows and blues – and a great many different greens.
“She must have spent hours on it already,” Anya decided.
“Most of her waking hours since Boxing Day, I should imagine,” Toby agreed.
“Three whole days?” Anya shook her head in disbelief. “She won’t notice if I just put this one little piece in.”
Anya jammed the piece in her hand into position before Toby could stop her.
“Oh.” Her face fell. “It doesn’t quite fit. I was so sure it went there.”
Toby was shaking his head.
“It’s a good thing they’re not coming back till the day after tomorrow. But as I was saying –”
“You’re going to tell me you want a dog,” Anya interrupted, smiling. “How did you know?” “When your parents asked us to come and dog-sit for the weekend, you said yes instantly, and you’ve been grinning like a Cheshire cat ever since.
“And from the moment we arrived you’ve been spoiling that dog rotten!
“She’s had more walks and treats and petting than she’s probably had in her whole life. Why would I be surprised you want a dog?
“You’re besotted with her. It’s no wonder I’m thinking of taking up jigsaws!”
“So getting a dog isn’t out of the question, then?”
“It’s a definite maybe.” Anya smiled. “Let’s see how you feel about it tomorrow. It’s supposed to be pouring with rain all day, and Poppy will still need you to take her for a couple of long walks.”
“Why? What will you be doing?”
Anya looked at him in surprise.
“I’ll be slaving over a hot stove getting the four of us a New Year’s Eve dinner, remember? I’m still trying to convince your mother that I’m worthy of you, and that I can cook.”
“But you can do that on Monday. You don’t have to spend Sunday doing it,” Toby objected.
“I’m trying to be organised and I don’t want your mother to arrive back and find her kitchen in a mess and me in a panic.”
“Right. Anyway, my mother adores you,” Toby added rather belatedly, and not sounding, Anya thought, altogether convincing.
“On that note, I’d better go and give Poppy her supper,” Toby said, getting up. “And Anya? Leave that jigsaw alone.”
He dropped a kiss on the top of her head and left the room.
Anya turned her attention back to the jigsaw. She would just remove that piece she’d wedged into the wrong place and then . . .
“Toby!” Her shriek brought Toby running in, white-faced.
“What on earth . . .?” “Get a cloth!” Anya shouted, “Quick!”
“I don’t know where –” “Get something! Do something!”
They both stared at the coffee, which was spreading relentlessly
over the jigsaw, pooling here and there and dripping off the edge of the table.
“How did it happen?” Toby asked, bewildered.
“Never mind that,” Anya said crossly, dabbing at the pieces with a stray tissue, “I need a cloth or a paper towel. Something!”
Toby arrived back in the dining-room armed with a roll of kitchen towel, and they both started frantically mopping up the hot coffee.
“How can one mug of coffee spread this far?” Anya wailed, tearing off yet more paper towel.
“How did it happen?” Toby asked when they had at last got the jigsaw as dry as possible, and wiped the table and carpet.
Anya looked at him helplessly and began to cry.
“I was just pulling the jigsaw piece out – the one I’d put in the wrong place – but it was stuck. Then it came out very suddenly and my elbow knocked the coffee over.
“What on earth is your mother going to say? She’ll be furious.”
“I’m sure she won’t,” Toby said soothingly.
Anya tore off another bit of towel to dry her eyes.
“The coffee doesn’t seem to have stained the puzzle, does it? It’ll be fine by the time it’s dried,” Toby went on. “And the carpet’s coffee-coloured in any case. Everything will be fine.”
Anya touched one of the pieces tentatively, and she and Toby stared as the picture of half a daisy came off in her hand.
Further investigation confirmed what they had both just realised:
“The coffee has melted the glue! The picture’s just laminated on to the card, and now . . .” Toby stopped, his mouth open in horror.
He waved a hand towards one corner of the puzzle.
“The picture’s peeling off all over the place. We’re going to be left with a plain brown cardboard jigsaw in a minute.”
“Maybe when the picture’s dry, we could glue the bits of paper back on,” Anya suggested in a whisper.
But they could both see that wasn’t going to work.
“We can’t do anything about it tonight,” Toby said bracingly. “Looking at it, I think we’re just going to have to confess. I’ll say I did it.”
“But you didn’t. And you’re hopeless at lying,” Anya remarked. “Your mother will know.”
The following morning, in the predicted teeming rain, Anya and Toby drove into town, armed with the ruined jigsaw’s empty box.
They walked into the toyshop where, Toby assured Anya, his father always bought the Christmas jigsaws.
There was a queue of people changing unwanted Christmas presents, and it was some time before Toby could explain to the woman behind the counter what had happened.
“I’m not sure we’ve got any of that one left,” she said, peering at the picture on the box. “I’ll go and look in the store room.”
She came back a few minutes later, beaming.
“No, sorry, we’ve sold out of that one, but we’ve got several other floral pictures. I’m sure your mother would love one of these.”
She put down a pile of boxes, none of which would do.
“Thanks,” Toby said, paying for a new jigsaw, “I’ll take this one in case we can’t find the one we want. A sort of peace offering.”
After trudging round the town, being splashed by the many puddles, and with rain pouring off their umbrella, they found the right jigsaw in the fourth toyshop they visited.
“I’m sorry, the box is a bit broken. I expect that’s why no-one bought it,” the shopkeeper apologised.
“Not a problem,” Anya said quickly, looking at her watch and hurrying Toby out of the shop.
“What’s the rush?” he asked once they were outside. “We’ve found it now. We can go and find a pub for lunch.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Anya snapped. “It’ll take us for ever to do the half your mother had done. I thought that if we marked where the original jigsaw was on the table, we could get the new one to exactly the same stage.”
Toby was staring at her as if she were mad.
“We’re not going to try to do the jigsaw, are we?” he asked. “I thought we were just going to give her the new one and apologise. Profusely.”
It was Anya’s turn to stare.
“We could have bought any old jigsaw if that’s what we were going to do,” she said impatiently. “We’ve got to do it, anyone can see that.”
“Anya,” Toby said gently, “what’s got into you? You’ve got a positively manic gleam in your eye, and you are usually so calm.
“My mother’s not a monster, you know. She’ll understand.”
But he was overruled. Poppy was barking delightedly when they arrived back at the house, and Toby pulled an apologetic face.
“I’ll make us a sandwich, shall I? Then I’ll have to take her out,” he said, “rain or no rain.”
Anya, though, was already running upstairs to the bathroom. She came back down a second later, towelling her dripping hair dry.
“Fine,” she said, “but don’t come anywhere near me, OK?”
“What have I done?”
She looked at him in amazement.
“You’ll be dripping wet! I can’t risk any water getting on to the new puzzle, can I?”
She marched into the dining-room and was soon sorting out corners and edge pieces.
“Your mother must be a real whizz at jigsaws,” was the first thing Anya said when Toby came back in an hour later.
She sounded as if she might be on the verge of tears again.
“How are you getting on?” he venture hesitantly. “Badly!” Anya wailed. “It will be quicker if there are two of us,” Toby pointed out, frowning at how little of the picture had taken shape in his absence.
They sat in near silence for a very long time, but still only a fraction of the puzzle was done.
Toby got them both a cup of tea, but drank his in the kitchen. Anya didn’t drink hers at all.
“We’re going to have to give up, darling,” Toby said. “It’s nearly supper time and you look exhausted.”
But Anya stared stubbornly at the jigsaw and carried on, while Toby went into the kitchen and started making an omelette, which he insisted she ate.
As soon as she’d finished, she went back into the dining-room and they both set to once more.
The following morning Toby woke up to find Anya’s side of the bed empty.
He went downstairs and found her back at the puzzle, looking white and drawn, a piece of dry toast in her hand.
“OK, this is ridiculous,” he said, sounding annoyed. “I don’t know what time you came to bed last night, but you look dreadful, and my parents will be back in just a few hours and we have a meal to prepare.”
Anya looked up at him and he instantly put his arms round her.
“Anya, darling, this isn’t
Even now, only a fraction of the jigsaw was completed
like you,” he said, stroking her tearful face. “You never cry. You’re just overtired.
“Not surprisingly,” he added, looking balefully at the jigsaw.
“How much of the night were you up?” he said more seriously. “You’ve nearly done as much as Mum had, haven’t you?”
He screwed up his eyes, studying the puzzle more closely.
“Anya? Look, you’ve done more than she had.” Anya nodded.
“I was too tired to keep track, I just hope she doesn’t notice,” she said wearily. “We can break up the old one now.”
“I can break up the old one,” Toby said firmly. “For heaven’s sake, go back to bed.”
For once Anya did as she was told, and was feeling almost human by the time her parents-in-law arrived home at teatime.
“So,” Jacob, Toby’s father, asked genially, “what have you two been up to? Poppy kept you busy, I expect.”
“Well, I hope Anya has managed to have a bit of a rest,” his wife Linda said, sounding more than usually concerned.
“You were looking quite peaky, dear, when we arrived,” she continued, giving Anya a quizzical look. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like to go for a rest before supper?
“I thought I’d just rustle up something simple. Jacob and Toby could take Poppy out for her walk.”
The men, Anya thought, rounded up Poppy and left with indecent haste.
“There’s a casserole in the fridge,” Anya began. “And I made a crumble. But I am very tired. Would it be awful if I . . .?”
“You’ve made a casserole? And a pud?” The older woman was looking at her as if she was from another planet. “That’s great. Yes, you go and have a rest. I’m not surprised you’re tired.” Anya made her escape. By the time Anya came back downstairs she could smell the casserole in the oven, and Linda was pouring cream into a jug.
Jacob was putting peanuts into a bowl and Poppy was at his feet, looking hopeful.
“Ah, you’re down, Anya,” Jacob said happily, “I’ll go and get the champagne.”
“Can I do anything?” Anya asked.
“Maybe you could help Toby,” Linda suggested. “He’s in the dining-room, laying the table.”
“Laying the table? But your jigsaw . . .?”
Toby came into the kitchen at that moment and put his arms round Anya’s waist.
“Mum’s finished her jigsaw,” he said, giving Anya a meaningful glance. “It’s all done and put away.”
“Oh, well done!” Anya said, relief flowing through her.
“Oh, yes, I love my puzzles,” Linda began, “but I can’t deny that it’s great when I finish one. And that one was particularly difficult. All those different pinks!”
“Yes, and the greens were all so similar,” Anya replied without thinking.
She felt Toby’s hand tense on her waist and felt the blood rush to her face.
“At least that’s what it looked like,” she finished lamely.
Linda looked amused.
“Actually,” she said, “I was finding it so difficult that I’d decided while we were away that I was going to give up on it. But I’d done more than I remembered, and now it’s finished.”
“Finished?” Jacob said, coming in with a bottle. “But it can’t be. You must have missed a bit, Linda. I’ve just found this on the floor.” He held out a jigsaw piece. “You must have dropped it.”
They all stared at the fragment of cardboard clematis, then Linda took the piece and turned it this way and that, narrowing her eyes.
“The paper’s peeling off it, look,” she said, “and it’s an edge piece, so I couldn’t possibly have missed it.”
There was a moment’s deathly silence.
“Toby?” She looked at her son accusingly.”
“Ah,” he said. “Yes. I’m afraid I had a bit of an accident.”
“No, Linda, it’s my fault,” Anya said very quietly. “I spilled a cup of coffee over your jigsaw. Toby told me not to touch it, but I couldn’t resist.”
The whole sorry tale came tumbling out.
“But you must have been up all night,” Linda said, horrified. “How could you let her, Toby? Poor girl! No wonder you were shattered.”
“Not just shattered,” Toby mumbled. “Ratty and tearful as well.”
But Linda’s lips had begun to twitch.
She began to giggle, and very soon all four of them were laughing.
“This calls for a toast,” Jacob said, handing each of them a glass. “To the extra piece! The unexpected addition!”
“I nearly forgot,” Toby put in. “Mum, we bought you another jigsaw to say sorry in case we couldn’t replace the first one. I’ll go and get it.”
“I didn’t know you liked jigsaws,” Linda said to Anya while Toby was gone.
“Neither did I,” Anya said ruefully. “But I found it strangely addictive.”
“I’d better buy one for you as well, in that case,” Toby said, coming back into the room and handing his mother the new puzzle.
“Maybe she’d better have this one,” Linda said.
“This might be the last time for quite a while that Anya will have time to do a jigsaw.
“You’re going to be busy. Am I right, Anya?”
“Is there any point trying to keep anything a secret round here?” Toby asked, rolling his eyes. “How did you know?”
“Mostly because of you, Toby. Your face is such a giveaway,” his mother said fondly. “But Anya? Tearful and ratty?”
“And not touching her glass of champagne?” Jacob added with a mischievous smile. “Your mother’s suspected it for weeks!
“A baby! What a happy new year this is going to be! So here’s another toast. To Anya and Toby. Plus one!” ■
The whole sorry tale came tumbling out