Jigsaw Puzzle Creatures

The package was discovered outside the front gate when the rubbish was being removed to the big green bin with the number eight painted on it in white house paint. Fortunately no passer-by had taken advantage of the fact that the gate more or less sits on the pavement, as does the house itself, for the package could have been easily lifted and taken away. It was raining and no one rang on the doorbell, and no one would have necessarily been at home anyway. Except that they were, because it was that kind of Friday. They were upstairs in the study, but they heard nothing. The package was safe, despite the rain. Later in the day large puddles formed as they always do when it rains a little in these parts. It is quite by chance that the package was discovered when it was. It was double wrapped in those ubiquitous green, yet poisonously dyed shopping bags that aim at the reduction of the disaster of plastic. As the gate was unlocked and the package was retrieved, two thoughts sprung between the green double-bagged bag, inside of which was a brown paper bag, and the one who retrieved this package. The two thoughts were: First, this was another tentative gesture from the estranged father and grandfather who sometimes left gifts from a distance for his grandchildren. Second, this was the neighbour kindly leaving loaves of bread having visited a favourite baker in the next suburb, which would be very curious as the baker had just been visited and a loaf of bread had just that morning been left with this neighbour. So, perhaps it was an act of reciprocity? Or maybe they hadn’t needed the bread after all and they were returning it? Either way, in this house, brown paper bags seem to mean freshly baked bread recently purchased. Finally, curiosity opened the package, at which moment an exclamation was heard, an excited, even ebullient ah ha! After all, what better thing than a package anonymously delivered at the front gate. But the package was addressed to the little ones, meaning that the grown up ones should really wait until the little ones were home from kindergarten. In any case, the objects inside the brown paper bag were given a once over. This is what was found at a cursory glance: A disposable plastic blue camera; two boxes full of jigsaw puzzle pieces (you could see the contents by peeking through the gaps in the cardboard, custom-made boxes, which had been hand-stitched together); two envelopes, one corresponding to each puzzle box; a return postage paid padded A2 envelope on which the author’s name was finally revealed; and also the envelope which had been stuck to the exterior of the brown paper bag, which identified by name the two young recipients. Two boys, Felix and Florian, neither of whom were going to have a chance with those puzzles, but this would not get in their way of having fun.

There were other things inside the several envelopes, such as polaroid photographs and diagrams and sewing pins to hold things together, and these items will be elucidated in time. One item of particular interest and use, as it could be incorporated into the mother’s current Birds of Paradise Project, was the list of endangered Australian flora and fauna. The idea of hybrid Australian animals had come to mind some two or so years before on a trip to the promontory. Bush fire season had set in with spot fires about the place, and when the wind blew in the wrong direction the sky would be strewn with lurid oranges and violent purples as the sun set. Horse flies and the stink of sheep and sometimes air that was so thick they were obliged to stay indoors and play games. In the evenings, and sometimes also around dawn they would hear a strange bird call, lasting up to forty minutes, composed of series of high pitched sounds that incrementally increased in pitch with each enunciation until the secretive bird would fall silent again, as though out of breath. One afternoon when the air was particularly bad they composed Christmas postcards at the kitchen table depicting animals escaping Christmas fires. The animals were made-over imaginary, composed of mismatching heads and torsos, and tails that did not fit. And as they escaped across the white space of the postcard they left behind them in the far upper left corner a Christmas star, blazing brightly. The German grandparents, being rather devout, did not really get it when their Christmas postcard arrived in the mail in the small town of B. They were concerned about the way the animals were racing away at such great speeds. That year nearly everyone received a home-made hybrid-animals-escaping-from-bushland-fires Christmas card. This was before the really bad one swept through. The year of the terrible fires they had already been in Berlin a week before they heard about it on the news, as each day the death toll noted another individual or family lost. They wanted to weep for those they did not know, but they were so far away and it was snowing. Outside in the early winter dark Prenzlauer Berg families were dragging small children around on the backs of timber sleds making patterns of grey lines, cutting a complex tracery of passageways through the soft white snow beneath which the footpaths and roads had entirely disappeared. How could you imagine the oppressive heat and fires and unnecessary deaths in this leaden sky heavy with snow weather?

When the little ones, the boys, returned home, and it was raining more than ever, they were exited with the wetness of their rain gear and the splashing and fuss and the bluestone street and its slipperiness, and the puddles. It was some ten minutes or so before the package was noticed by the older one, who already has an eye for these things and has grown accustomed to the idea of packages with presents from all kinds of friends and relatives, or even simply packages with single and multiple books, arriving at the door. Suffice to say he immediately wanted to play once he realised that this package partially belonged to him. They had to wait and eat dinner first. And so the large brown paper bag that had left behind its two outer green carapaces waited quietly on the sideboard.

The frenetic time between dinner and bed-time turned out to be not the most suitable moment for complicated jigsaw puzzle misadventures. The little one swept the pieces from the table, as the older one tried to collect them together. As soon as an advance was made, and a strategy formulated, again the pieces would be swept to the ground, and so they were finally packed away. The jigsaw puzzle pieces were returned to their sewn together boxes alongside the polaroid pictures that were peeked at in advance of completing the puzzles, and the sewing pins, and further images and explanations, and disposable plastic blue camera. All of it was packed away. Particularly poignant were the polaroid photographs and their lack of focus. News had reached them the week before that the last place in the world that still made polaroid film was finally closing, and so this old technology would be made defunct, and all those once loved polaroid cameras that could still be found in flea markets and dusty hock shops would now wait eternally unrequited, the sensitive film upon which they once bore witness to the banal and the wonderful now non-existent. A lament was in order.

The letter that went with the two boxes of jigsaw puzzle pieces explained what to do, and that all the items had to be returned in the return postage paid padded bag, except for the list of endangered Australian flora and fauna, which could be kept. There was one minor concern, and that was that the date the package was due to be returned had already passed. The 22nd of September had been stipulated, even though the package had only just arrived on Friday the 25th. Another strange thing that made at least one of those gathered tremble slightly: it appeared that the roll of film in the disposable plastic blue camera had already been advanced to the 24th and final shot. For a moment there was the terrible suspicion that the package had arrived earlier in the week, or even last week, and that someone had indeed taken it while passing by, completed all the instructions, including documenting their work with the use of the camera, and then returned the package quietly to the front door with all the photographs used up, awaiting the unexpected in the event of the film being processed. That would explain the strange question of the anomalous date. But no, this could not be so. The camera had been sealed in plastic and the kitchen scissors had been used to open it, so some other mishap must have occurred. The plastic blue disposable camera had been included in the package so that the process of constructing the jigsaw puzzles could be documented. The instructions explained: 12 shots per jigsaw puzzle, making 24 shots. It would probably not be long before Kodac and other such factories also closed their doors on that kind of film. The sadness of inevitable technological redundancies, built in obsolescence, the extinction of old species, against which strives the joy of the novel and the avarice of the new.

Just two weeks before, three similar disposable cameras had been purchased when all other technology had failed, as it does, as it will do, as they drove without connection cables, or without battery recharging devices, or having forgotten digital cameras, through the dying ecology of the Coorong, and then after a night in Beachport, through the prehistoric volcanic landscape, the Stony Rises, around Camperdown, Victoria. There they bore witness to roads that undulated with the millennia old heaving flows of fiery hot lava now seemingly frozen in place. Volcanos so ancient that instead of appearing explosively conical they were rounded and humped with geological age. So three of the travellers used disposable cameras, which they bought along the way at the general store in Milicent in order to map the wondrous progress of their affective mapping tour. The mother of the two little ones has yet to process her film. She returned home from the road trip to her very own basalt or bluestone, narrow cobbled lavatic street in wonder that the remains of volcanic explosions that had occurred in inland Victoria millennia ago now paved her daily way.

After the first unsuccessful attempt at Jigsaw Puzzle A, and once the problem with the plastic blue disposable camera had been discovered (there was still the suspicion that one of them had accidentally wound the film too far by mistake), the large brown paper bag with all its goodies was placed to the side for the duration of the weekend. On the Sunday evening, once the little ones were in bed, the father returned with a new disposable camera, which he had purchased at Kmart. Now, if the instructions inside the first envelope were to be followed, at least in principle, that left only Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday, by which time the package should really be returned inside the postage paid padded package. Five days had been allowed for the experiment, and if the anomaly with the dates was ignored, then they could simply proceed according to that principle. Unless five days was five working days, which might mean that the weekend did not have to be counted? In any case, the brown paper bag sat there on the sideboard beneath the reading lamp waiting until the little ones and grown ups decided what to do with its contents.

On Tuesday evening, the night before the five days would be up, if you counted the five days as extending between Friday lunchtime and Wednesday lunchtime, that is, if the weekend was to be included in the count, the brown paper package continued to sit where it had been placed on Friday evening, after the little ones’ bedtime stories had been read, beneath an old reading lamp that was habitually left on. Somehow, probably due to mischievous little hands, both boxes had been removed from the bag by Tuesday evening, and now they lay side by side like friends, each with their lids partially open as though to speak. They lay beneath the incandescent non-efficient energy glow of the reading lamp, as though spot lit on a stage in anticipation of action. No doubt if you listened carefully you would hear the restlessness of jigsaw puzzle pieces within.

On Wednesday morning the four year old did something he rarely does, he ventured down stairs first. Normally he waits for the grown ups, otherwise he comes to snuggle in bed, pressing his cold feet against their warm backs, where he either half falls asleep again or begins to whisper for breakfast. That morning, when he returned up the stairs he left in his wake, along the white wall of the stairwell streaks of blackened little child finger prints tracing lovely long dark lines without looking. He hopped back into bed with the grown-ups who then awoke to see all the white cotton sheets smudged in patches and spots of darkness, as though the child had been fingering charcoal. The mother went downstairs first to discover the source of the tenebrous stuff and found that the contents of jigsaw puzzle packages A and B had been slowly smouldering beneath the intensity of the lamp that had been carelessly left on for far too long, but which had since lost its internal filament thereby extinguishing its light. She sifted her finger slowly around inside the boxes of jigsaw puzzle remains, and found two small pieces, one in each box, that were still intact. Impressed on these last remaining jigsaw puzzle pieces, while the rest of the interior of the boxes had almost been reduced to charcoal dust, was the clenched talons of a Sooty Owl (Tyto tenebricosa) in box A, and the beak and partial skull of an Eastern Ground Parrot (Pezoporous wallicus wallicus) in box B, both of whom had just managed to survive the near fire.

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