The Puzzle (Story by Risa Peris)

We were invited to my mother’s brother’s party. My uncle. He had worked for Pacific Gas and Electric and had hit a pipe. He was burned. Over seventy percent of his body. He went through lots of reconstructive surgery and got a settlement that paid off his house in Riverside, California. My mother was the baby of the family and she looked up to Jack. She wept when she read in the newspaper that he was burned. I don’t remember any hospital visits just lots of phone calls. His wife threw the party two years after the accident and invited us. The annoying family members. My mother was so impressed. My uncle had a nicer house than our decrepit and concaving ramshackle of a house. My sister, about 13 years older than me, stressed about what to wear. My mother had already decided she would wear her black shirt with the silver threaded through. Black pants. Black shoes. “Black is slimming you know,” she told me.

My sister found a turquoise shirt with puzzle pieces on the front. There was one piece removed and it was positioned right where her waist was. My sister curled her hair and applied thick blue eye shadow. She thought it matched the shirt.

When we arrived, the party was in full bloom. Relatives I had never seen or heard of. I met a blonde girl who was my age and she was my cousin. How splendid! We chatted and braided each other’s hair. My mother didn’t approve. It smashed my curls.

My sister was in the kitchen while I was dipping celery into blue cheese when a cousin or second cousin waltzed in. She was my sister’s age. She looked at my sister’s shirt.

“Life is a puzzle, isn’t it Roxanne. Just a horrid puzzle.” She laughed liked Tinker Bell.

I looked at my sister’s shirt closely. “Hey, that piece near your waist doesn’t even fit into the rest of the puzzle.”

My sister folded her arms over the shirt and stayed sitting in the kitchen. She didn’t really talk to anybody after that. She stayed by the relish tray as if guarding it. Even when it was time to leave my sister kept her arms folded over her shirt.

“What’s the matter?” asked my aunt.

“I’m just puzzled,” said my sister.

My aunt looked confused. “Someone didn’t like her shirt,” I said.

My aunt laughed. “Well, no one likes anything you people wear. You’re the poor church mouses.” Her laughter tinkled.

I then wrapped my arms around my self. “It’s time to go mother.”

My mother had her arms wrapped around herself. So we left. Three females. Fashion shamed. The failures of the family.


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