‘In the beginning,’ said Godfrey, ‘I like to create the heavens and the earth.’ He gazed at the formless array of pieces in the upturned box lid, an untidy pile of vaguely similar shapes.
‘Although it’s getting a little dark, now the days are drawing in. Have you seen my light? There was a light,’ he said, looking helplessly around the largely empty room.
The nurse sighed, folded her copy of The Sun with an exaggerated flourish and heaved herself to her feet, screeching her chair back on the linoleum floor.
‘If it’s not one thing,’ she said wearily, ‘it’s another.’ She shuffled over to the locked cupboard above the shelves of tattered thrillers, back issues of Country Life and chess sets that were missing half their pawns. She spent a full minute examining each key on the capacious bunch she carried on her belt before selecting one, opening the door and rummaging around in its contents. After a while she retrieved an ancient anglepoise.
She grunted with the effort of bending over to plug it in to the sparking wall socket, then placed it on the next door table and turned it on so that it cast its light on his workplace.
‘Here you go, Mr Godfrey,’ she said. ‘Now you can see everything.’
She paused in the silence that followed.
‘You’re welcome,’ she said caustically.
Godfrey looked up at her. ‘Sorry. Thank you.’
She leaned over his shoulder and examined his handiwork.
‘I always start with the edge pieces,’ she said.
‘No no,’ replied Godfrey, ‘that’s almost cheating. See, I’ve done the sky, all those dark, brooding clouds. That’s the hardest part. Then all the grass, I’ve finished that. Next, I’ll put in the trees, and the corn field, then the dog.’
The nurse lifted the lid above her head, careful not to let any of the pieces fall out, so she could read the title on the hidden cover.
‘Mr and Mrs Andrews,’ she read aloud. ‘I’ve seen that picture before. On a nice box of chocolates my sister Elsie gave me the year before last. Marks and Spencer,’ she added, lingering on the words: ‘luxury assortment. Luxury. That’s my Elsie. More money than cents, that girl.’
‘Sense,’ said Godfrey absently, slotting the pieces into place.
‘That’s your trouble, Mr Godfrey. You think you know everything.’
Godfrey continued to work, painstakingly slowly. He didn’t like to rush. After all, he had all the time in the world.
* * *
It was several days before the nurse once again looked over Godfrey’s shoulder and saw that he had started piecing together the elegantly dressed 18th century couple who were the focus of the painting.
‘I see you’ve nearly finished the man,’ she observed. ‘All that fine lace, what a bother to wash and iron. But he’d never think of that, would he. Ha!’ she exclaimed. ‘Men. Same then, same now.’
She dipped her finger into the lid and shuffled the pieces around. ‘But you haven’t started on the woman. Look, you can see all the pieces of her beautiful blue dress in the box. Now that’s a real dress. Crinoline, tresses, slips, underskirts. Not like the rubbish the girls buy from Top Shop, all show and no substance.’
‘Look there,’ she proclaimed with satisfaction, ‘there are her teeny tiny feet. Look, they’re both on one piece.’ She lifted it out of the box and held it up for his approval.
‘No,’ said Godfrey. ‘I do the man first. That’s the right way. When he’s finished, I’ll do the woman. It’s the way I like to do things,’ he added by way of explanation.
* * *
‘Finished!’ exclaimed Godfrey later that day, pressing the last piece of the puzzle in place. ‘I think I’ll have a little rest now,’ he said, sitting back in his Parker Knoll with a satisfied sigh.
‘My goodness,’ he added, glancing at the calendar advertising the local Chinese takeaway pinned to the wall. ‘Is it Sunday already?’
The nurse lifted herself out of her chair with a grunt and ambled over to examine his handiwork.
‘It’s beautiful,’ she said. ‘A real work of art.’
She was about to return to her desk when something caught her eye.
‘Look,’ she said, bending beneath the table to retrieve a tiny piece of cardboard from the floor. ‘There’s another piece.’ She picked it up and placed it triumphantly on the table in front of him.
‘See,’ she said, ‘you must have made a mistake. You’ve missed a piece out.’ ‘Impossible,’ said Godfrey. ‘The puzzle is complete. There are no spaces.’ She examined the piece she held in her hand. ‘This must be from yours,’ she said. ‘Look, it’s a piece of your tree. You can see the leaves. It’s definitely one of yours.’
‘I don’t understand how that could be,’ said Godfrey.
‘You must have included a piece from another puzzle,’ she decided. ‘Probably one of Mr Luke’s,’ she added. ‘He loves his film puzzles. He’s always losing pieces.’
She peered at the completed picture, looking for the piece that didn’t fit. ‘There,’ she said, stabbing the puzzle with a podgy finger. ‘There it is. In the tree. You see? It’s a piece of his film poster.’
Godfrey looked closely at the puzzle, then looked sheepishly at the nurse. ‘You could be right,’ he confessed.
‘Of course I’m right,’ she said. ‘It’s from the puzzle Mr Luke finished last week. It’s a poster for that film he likes, the one that was on TV at Christmas. Free Willy.’
‘You think so?’ said Godfrey in a tone of resignation.
‘I know so,’ said the nurse. ‘You can even read the name of the film. Look, it’s almost complete. Only the last letter is missing.’
Godfrey studied the errant piece carefully.
‘The devil,’ she proclaimed, ‘is in the detail. Isn’t that what you educated folk say?’
Godfrey leant back in his chair and gazed forlornly out of the window, staring at the rain battering the glass.
‘Oh well,’ he said. ‘I’m not infallible.’