puzzling

She carried it around for weeks.

It was a folded bit of the newspaper, the crossword puzzle – the hardest of the week.  The answers she needed eluded her.  She struggled with the clues and looked at them a hundred different times.  She tried to think about them from different angles, including upside down, and even scrambled them around, like anagrams.  She made the blanks into games of hangman.  When she had drawn the very last stick limb of her stick figure self, she gave it tiny “x”s for eyes and a cartoonish tongue flopping out of a stick thin mouth.

She would put the crossword under her pillow at night in case the answers might float up to her brain in her sleep.  She left it on the bathroom counter while she showered, on the chance that a clue suddenly made sense while she shampooed.  She wanted to complete this puzzle as a challenge to herself.  She knew the other kids thought it was strange, the way she would not let go of this puzzle.  She was a strange girl already, so that did not bother her so much. But she did not like the attention: She had been slipping silently through school the entire year, doing her own thing: refusing to tie her shoes, letting her long hair go wild.  She wore the same red and blue sweat jacket every day of the year, taking comfort in its deep pockets and soft insides.  She did not speak in class and took her lunches alone in the cafeteria.  She did not want the other kids to suddenly notice her oddness.  So, after several months of holding on to the yellowed tattered paper, she threw away her beloved puzzle in Science Class so that she could slip back into obscurity.  And then the very next day, all the answers came to her in a rush.

But the janitor had already emptied the trash.

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