Leaving Party

“Hey, I’m glad you could make it!” said Anna. “You’re just in time!”

“It was nice to be invited,” said Max, stepping into the third-floor apartment. “I’m sorry to hear you’re leaving. We’ve only just met really.”

“Never mind, I’m sure there will be other occasions. Just come in and make yourself at home. What can I get you?” Max saw a well-stocked bar behind her – there was beer and wine; whisky, vodka, rum, and gin; ports and sherries; some mysterious bright bottles of Mexican liquor. He also noticed many different smiling photos, likely friends.

“Just a beer to warm up, thank you,” he said. “I’ll pace myself.”

“Hey man, don’t be shy. Me casa es su casa! Here’s a cinnamon whisky – cheers!”

Max became conscious that he was the only guest present. “Am I too early?” he said. “You did say around nine didn’t you?”

“No, you’re right on time,” said Anna. “I’m not sure who else is coming tonight. I have a leaving party every week, so people don’t come every time.”

“You have a leaving party every week?” said Max. “Where do you go?”

“Well I don’t go anywhere really. But I could go. That’s the point.”

“Huh?” said Max. He wondered now if coming here was such a good idea.

Anna looked at him closely and said, “I have a medical condition. My kidney – I only have one – has reverse functionality. Instead of cleaning my body, it makes toxins which seep into all of my organs. So every week I am full of poison, and on Mondays I go to the health centre; they hook me up to their computers for checks.”

“Whoa, babe!” said Max. “That’s pretty heavy stuff.” She smiled at him broadly. “Well, I guess you’re right to celebrate… I think.” He scanned the bar again. “But what’s with all the booze? Wouldn’t it be better to cut back on that a bit?”

“I’m just like most people,” said Anna. “I do my drinking at weekends. But the difference is that I have a check up every Monday morning. Pretty responsible of me really, wouldn’t you say?” Max could only nod. “Hey, wanna help me with a jigsaw? I need to get it done by tomorrow.” He nodded again, and thought, what a strange girl I’ve met. She seemed so normal when we chatted in the library, and now its reverse-kidneys, full-bars, and urgent jigsaws.

Anna handed him a banana-rum, and led him to the dining table. Upon it was a giant goddess jigsaw, mainly completed, whose capacity was difficult to gauge. The image was of a starry woman floating in the heavens; so it had cosmic scale. However its physical size was the same as the dining table – so about human-size. The starry borders had been completed first, and pieces worked inwards from there. The outline of the goddess was finished, as were her limbs. The space within her however required completion.

“So what do you think?” said Anna. “Pretty neat puzzle, huh?” Max raised his eyebrows. “Well, shall we start?”

“Looks like you’ve done most of the hard work already,” he said. She looked at him strangely – nervously, he felt – and handed him pieces from the remaining pile. He spread them out; they all seemed approximately the same shape, and somewhat pinky-blue. Was there any real difference between them, he wondered? Were they interchangeable? He noticed the pieces’ strange texture – they were slippery to the touch, maybe waxed.

He hadn’t completed a jigsaw in years. It was a good test of patience, and exercised your peripheral vision, he knew. But it seemed pretty pointless. Instead of re-making something that existed already, why not make something new and better?

Max knew that the shapes were formed of rigid cardboard, but they also seemed malleable. He squashed them between his fingers. Anna was perspiring and looking dazed. “Are you ok?” he said.

“Actually, I’m feeling a little dizzy,” she said, “and a little silly. Maybe you were right about the booze. Do you mind if I go and lie down for a while?”

“Er, sure. Do you want me to go home?”

“No, please don’t,” she said. “Can you help me to finish the jigsaw?”

“I think I’m getting a feel for it now. I’ll do my best.”

Anna poured him a cherry gin, then went into her bedroom and closed the door. Max continued toying with the waxy, squashy pieces. There seemed to be too many to fit into the space remaining, and their shapes were strangely ill-defined. They sort of fitted together, but they also didn’t. The more he tried to squeeze them together, the more rebellious they became. Some popped out again after he’d fitted them; some slid into new arrangements; some were just plain impossible to fit. After an hour – maybe – he’d managed – amazingly – to squeeze them all in, though he was not sure how. Well he’d done as requested, and had better go home. He finished the lemon-flavoured firewater he’d poured himself, and put on his coat and shoes.

As he was about to go, the bedroom door opened, and out came beaming Anna. “Boy, I feel good again!” she said. “Thank you!”

“Me?” said Max. “What did I do?”

She said, “Please don’t be scared; it’s called sympathetic magic, used for thousands of years. What you did to the goddess, she did to me. You helped me to rebuild myself, piece by piece. Those clinic people can never believe that I’m still alive. I have my friends to thank for that. For me every leaving party is a living party; the day that no-one comes to my party is the day that I die.”

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