The Empty Spaces by Sarah Wells

December 24, 2014 § 6 Comments

jigAnother warm holiday memory:

The lion pride puzzle was a Christmas present that, at age eight, I must have insisted we begin assembling the second I opened it. Scattered on our dining room table for months, it was hard, and big, but I was up for the challenge. I sorted its hundreds of pieces into color-specific piles and negotiated our cereal bowls and spaghetti plates around its border, which you always finished first, of course, those flat edges framing in the future grassy savanna and blocking out our dinners. Each night and at every meal and every time I passed it I would pause to push around the piled pieces until one surfaced, maybe, yes, that one, it goes right there!

Some nights after he smoothed and flattened the earth or dug a space for someone’s new basement, my dad would hover, still in muddied jeans and a Carhartt. Some nights after she dried the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, my mom would wipe her hands on a towel and come over. Together we leaned toward the center, silent, sorting, sorting, then, Here’s one! and we’d grin as the world came closer into focus, the sky above the lions filled with empty space, a pile of blue puzzle pieces, and possibility.

There will be two puzzles under our tree this year for my seven-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter, maybe a little harder, maybe a little bigger than they can handle alone. But that is why I am here. We’ll lean toward the center of the table together and fill in the empty spaces.


Sarah M. Wells is the author of Pruning Burning Bushes and some essays that have been published some places. She just finished her thesis, American Honey, a collection of linked essays centered around attention, femininity and feminism for the Ashland University MFA Program. She is the managing editor for River Teeth and for the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University.

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