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Tuesday, June 11, 2024

Before You Go: ‘Missing Pieces’

CRL columnist John Gray returns with another fictional masterpiece.

Jamie was tired. Long day, long week. I’d say long life, but being just a day shy of her 30th birthday there was more road in front than behind. Being a single mom money was tight, so after working at the hospital all day she did housekeeping at the Marriott all night. Tonight her 8-year-old daughter Olivia tagged along, not just good company, but a hard little worker putting out fresh towels and mints while Jamie did the rest.

Once a room was done she’d check the tip envelope left conspicuously on the dresser to see if the guest remembered her. Tonight was a good night because the envelope in the last room she cleaned had three dollars inside. Jamie didn’t see it as money but what the money could buy, in this case the chicken for her birthday dinner. Turning 30 depressed her. This was not the life she planned.

As she slipped the tip in her pocket she noticed doodling on the hotel stationary, the same word written over and over again: “Fortunatus.” She thought it might be an anagram when, “What’s this mommy?” Olivia asked, holding up a small funny shaped piece of white and blue cardboard she’d found on the floor. “It looks like garbage Liv, throw it away.” For some reason Olivia thought differently tucking it in her coat pocket.  “This is a lucky room, Mom,” Olivia added. “Today is January 24th and this is room 124. Get it? One, twenty-four.” They both smiled at the coincidence and made their way downstairs.

Jamie was thirsty so she ducked into the store in the lobby to buy water, Olivia choosing to sit just outside playing Nintendo. As Jamie walked in she was passed by a man who looked lost. She found her water quickly, but a little boy beat her to the counter plopping down a greeting card with a pretty rose on the front. He was excited having found such a nice card in the $.99 cent section.

Outside the store the man who passed Jamie saw Olivia on the bench, smiled and said, “Whathca playing?” Without looking up she responded, “Mario Kart.” The man continued, “My son loves that game. He’s in the store buying a…”  Olivia cut him off, “I’m not supposed to talk to strangers. Sorry.” The man nodded in agreement, backing away silently.

Back in the store the little boy was heartbroken when the clerk said, “$3.99 please.” Someone had put it back in the wrong spot and he only had a dollar. As he turned to go Jamie announced to no one in particular, “I didn’t want chicken anyway,” handing him her tip.  “Wow, thanks lady,” he exclaimed as he bolted from the store, card in hand.

Jamie collected her daughter, they locked arms and took two full spins around the hotel’s revolving door before vanishing into the night.

The next day after school Olivia stopped by the hospital to surprise her mom for her birthday. After a long hug the two made their way past the ICU, looked through the window and said at the same time, “I know him.” Inside the room was a woman who had just come out of surgery, a man holding her hand and boy laying at her feet. The boy looked up from the puzzle he was working on, whispered something to his father and they gestured for the girls to come in.

The man was Peter, his son Kyle, and the woman in the bed was Sarah, Peter’s wife. She just had a cancerous tumor removed and though her outlook was grim Peter was so thankful for his time with her and their beautiful son. Jamie glanced at the “Get Well” card on the bed stand. “My son says you helped him buy that?” Peter said. “Very kind of you.”

At the foot of the bed Olivia asked Kyle what was he was working on. “It’s a gift for my mom,” he responded. “She loves the ocean so I got this jigsaw puzzle of a sailboat in the ocean only I can’t finish it. I lost the last piece.” Olivia smiled at her mother, reaching into her pocket. “You were in room 124 at the Marriott?” Jamie asked Peter.  Before he could answer Olivia handed Kyle the odd shaped piece, his eyes growing as big and blue as the ocean in his puzzle. It was a perfect fit. It was a lucky room after all.

The drive home was quiet; Olivia proud of what she’d done and Jamie ashamed. All day she’d been feeling sorry for herself and here was this man and child facing such hardship and with such grace. Meeting them was a gift. “Oh, I meant to tell you something Mom,” Olivia said. “I asked my teacher about that word scribbled on the paper at the hotel. It’s not a sonogram or whatever you called it. “Fortunatus” is Latin, it means blessed.”  Jamie squeezed Olivia’s hand just as the front porch light to her home came into view. Fortunatus indeed.

As we start a new year, if a piece to your puzzle is lost I hope you find it. There is beauty in this world. I hope you see it.

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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