Sometimes the Barbs

I sit and stare down at the breakfast of self-consolators: a stale doughnut, cream-filled, that has sat in its box on the counter for the past two days, and a brown-spotted banana, off-setting the sugary portion with the promise of an adequate daily serving of fruit. There s coffee, of course. Black and sludge-like and soon to be browned with milk.

The daily crossword and Sudoku is to my left, only turned over and revealed post-funnies. The rest of the paper lies forgotten and discarded on the far end of the table.

I begin filling in the 2s, checking each row, column, and 3×3 sub-grid, finding and eliminating possible boxes in my mind. I fill in the numbers automatically, taking periodical sips of coffee and bites of stale doughnut. The bruised banana remains unpeeled.

I let the coffee melt the doughnut and hold the two together in my mouth until they become a single gelatinous substance that I push down into my stomach. As the solution is squeezed through my esophagus it passes the stone that sits somewhere in the center of my chest. The stone is wrapped in barbed wire once around, and felt cloth twice-over so that I can only feel them scrape if I probe far enough down. When I don’t it is dull and viscous and numbing, the felt pushing its way through vessels to touch my fingers and toes, and floating up to the space in my head reserved for such thoughts. I don’t like to reach down to touch it, for fear I may cut my fingers on the deceptively sharp surface.

But sometimes the barbs poke through.

I finish the 2s and scan the nine sub-grids for my next numerical conquest. The 5s fall quickly, and then the 1s. The rating of this puzzle is only three stars. Child’s play. More doughnut, more coffee. Again the thick mush down my throat.

There are two dozen completed Sudoku books sitting in the corner next to the shoes. I keep them as mementos and friends, and flip through the pages of neat, completed grids, no two the same. There are 5,472,730,538 unique Sudoku solutions possible. I figure I have done a couple thousand by now.

The solution presents itself, and in a flurry of pen strokes the last two numbers are filled in. I sit back and stare, sated.

The Sudoku is complete. The doughnut is done. The coffee half-empty. The banana remains.

The barbs retreat back to their velvety-cushioned home.