The PuzzleAmy Lemmon
Home from dance class, nine years old, late autumn, early dusk and chill, Mother in the kitchen, of course, and a new puzzle somebody had given me for no apparent reason—months since my birthday, Christmas not really close. On the box was a stylized painting of a little boy, a Gallic waif with huge sad eyes and oversized head, sitting on an ice-cream parlor chair. My class was learning a new routine to a song about gingerbread with a chorus that went uh-huh. . . uh-huh. It seemed ridiculous that grown-ups had written, then performed and recorded, that song. It wasn’t a song for children, either— I don’t know what it was for— but it was glossy as the too-bright yellows and blues of the puzzle boy, who was made for children—something cute for the children— something drawn and painted in a foreign country in the international language of sentiment. Though already I’d learned to look askance at smarm, could spot schmaltz when I saw it, how desperately I loved the puzzle boy, sad and cute and clearly too nice to hurt me, loved the way my head played the gingerbread song for weeks, uh-huh, uh-huh, uh-huh.
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