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A Puzzling Reward

A story of how good things come to those who are open to finding them

By H.H. CallaghanPublished 3 years ago 8 min read

Ruby worked her way effortlessly through puzzles of all different types for all different ages despite only being ten years old herself; killing time and distracting herself from her rumbling stomach. Her mother, Jocelyn, had been designing them as a hobby for as long as Ruby could remember, but she now spent most of her time trying to find jobs to get them out of the women’s shelter and into a place of their own. Jocelyn had taught her everything she knew about puzzles and recounted often that ‘solving puzzles will lead us to the treasures of life.’ When Ruby had seen the light in her mother’s eyes the first time she had said this, she fell in love with them too and they’d done puzzles together ever since. She moved onto the next one, a word game of her mother’s invention consisting of solving anagrams inside multiple bubbles. The idea was to get the first and last letter from each unscrambled word to add to a final bubble to solve a conundrum, one letter was given to help you place the rest. She was deciding if ‘Bury Slime’ was the sensible answer to her mom’s conundrum clue of ‘What I’d most like to see you do…’ when the answer hit her and she smiled, rolling onto her back on the bed. Satisfied, she looked around the room for another to devour but found none left uncompleted. She shook out all the pockets of jeans and coats and managed to salvage a dollar fifty, which she knew she could easily spend in her favorite thrift store across the street. She flung a rucksack filled with a few puzzle books and some snacks onto her back and left a note for her mum in case she came back from her interviews and wondered where she was, and off she went.

Inside the thrift store, the aisles were teeming with clothes and toys. She whizzed past all the toys and headed straight for the second-hand books. She thumbed her way through a couple hoping to find a puzzle book she hadn’t seen before but nothing grabbed at her. A few fell to the floor as she brushed past. As she cleared the mess, she saw something she hadn’t noticed before; a little black book with little black squares etched into it peeped out from below the bookshelf. She picked it up and opened the front page:

‘If lost, please return to Ruth Curtis, Apartment 5, 60 Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, New York, NY11201. Reward Given.’

“Hi Clara, is this book for sale?” asked Ruby to the store clerk as she put it on the counter.

“Hey Ruby, you after more puzzle books today?” she smiled down at her and turned the book over in her hands, “I don’t think this is one of ours, where did you find it?”

“On the floor next to the books.”

Clara looked through the pages and recognition dawned on her face.

“Oh yeah, some fancy-looking woman came in a few days ago, she was carrying a handbag filled with newspapers, drawings and stuff, I bet it was hers. It also says there’s a reward if you return it to her.”

Ruby looked at the woman offering the book her way raising her eyebrows.

“Really, I can just take it to her? You don’t want anything for it?”

“Of course! It’s not our stock anyway, besides, from the drawings inside, she seems like your kind of person.”

Ruby hadn’t thought to look on the inside, on the account that the book looked so luxurious that she had felt it must’ve been a private diary of some kind. She flipped open the pages to find drafts of puzzles in elegant fonts, with questions circled and sections highlighted in vibrant colors; Ruby knew that this was someone she had to meet.

The address inside the cover happened to be a only few blocks away. As she walked down the block, she realized she was heading towards East River, the smell of the water on the breeze seeming to wash away the heavy and smoky smell of the city. The apartment blocks along the way started to get bigger and cleaner and seemed to have fewer people she'd sheltered with before asleep on benches outside. When she finally turned the corner onto Remsen Street, it opened out into a clear space with tree-lined sidewalks and old-looking yet modern townhouses. The people that passed her gave her strange looks and a white woman even asked from her front door if she should be in this area. Ruby smiled pleasantly back and assured the woman in her most eloquent voice that she was returning a book to a friend who lived nearby and would be on her way. The woman seemed dubious, but happy enough with the answer and even pointed her in the way of number sixty. Ruby thanked the woman and continued on, swinging the notebook at her side, aware the woman was likely still watching from her window.

She climbed the steps to the buzzer at number sixty and paused. What would this woman be like? Would she see Ruby the way the other woman had? Not as a puzzle enthusiast wanting to meet a kindred spirit, but a homeless little black girl up to no good. Ruby slumped and sat down on the step. For the first time in a long time, she felt like the circumstances she had grown up in were painstakingly apparent and somewhat unwelcome here. She flicked open the leather-bound book again and stroked in awe the gorgeous pictures. She decided she would try to complete one puzzle, as a way to calm her nerves before ringing the buzzer. From her backpack, she dug out a pencil and began a beautifully designed logic puzzle about the number of muffins in a basket and who out of the people at the picnic had eaten one. The puzzle was tricky, it could have been one of two of the neighbors, that Ruby was certain, she had even crossed one of them out to be certain, but she couldn’t decide which was right.

“I wouldn’t trust that Mr. Spencer either,” came a voice from behind her, making her jump. “Oh no, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to make you jump, I came down to check my mail and saw you there. You looked so engrossed, but you hadn’t moved for ten minutes so I thought I’d better check you were still breathing!”

The woman who was now outstretching her hand in offering was a beautiful woman of around thirty, with elegant clothing and the same dark cherry wood skin tone as her mother.

“I’m Ruth,” she said smiling, “do you like my puzzles?”

Ruby’s cheeks flushed.

“I’m sorry, I brought it back to give to you, but I-I got nervous and, the pictures were just so beautiful I couldn’t resist and…”

“Woah, easy now!” chuckled ruth in a warm voice like butter, “you have nothing to apologize for! I'm honestly just very impressed you have nearly single-handedly completed one of my harder logic puzzles which was designed for adults who do these kinds of things every day. That’s quite an accomplishment! Where did you learn?”

“My mom, Jocelyn, designs puzzles in her free time between searching for jobs. It’s our favorite pastime to do together. See…”

Ruby opened her backpack and handed the dog-eared notebooks of her mother’s to Ruth, these looking tattered in comparison to her pristine clothing and her little black book. Ruth examined the pages and nodded to herself.

“These are good! I’d love to meet your mother. Surely, she must be worried about you, it’s nearly dinner time! How about I walk you home and I give you your reward in front of your mom, I bet she’ll be proud?”

“Sure, thank you! I’m Ruby” she replied.

As the two walked down the streets back to the women’s shelter, they talked of puzzles and why they found them fascinating. Ruby learned that Ruth designed them for a living, she had never dreamed that such a wondrous job could exist but was hanging on her every word. A few times, Ruth had to take a quick call on her cellphone or answer a message, she apologized every time but was able to jump back into their conversation as if there was no interruption. This was the woman whom Ruby would aspire to be. The shelter came into sight and a very worried-looking Jocelyn came running over.

“Oh Ruby, thank goodness, I got back and wondered where you’d gone!” said her mom, smothering her with kisses, she looked to the elegant woman smiling at her, “thank you for returning her to me, I’m sorry if she was any trouble.”

“None at all!” said Ruth with a dazzling smile, “Ruby very kindly came to return my lost notebook to me. I offered to walk her home, and, on the way, she told me all about her love for puzzles and we hit it off right away, I’m a bit of a puzzle buff myself too!”

“She designs puzzles for a job mom!” added Ruby excitedly.

“Yes, I do!” answered Ruth to Jocelyn’s confused reaction, “the truth is, Ruby showed me the puzzles you have created, and I was very impressed. We have been looking for a new puzzle creator for a few weeks now and nobody seems to have any creativity these days. It wasn't until seeing your designs today that I believed there were any good designers left in this city at all! As the creative director for The New York Times, I get to choose who I employ and I would like to employ you, Jocelyn.”

Jocelyn stared blankly at the slender woman, now beaming at her, a look of utter shock across her face. Ruby was already squealing, clapping and laughing behind her. Jocelyn straightened herself.

“I-I don’t know what to say…” she began, “I would love to accept Ms.?”

“Curtis, but you can call me Ruth.”

“Ms. Ruth, I can't do a job like that! I mean, look at me, I live in a homeless shelter, struggling off the state and you look like a movie star! I'm nothing special…"

“I was once in a shelter just like this when I was younger and, like you, puzzles were my escape. My first big employer told me that there was a beautiful escapism to the complexity of my puzzles which I had never been able to see in my own work, but I finally saw it today in yours.”

Jocelyn put her hand over her mouth, her eyes beginning to water.

“You are right about the shelter though,” continued Ruth with a smirk, “it just won’t do to have my new creative design manager having to struggle by… come to think of it… Ruby?”

“Yes?” she said, suddenly anxious.

“I promised you a reward, didn’t I?” said Ruth.

“Oh no, you have given me everything I could have ever asked for, I don’t need a reward.”

“That was for your mother, I still need to reward you! In fact, I own a couple of mid-rise apartments a few streets from me, lets move you in there with your mum and give you a little start-up fund to get you both going. Shall we say $20,000? That should be more than enough for furnishings and rent for the first year.”

Jocelyn and Ruby could hold back their tears no longer and embraced each other.

“Think of it as me investing in the artistic future of The Times,” said Ruth with a wink, pushing her card into Jocelyn’s hand, “I’ll see you next Monday Jocelyn to start your new job, feel free to call me if you need anything.”

Ruby watched the wonderful stranger walking away whilst waving back at them, her mother’s words echoing in her mind:

‘Solving puzzles will lead us to the treasures of life…’


About the Creator

H.H. Callaghan

I'm a writer of prose and verse and love all aspects of literature and storytelling. I am working on some big projects, so I hope you all like my work to come! I will be posting smaller pieces in-between, so please indulge in these too.

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