She appeared like an ancient memory, half-washed away by the tides of time, faded and yet brighter than you knew she could have been.
Her dress was made of everything. Bits of fabric from shirts and dresses and scarves, pieces of clothing that had caught on thorns or ornate fences and torn away, lost forever. As I looked closer, I spied socks with no mates, half-finished knitted hats, lone squares from patchwork quilts. Woven through her hair and her eclectic dress and wreathing her head like a crown gleamed a treasure trove of gears and coins and scraps of paper, buttons and shoelaces and plastic toys still crusted with sand.
It took me a few moments to realize who she was, but I remembered eventually. We have all met the Queen of Lost Things. But, of course, we must always forget her again. For how can she be the protector of all that is lost and forgotten if she is not one and the same?
I found her the way we all do: by becoming one of her own. I stood by the side of the road under a dappled-green canopy of trees, looking at a map that was much too big and intricate, struggling to find where I was, and where I was going. My car, parked nearby, was useless if I did not know which direction to drive it in.
When the back of my neck started to tingle, I turned and found her perched on a nearby rock. She smiled, her mouth a conglomeration of teeth that others had lost, whether from fisticuffs or falling or swallowing them as they ate breakfast.
As we all are, I was quite startled at first. For, as we all do, I had forgotten how intricate and textured she was, so much so that I could not look at her all at once.
When she spoke, it was in a long-forgotten dialect that could be understood by all, as long as one didn't listen closely enough to discover that the syllables she was uttering did not match any they knew. She knew my name — for who hasn't forgotten theirs at some point or another? — and she called me by it. I knew I needn't be afraid of her, but at the same time my heart was pounding a bit harder than necessary.
She was covered in dust — for what lost thing isn't? — and her eyes were every color whose name has long been forgotten. She laughed at my shock, as she does at everybody's, never seeming to tire of the same old joke. And then, as I realized I had been expecting her to, she patted a spot on the rock beside her. I sat and lost all sense of time as she regaled me with her stories of all the places she'd been to and all the things she'd found. She was a magnet for anything lost, and, she remarked, what didn't come to her she would seek out, even if she didn't really mean to.
Unlike most, I did not just allow her stories to sweep over me, becoming so lost in her words that I forgot everything else. I pulled back just enough from her endless tales to remark upon her pendant. It was a single puzzle piece, lined with gold and hanging on a fine chain around her neck. I wondered aloud why such a simple thing held such a place of honor. The puzzle piece did not even contain a discernible image. It was green and black and blue and grey, a texture that could have been the leathery hide of a dinosaur, or ripples in water, or a tree at night.
It was then that she truly smiled, a smile so bright and good that the whole world sang. This was not just a curling of lips or a crinkling at the corner of her eyes but an expression of such pure joy that I felt it settle into a corner of my heart, where, though it would be forgotten, it would remain, glowing warmly.
She eagerly explained that the puzzle piece was so special to her because it was her purpose. In a completed puzzle, the piece was nothing special or important. It was hidden in plain sight, gracing the edges with a little more space. It was not the eagle's talons or the dragon's fire or the maiden's hair, just an added bit of texture. But, once that single piece was removed, one's eyes were drawn to where it should have been. That expendable piece was suddenly the most important one of them all.
And so it is with all things. One will only truly notice and appreciate something if it has been lost. Otherwise the world would be flat and predictable, with no hidden corners or secret passageways into which things could slip, never to be seen again, or emerge, to be greeted with relief and appreciation.
I asked her if she ever returned the things she found — fixed the broken puzzles and one-eyed stuffed animals. And oh, how her eyes sparkled. Wordlessly, she withdrew something from the endless folds of her dress. I looked down, and my eyes were greeted with an enormous, carefully organized bundle of everything I had ever lost.
Speechless — at a loss for words — I stared at all my baby teeth and lucky pennies and old T-shirts, all my shoes and stories and staring contests, all the ingenious thoughts and clever jokes and witty comebacks I'd lost hold of at just the wrong moment. All of it was there, held gently in her arms like a swaddled baby. I could have looked forever, eyes darting from treasure to treasure, hoping that I would remember even a fraction of what I was seeing.
After an endless instant, she drew the folds of her infinite cloak around her gift, and it was gone. But it truly was a gift, even if it was only mine for a short while.
Then, her gaze grew sad as she explained that some lost things can never be found again, and those that can, she could not give back to me. To do so would be to revoke her title, to renounce all that the puzzle piece around her neck meant. However, she instructed me to search carefully for my lost things in the future. For while she could not give them back directly, when she could, she tried to place them in spots where they would be found.
I hugged the Queen of Lost Things tightly, thanking her sincerely and deeply, though for what, I could not remember. Nor could I remember why I was sitting by the side of the road when my path was so clear on my map. As I walked back to my vehicle, I noticed a single sock lying on the dashboard — a perfect match for the one I had at home in a chest of drawers and was unable to wear.
As I picked it up, I could have sworn I heard a laugh that seemed as close and impossible as a just-forgotten dream, and I thought I caught a glimpse of an infinite dress twirling away through the trees. Of course, like anyone else would have, I shook my thoughts away, my lost memories drifting like cobwebs to the ground, where they would no doubt be collected once I was gone and subtly returned at a later date.
For how can someone be the Queen of Lost Things, the protector of all that is lost and forgotten, if they are not one and the same?