Rebecca Tyrrel: Days Like Those

Ever since Ned Flanders vanished, I've had the feeling that someone's trying to drive me mad
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The Independent Online

I know I am over-reacting, but I feel as if a real live neighbour has gone missing, not just Ned Flanders from my Simpsons "Citizens of Springfield" jigsaw puzzle. His loss is stressing me out, and I suspect Matthew is at the root of the mystery. I think he has hidden Flanders to annoy me, or possibly make me think I am going mad.

This evening I can contain myself no longer so, once Matthew is settled with his Sudoku, I decide to approach him cautiously. "I think you have something to do with the disappearance of a certain neighbour," I say. "Any admission will, of course, be treated confidentially."

Matthew gave me his familiar "Why are you talking to me when you know I'm not a qualified psychiatrist?" look, and poured himself another octuple from the Famous Grouse bottle.

"Are you seriously suggesting that I've done away with someone?" he said. "Do you think I am behind the disappearance of Chris, perhaps?"

Chris is the junkie who used to knock on the front door most nights offering to exchange something he'd "found" - a birdbath, or a broken lamp, once it was our own dustbin - in return for a £20 note. Matthew did once get quite cross with Chris, when he woke the household at 2.30am and attempted to sell us a bag of our own logs. However, I know he hasn't actually killed Chris, if only because I know Chris is still alive. I saw him this afternoon, for the first time in ages, cycling down the road with a smashed-up portable TV in his bike basket. He said he had gone to live in Acton.

"Well, if not Chris," says Matthew, picking up the Sudoku and his pencil in a manner which suggests to me that, whatever I say, he is not going to take it seriously, "which neighbour am I supposed to have done away with?" So, I told him who it was. I said, "I suspect you of complicity in the disappearance of Ned Flanders."

There are 500 pieces in my Simpsons jigsaw, which is circular, and features over one hundred different citizens of Springfield all grouped together as if posing for a community photograph. Once, before the top of the box went missing, presumed thrown out with Christmas wrapping, but now I wonder if that wasn't stolen too, Louis and I sat for over an hour naming the characters and scoring points accordingly. This is why I am so sure that the pieces that make up Flanders do exist. I distinctly remember identifying him on the box, I am sure he is there, right next to Itchy the Mouse.

Because of the Flanders issue, I am taking a long time to get the jigsaw finished. I can't seem to settle down to it for long because of the frustration caused by the missing pieces. My mother has given me an aromatherapy oil to sniff and that calms me down.

In the meantime, one end of the kitchen table is out of commission. The scale of the jigsaw and its circularity mean that it is impossible to find a tray for it to fit on, and although I keep meaning to send off for a jigsaw holder from the Innovations catalogue, I can never quite bring myself to do it.

Sabotage

It is the combination of the missing box lid as well as the missing Flanders that makes me think someone is trying to "gaslight" me. This is a method of driving a person mad just as, in the film Gaslight, Charles Boyer almost succeeded in driving Ingrid Bergman mad. On Thursday, for example, the Reverend Tim Lovejoy, who was definitely there, right next to Edna Krabappel, the previous day, had suddenly vanished. Matthew swears that it wasn't him and even accuses me!

He says I'm like Penelope unraveling Odysseus' burial shroud each night rather than just getting on and finishing it. I told Matthew I had a very different Homer on my mind, the one I know I completed yesterday but who just isn't there this morning. I also told him that if the purpose of the sabotage is to drive me mad, it is working magnificently.

Conspiracy theory

I have decided to leave Matthew out of my enquiries for the moment. Instead, I raised with Wanda, the home help, the question of how Bart Simpson's headmaster, Principal Skinner, had managed to swap places with the Ralph Wiggum, the son of Inspector Wiggum, whose rightful position was on the opposite side of the jigsaw next to Krusty the Klown.

Wanda said she had no idea what I was talking about and that if I really thought she was sneaking back in the middle of the night to interfere with this "very strange" hobby (perhaps they don't have jigsaws in Poland), then I needed my head testing.

Perhaps it's the dog walker. She has a set of keys. I put this theory to Matthew, who was busy playing with the dimmer switch that controls the light over the kitchen table, and humming the theme to The Twilight Zone.

"Yes," he said, "I now accept that that there is a high-level conspiracy. Wanda, Louis, the dog walker, but it could well go higher than that; the Mafia perhaps, the FBI, the CIA and possibly the Pentagon. Is there a grassy knoll in the jigsaw by any chance?

Phone a friend

The jigsaw is now complete except for three pieces that would comprise Flanders. I phone the friend who gave me the jigsaw because she also bought one for her six-year-old. She tells me straight out that she has had a good look and there is no Flanders. "He isn't in the picture," she says. "You imagined him all along."

She says that from my description of exactly where the hole in the jigsaw occurs, it would seem to be Groundskeeper Willie who has gone missing. So where does that leave me?

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