Trolls And Bridges

Entry by: Finnbar

29th March 2017
Two for Two.

They sit around their customary table in the darkest corner, nursing pints of bitter slowly over the course of the evening; The Trolls. All crooked teeth and scraggly remnants of hair, their postures are bent, shoulders hunched or sagging. They drink just enough that the pretty young waitress doesn’t ask them to leave, she never does, but she covers her mouth in mild disgust when one of them smiles yellow at her, and pretends she’s coughing.
Among the four of them there’s little conversation. Joe might ask if they’ll get a chipper later, to which Robert and George will nod, while Michael replies that he can’t, doctor said so, and tap his bag leg with his cane as though it has anything to do with high cholesterol. None of them mention the conspicuous hole left by Tom.
He’d been the conversationalist of them, the scholar too, and when there was no talk to be dragged out of them he’d recite poetry, old poetry, nothing they’d ever heard. They’d close their eyes then and listen to his quiet gruff voice as it washed over them.
He’d demanded they wear bright colours to his funeral, and forbade a wake, but they’d worn black anyway; none of them owned a second suit.
The Trolls, they’re called, by the manager and most of the wait staff. “Are The Trolls in tonight?” or when he’s kicking them out at two “Come on lads, get yourselves home before it gets light and you turn to stone.”
Offending patrons is against practice, of course, but theirs is custom he could do without.
Each night he looks around the busy pub, which has grown in popularity since he’s taken over, and count up how much he’s missing out on by having their table occupied by The Trolls instead of heavy-drinking twenty-year-olds. As he pulls his BMW out of the car park, crosses under the old railway bridge and drives home, he thinks that the bit of extra sales would push him just over his next target and he’d get another raise.
The last of their wives stopped coming half a year ago, whether she was dead or in a hospice he didn’t know. Either way that was a seat free that he moved to a different table. Another one went last month; that one had definitely died, the other four had been in two days later in sad, drab suits instead of their normal shapeless old people clothes. That hadn’t helped him much though; the remaining seats around their table were built in benches that he couldn’t shift.
If one or two more of them dropped now, that would suit him grand. He could insist they move to a smaller table out the back, then maybe they’d fuck off and find another pub to waste space in.

George scratches his chin, shaking little flakes of dead skin out of his beard. “Could we find a book maybe? One that had all the stuff he used to read.”
Michael downs the rest of his pint uncharacteristically, and pushes his seat back. He goes to get a round without another word.
“I don’t think we’d find them in a book. Wouldn’t be the same anyway, would it? I can’t read feckin’ poetry, and I’m sure the rest of us can’t either.” Robert said.
They lapse back into silence, and when the pints arrive each man looks at the place by the window where Tom sat and downs the remainder of his previous drink. No toast is made.
When it comes, the crash is so loud it seems the window panes must be shaking in their housing. The entire pub freezes at once, though the music plays on, ACDC uncaring of the imminent danger. Then the screaming begins and everyone runs to the front door. Drinks are left at tables by all, except for The Trolls who wander to the doors, pints in hand, after the crush has passed. Michael comes last, hobbling on his cane.
The rubble of the railway bridge is strewn across the street; big blocks of rough cut stone scattered like little castles on a flat grey plain. There’s a huge tour bus rammed halfway in the bridge tunnel, and a stream of Japanese tourists are still exiting its rear doors, pushing and tripping their way to safety. Because the bridge is only half down.
The remaining masonry protrudes in jagged fingers from the side walls, with two large blocks actually hanging from the remnants of vines that are somehow bearing their weight. And beneath, directly beneath, is a blue Honda Accord, wedged between the bus and the opposite wall, a visible baby-on-board sticker on the rear window.
The pub manager tells the pretty young waitress to ring emergency services, then picks out three young men from the crowd and they all run forward to help. Only to rear back again as a wide band of dark liquid pooled beside the bus bursts into flames. Screams from the tourists re-double, though most of them are free and clear.
As The Trolls shuffle across for a better view they can see through the haze the unconscious slump of a woman across the steering wheel of the Accord, and the flailing arms from the baby seat in the back.
They look at each other. They set down their pints in a line by the curb. They approach the flames together, passing by the manager who tries to call them back. Michael feels a hand on his shoulder and shrugs it off.
George takes off his old brown overcoat, drags it through a dirty puddle and throws the sodden result across the thinnest section of the flaming puddle. It doesn’t come close to putting the fire out, but douses that section long enough for The Trolls to tread across to the door of the trapped car.
There’s another flare as more fuel spurts from the bus’s tank, accelerating the blaze, and the shapes of The Trolls are obscured behind the ensuing heat haze. A man shouts a warning, pointing, as flames lick up one of the tyres, heading towards the leaky tank. But an explosion doesn’t come- either the tank is empty or some fluke gap stops the fire from jumping across.
Only glimpses can be seen of their clumpy movements as they pry the dented door open with Michael’s cane, or as they drag the woman unceremoniously from her seat. George stands over her, slapping her back to consciousness as the other work the back door open and retrieve the clip-in baby seat.
What can be seen is the flames licking up the side wall, setting the vines alight and producing even more waves of black smoke. There’s a huge smash and people instinctively duck as one of the suspended blocks falls onto the roof of the Accord, blowing the glass out of all windows at once.
It takes some minute or so more before another heavy coat is thrown across the flames and the woman dashes across the gap, baby in her arms. She’s crowded by people slapping out the little flames that have caught on her jacket.
The rest watch, unspeaking. George drags Michael across the coat, face set in a tight grimace. Michael’s cane is nowhere to be seen.
Joe and Robert never emerge from under the bridge.
When the ambulance and fire crews arrive George and Michael are sitting on the curb, drinking their pints. The other two remain untouched. Michael’s hands are shaking.
After they’ve been treated for shock and burns, the crew tells them that Joe and Robert were killed by fume inhalation. The fire never touched them.
Michael choughs as he replies “For the best so I reckon.”
George looks at the sobbing woman with her tiny baby “Two for two I guess.”