Trolls And Bridges

Entry by: jaguar

30th March 2017
Somehow it’s 8pm and I still haven’t finished. I look at the sculpture and decide I might as well keep going. I’ve left it too late to find someone to walk home with. I’m doomed anyway but if I complete my masterpiece at least I’ll leave something for posterity. The exhibition opens the day after tomorrow. I’m supposed to leave my piece with the curator tonight. I don’t suppose she’ll realise I put it in her office just before midnight.

The university has a different quality at night. Now the spacious squares are intimidating, great acres I scurry across on my way to the exit, making myself panic with my own gasping breath. The streetlights reduce my shadow to nothing as I reach the road. Most of my walk home is through the High Street. There are people around, even at this time of night. I feel relatively safe until I’m nearly at the big bridge.

I slow as I approach it. Perhaps the Troll has moved on. He may even be asleep. He isn’t as fearless as people claim. Every time I’ve crossed the bridge in company he’s left us alone. But I’ve never been here after dark and I’ve never been on my own. We laugh about it in the staffroom at the university, how we stick together because we’re frightened of him because he reminds us of childhood stories of trolls. Most of them don’t know I have a better reason to be afraid.

I tiptoe across, my vestigial courage evaporating in the faint wind. I am halfway there when the shadows form themselves into his body standing at the far end, waiting for me. I stop trying to pretend he isn’t there. His hair is long and wild, his beard matted and dirty. His shoulders are so stooped you wouldn’t guess he was once a tall man. His hands are as clasped as bird claws. His lips are opening and closing as if chewing on words. I wait for him to speak.

‘Alone at last.’

His voice hasn’t changed, it still reminds me of chocolate. I stare at what he’s become searching for any traces of who he used to be, before the curse struck, before I lost him to it. The creases have almost buried his eyes, his beautiful lips are darkly stained. ‘Tim.’

‘How are you, Ingrid?’

This is ridiculous. I’m making polite conversation with someone who’s rejected all convention. He lives under a bridge, makes fires out of others’ rubbish, steals food from supermarkets, appears regularly in court. Even from this distance I can smell the alcohol. That fearsome Alsatian is by his side, already growling at me. I can’t see a muzzle or a lead. Tim will have no control over it, he never had much discipline. ‘I’m scared of your dog.’

Tim looks down at it. It wags its tail. ‘Don’t be. He’s never hurt anyone. Shadow just likes a good growl.’

‘But if you let people think he’ll hurt them won’t someone take him away?’

He raises his head, meets my eyes. ‘They’ll have to kill me first.’

He doesn’t seem to realise they might do just that. Can’t he see that people are petrified of him? He won't let people pass without giving him a toll for crossing the bridge. A toll that is quickly converted into Special Brew and Pedigree Chum. There are rumours that the council will try and move him on. My neighbours in the riverside apartments have been complaining. Neighbours that probably don’t recognise Tim from when he lived there too, with me, in the posh penthouse his city job paid for.

I know now why I left it too late to walk home with someone. I wanted to have this conversation. I wanted to have one last try at saving him before he passes away from me into urban myth. I want Tim to stop being a troll. I hurry forwards, reach out and take the can from his hand. ‘This stuff will kill you first. What will happen to Shadow then?’ I upend it and the beery stench reeks out. Shadow wags his tail again, stops growling.

Tim’s lips curl as he snatches the can back and rights it. He takes a deep swallow and throws the emptied can over the bridge. I wince, thinking of the wildlife. ‘Give me my toll, Bitch!’ He spits the words out. Shadow whines and comes to sit by me.

‘Can’t you stop? Go back to who you used to be?’ I’m pleading for both of us, my voice so high-pitched it could shatter the glass between us and those I can sense gawping behind their blinds.

‘I’m happy here. I don’t have to pretend anymore.’ He gestures at his sleeping bag under the bridge, the smoke from his fire, Shadow. Then he looks at me and glances up at our apartment and I can see he’s struggling with some impulse. He creases his eyebrows together, makes a lunge towards me and snatches my bag.

They come out of nowhere. Tim punches the air as they taser him. The darkly uniformed men tear me away from the snarling dog hiding behind my legs. They fold me into what they believe is safety. Perhaps it is although I don’t want to go. I don’t want to leave the Troll with them. You read all those stories about what happens in police custody. ‘Leave him alone! I’m not pressing charges.’ I don’t want to be saved from myself.