I began my walk to the Barnum Brook Bridge carrying an emotional load that nearly broke my already painful back. It was a warm and very muggy afternoon. There were grey clouds in the hazy sky. There were grey clouds in my mind, my soul and my heart. I was not dreading the Bridge like I once did. In fact, I was looking forward to visiting an old friend…sort of. I walked slowly because I needed the extra minutes to think. At the same time, I was formulating my words. It’s not every day that one has to say farewell to a friend. For me, now was that time. I must make this my finest hour.
I walked on, pausing to photograph a wildflower for a later post on Facebook.
I had arrived. I put my foot down hard on the first plank, making more noise than usual. Sure enough, out pops The Troll. He looked about and disappeared beneath the bridge when he spotted me.
“Who is passing over my bridge?” he asked.
“I am passing over your bridge,” I said. “Let’s get this over with. I need to sit down.
He emerged from under the wooden planks and said: “I know you. Listen up. Keep your distance.”
“The Covid thing, remember. Are you still in lock-down mode?”
“Not really,” I said. “Things aren’t as bad as they were when I last came this way. Now it’s the Monkey Pox.”
“Just in case, don’t come any closer. I’m packing a can of Mace.”
“Let’s get the riddle thing over, shall we. I need to have a talk with you.”
“Okay. Okay. Here’s the first riddle:
What is dirty when it’s white?”
I pondered the question for about forty-five seconds when it came to me. “A Blackboard.”
“One down and two biggies to go, Patrick.
What goes from Z to A?”
Another new one. Where did he get these riddles? I thought. This time I was really puzzled…for about a minute. “Zebra”, I almost shouted.
“Whoa. Who’s on a roll today?”
“I am. Let me have the third one, Sir Troll.”
“Don’t get cheeky, my friend. You know what fate awaits you if you miss one. I cringe to even contemplate…”
“Spill it,” I demanded.
He looked smug. He thought he was going to get me on the last one.
He spoke with a twinkle in his large eyes: “What is the saddest fruit?”
Now I was worried. I had no idea. This wasn’t in the Big Book of Riddles I study before every trip to the VIC. And no mention of any of these new puzzles in the Ultimate Book of Norse Mythology. The newer edition that has a new forward by the author, Dr. Sven Sunquist.
“The clock is ticking, Patrick.”
“Go ahead, grind my bones or whatever you do when someone misses a riddle. I give up.”
He stared long and hard at me: “You look like a beaten donkey. I see damage in your eyes. I’m going to give you a pass. The answer, appropriately, is Blueberries. You can pass, but you owe me one.”
“I owe you a riddle?”
“Figure of speech,” he said. “Don’t get anal on me.”
I sat down on the wooden bench near the bridge: “I’ve got something to tell you, Troll.”
“You won the Mega Millions.”
“Don’t I wish. No, it’s…it’s that we’re going away. We’re moving. We’re going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough woods and winter and slush and bugs.”
He looked deep into my eyes again. No words came to his lips. He just looked at me. His eyes were moist. He sighed.
“How long are you gonna be gone?” he asked slowly while trying to swallow. “When can I expect to visit with my favorite human again?”
I chocked at my following words: “That’s just it, Troll. We’re moving away for good. It’s possible that we may never see each other again. Don’t think for a moment that I won’t miss you because I will. You see Troll, these last few months have been very hard on me. I lost my closest friend. I wish he had just moved somewhere, but he didn’t. He passed away. I have only a few real friends. You could count them on two of your three fingers. I’m lonely up here in the North Country. You, Troll, are the only real friend I have left…besides my wife, of course.”
He had one hand in his pocket and the other one rested on the planks of the bridge. He was drumming his fingers on the dried wood. He said: “Funny thing. I don’t have many real and true friends either. We’re both the same here, are we not?”
He turned away and began to cry. He didn’t just cry, he sobbed and wailed. I’d never seen him like this before.
“Please Troll, don’t make this any harder. It’s not you, it’s me. You have your little place under the bridge. I’m a restless guy. I need a change. I need something new. I don’t know how many years I have left.”
“Hah, I can see right through you. You’re leaving me for some Big City Troll, right? I knew it. Those Big City Trolls are different than ones like me. They wear the traditional outfits. They look like they just got off a photo shoot with National Geographic Magazine.”
“No, there’s nobody else, in New York or anywhere. Come here. Let me shake your hand and wish you farewell.”
“Oh, but that’s against the Rules. You can’t touch me. Strange things might happen.”
“There are no such Rules out here, Troll. Here, give me your hand.”
As he placed his very large hand in mine I felt a jolt. I swear a bolt of lightening hit my arm. I closed my eyes. I had visions. Troll standing in the rain and waving at me, or standing in a foot of snow and grinning up with those big cow-like eyes. Or wiping away the sweat on days like this. I remember how he played the Pan Flute and made me see the different Adirondack seasons squeezed into one short vision. He was a treasure trove of wisdom and I’d be crazy to let him go out of my life for good. No. I would return someday…some sunny day. I will be older, more feeble, more pained and maybe just a little bit wiser. But Troll, he will never age. He has all the time in the world. I don’t.
I withdrew my hand: “I have to go now. Be good, my friend. It’s not forever, it’s just for awhile. I’ll be back.”
“That’s what the little girl said in Poltergeist.”
I turned and began the walk back to my car.
“I see your son was in Iceland for a few days. He loved it, didn’t he?”
“Yes, but how did you know?”
“My Icelandic cousin. And, oh, I see your daughter, her husband and your grandson came for a visit. I bet you loved that.”
“Oh, by the way. I know you used a photo of Fluffy to hawk your books. That’s shameful.”
“Little Lambs Eat Ivy.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“You’re the Riddle King. Figure it out.”
The trail curved to the left. I looked back for one more wave. I saw him blowing his large nose with a red bandana.
[Note: All photos are mine with the exception of the Troll image. That was a result of a Google search.]