Artwork by Cynthia Pringle

Trolls

by Erin Pringle

A soldier appeared on the carport two days ago. His uniform was wet. He said the trolls were chasing him.

He slept in my bed. I took the couch.

I woke up with popcorn stuck to my arm where lovers have coat-of-arms tattoos. I popped popcorn the three days after my grandmother died. So much popcorn grocery bags became bowls. I straddled the top of the couch and shook the popcorn over me.

A troll appeared on my doorstep while the soldier was sleeping. I knew he was a troll by his bloody eyes.

Trolls do not like hunting by day. He said the soldier belonged to him. I didn't believe him-his clothes were wet. He saw my distrust and said he fell in a ditch. Get out of here, I said. I'll be back, he said.

The soldier had a childhood scar on his head. The scar was pink and sad. He wore a cross around his neck. I wondered if he prayed. I stare at people who pray in public. They don't know because their eyes are closed. Probably they look under their eyelashes as I did as a child in a pew.

The soldier and I took a shower and slipped against each other like people who usually shower alone. Then we rocked on the back-porch glider. His uniform hung on the clothesline. It wasn't windy enough to make it flap.

I asked if he was sad. He didn't answer.

I asked what would erase it.

We watched his uniform hang there.

He said you can't erase things like that.

He didn't ask if I was sad. I was glad he didn't.

The silence was comfortable, but I spoke. I often tell people things I don't know are intimate until I'm alone and embarrassed. I told him about my backyard.

How the realtor spoke of birdbaths, shade trees with fast growth rates, and paper lanterns, but how I'd rather watch it turn back into a forest. He said watch out for poison ivy. I said I got poison ivy every summer since I was a kid. I wanted him to ask about my poison ivy. He didn't.

I said, Trolls live in forests.

He didn't say anything.

So I thought about his scar, and the chances of his hurting his head at the same time I was smeared pink with calamine lotion and scratched myself with cotton balls. Chances were good.

The soldier's clothes were dry when I checked. I didn't want to tell him they were dry until I said they were. I tried to think how I could have acted like they were-like actors making an empty suitcase seem full of bricks. Every time an actor picks up a suitcase, I wonder if the suitcase is empty.

He put on his uniform. I wanted to kiss the front of his shoulder. Many women have probably kissed him there. Probably he loved one of them. Probably she broke his heart. Maybe that's why he became a soldier. Soldiers have stories like that. I tried to forget about kissing him, so that I would keep wanting.

I asked if he slept well. He said the best he could.

He thanked me for giving him my bed. I was suspicious of the bed. It was my grandmother's. I asked if he had had a certain nightmare. It was a long shot. He said he might have. He asked me to describe it.

I open my closet door. I crawl to the far corner where my winter coats hang in the summer. I stuff my hands in both pockets like the coat is on a person instead of a hanger, and the person and I are in the stage of love when we stick our hands in each other's pockets to see how the other will react. In one pocket is a quarter with two heads. In the other pocket is a suicide note. The suicide note says, Watch out for the trolls.

He asked how I knew it was a suicide note and not a letter. I could have said I just knew-that happens often in nightmares. Instead, I told the truth.

I always carry a suicide note with me just in case.

Like aspirin? he asked.

I checked to see if he was making fun. He wasn't, so I nodded.

He said the pockets were empty in his nightmare.

I thanked him for listening and followed him to the front door.

He walked out onto the sidewalk. He opened his arms.

He stood under my tree. A wind chime hangs in my tree. It hung right by his head. There wasn't enough wind to make it work.

Do trolls really live under bridges? I asked.

At the beginning of a bridge. So that you must listen to them beg you not to leave, or when you are re-crossing the bridge, they are waiting, urging you home to their brew and the circles they sit in and the songs from your youth when you hated life most. Because they never leave their houses and brew, they tell the same stories over and over and so when you sit again in their circle, it is like you never left.

There is some peace in it, then? I asked.

Some nightmares bring peace in the middle of war.

And when the war is over?

The trolls are waiting.

2007 by Erin Pringle.


Erin Pringle, a second-time contributor to Whistling Shade, resides in San Marcos, Texas with her husband Jeremy and their three dogs. She received her MFA in Creative Writing (Fiction)at Texas State University (2006) and her work has appeared in Barrelhouse, Adirondack Review, and elsewhere. Find more examples of her work at www.myspace.com/erinpringle.