Brenda the 2nd was thinking about whether she had on too little, or too much make-up. The dress she was wearing felt nice on her body, but was old and she wondered if it might be too drab for the party. She worried that since her younger sister Brenda would be arriving at the party ahead of her that no man would look at her.
Although she had been ready before Brenda the Younger, she had stayed in her room practicing her smile. If she smiled too wide the crow’s feet at the edge of her eyes would scrunch and accentuate her age. She wondered if men found laugh lines attractive or a turn-off. Settling on a half-smile that she’d hoped made her look mysterious she had donned the shawl she had picked up at her best friend Marge’s Clothing Swap Party in Spring. It was not her usual colour and flair, perhaps bringing her more attention than she usually asked for, but she loved how it hung off her shoulders; the silk seemed to soothe her anxiety immediately once it settled.
She was thinking of all this until she saw the man on the bridge. He looked as she felt and suspected he had made advances on her younger sister and was denied. How the men loved to cast their lines at Brenda, how Brenda the 2nd missed those days when respective suiters did the same to her. Most nights, before she lay in bed, she would think of past days and pledge that if she could ever go back she would have said Yes a few more times. For now, in middle age, her sagging body; how she bought bras for their function and not for their fashion, how her once porcelain legs were speckled with the blue veins that come with standing too long at a job she was not happy with- she longed for a young man (or any man) to wax poetic on her beauty.
Adjusting her gait, and straightening her back, the Middle Brenda- Brenda who once defined herself by her marriage, and her husband; by how she kept her house, and the friends who attended her dinner parties- now walked with deliberate purpose in hopes to hide her doubt.
The man was a Troll, she could see that with or without the light. But there was a kindness to him that she took to immediately. He must have been younger by twenty years and when he called to her she could hear a mild, but prevalent desperation in his tone.
If you are here to cause trouble, Troll, you shall be sorely disappointed, she said without thinking. She was not sure why she said it. She had no qualms with the boy.
The Troll stepped back as if he was gunshot in the chest. I beg thee pardon? he said. He wondered if he might be looming instead of leaning.
Brenda the Middle was slightly taken aback by her first comment, and wrestled in her mind the thing to say that would alleviate the Troll’s anxiety as well as hers.
The Troll said, Miss, I mean you no harm, I confess I came here with ulterior motives but a young woman as beautiful, and worldly as yourself helped me see the error of my ways. If you wish to pass by I promise I will not bother you.
Tell me your story, then, and I shall listen with great interest, said the 2nd Brenda, and the Troll did only leaving out mention of his extensive Hummel collection.
He was unsure why he felt compelled to tell this woman his sad life story. How, in all the self-help books, he was expressly forbidden in speaking of length on his own life, and to only show interest in theirs. But this woman, for she was a woman and not a girl like the younger Brenda- for this woman made him feel at ease with himself. Aware of his failings, and a need to better himself.
She reached out a hand to comfort the Troll, touching the Troll’s shoulder and both she and he shivered at the joy of human contact. Both had gone so long without a simple touch from the opposite sex that they temporarily ascended their bodies and floated in a kind of vibrating glee through the trees and across the land. The Troll noticed the woman’s face grew younger by decades, and the woman noticed the Troll seemed to grow several inches and his chest puffed out like a lumberjack or a circus strong man.
When Brenda the middle finally found the courage to break the connection of hand to shoulder she was unsure of how much time had swelled through them. She said, What is it that you want, Troll?
The Troll took no time to speak, I want to have someone worry on me when I am not home on time. I want to have someone I can spend time imagining of what they are doing when I am not with them. I want to inch a toe across the expanse of our bed and find solace in making purchase on their body. I want hand holding in a crowded theatre, and stolen kisses at a bus stop. I want burnt dinners because we couldn’t keep our hands off each other. I want someone who asks me how my day was and listens. I want text messages that say ‘Thinking of you’ because they were. I want to hunt and forage for someone, and kill and conquer. But most of all, and above all else, I want to feel love and be loved.
Why do you think you do not have it? said Brenda.
I have no idea, said the Troll. I wish I did. I read books, and listen to podcasts. I talk to friends, and friends of friends, and nothing and no one, seems to bring this answer to light. Perhaps, said the Troll, perhaps I am afraid.
And Brenda the 2nd, Brenda the middle, Brenda the once wife, and Brenda the Beauty Queen realized that she, too, was afraid. That life had given her a marriage that ended, and she holed herself up with her sisters and hid from the world. That all the fussing in the mirror was a lie she told to herself not to others.
I think, she said to the Troll. I think that that is the crux of all our folly. That we are afraid to live. That we are afraid to take on the responsibility in some way. I blame my husband for leaving me for a younger woman. I look at my aging body and I see failure and future failure that I cannot ever measure up to my past self, but I am different now. Or perhaps the same, but wiser yet I still doubt that I am stronger; I forget sometimes.
But, said the Troll. But what does that mean?
Brenda laughed. A rolling laugh that caught her off-guard.
Did I say something wrong? said the Troll. He went over the conversation in his mind, he looked at every word and came to the conclusion the fault lay in his revealing of his dream of what love is. He wished to never speak again.
He said, Thank you for your time, I wish you a wonderful evening.
No, said Brenda. Reaching out once again to brush his shoulder. This time they did not fly amongst the stars, and the Troll worried the magic of human interaction was already passé. No, I laugh at myself, dear Troll, for I too am like you.
Oh, and now you make fun of me, he said. I see that this evening was a mistake.
Please, you misunderstand, she said. Listen, if you can- if you are ready to listen, for it took me years to listen. It took me years to learn to listen. I don’t know you, I only know how you feel. Lost, embarrassed. Confused, maybe. Maybe none of that. All I can tell you is that you know what your problem is.
The Troll’s eyes widened, and his mouth opened but words did not come out. He finally said, No I don’t. No.
Everyone knows, she said. We all know what our faults are, but hope they are not the problem. In the quiet when the TV is turned off for the night. The silence between songs. At traffic lights in the ink of the evening. We can hear our thoughts clear before they are drowned out by the clamor of the day.
The Troll understood, before she was finished her speech. He said, I am afraid I am not good enough.
Brenda smiled. Not the fake smile she practiced earlier but the one that brought out those crow’s feet, and laugh lines. She said, Well I am here to tell you you are.
And the Troll fell in love with her. And years from this day, when he is holding his daughter’s hand after he learns her long time boyfriend has asked her to marry her he will tell her of the first woman he ever loved.
The Troll and Brenda hugged with great warmth. They squeezed a tightness that said you will be safe as long as I am around.
Brenda nodded and turned away towards the path that led to the Butcher’s home. The Troll caught her skipping just as she turned the corner and disappeared behind a tree.
He wondered on his life, and how he came to doubt himself. Was it all the teasing from school? He was not sure he was teased any more than anyone else. He wondered if it came from the music he listened to? Did he misunderstand what Leonard Cohen hinted to about unworthiness in the eyes of women? Did his fear of becoming arrogant cause the Troll to have a lack of confidence?
With a chill coming up in the air the Troll unbuttoned his coat and instead of hunching over the railing of the bridge that would be the centre of a turning point in life, he leaned back on it- elbows on the railing. He closed his eyes and lifted his face to the sky. He smiled and began to imagine a life with his true face, and what adventures he would partake in… and with whom.
…to be concluded (Part 4)