At the back of the hill

Warning: If you stay here long enough you will gain weight! Grazing here strongly suggests that you are either omnivorous, or a glutton. And you might like cheese-doodles.
BTW: I'm presently searching for another person who likes cheese-doodles.
Please form a caseophilic line to the right. Thank you.

Saturday, February 02, 2013

DRINK MILK!

He knew that he was supposed to live under a bridge, and receive a saucer of milk every night. That was the way it had been for hundreds of years. But here in San Francisco life was quite deficient in either regard; the noteworthy bridges did not have comfortable Romanesque vaulting and housed crack-heads besides, and no-one, absolutely no-one, even remembered the milk!
In many ways, human society was deficient.
He didn't really like people at all.
Inconsiderate creatures.

He loved milk. It tasted like heaven. He'd get it himself, but cows skittered so when he came near. Quite unfortunate. And it just did not do to raid the crates left out in early morning. That was NOT something a self-respecting troll did.

He had not had milk for a very long time.


He was in the hallway of the building where he had cunningly arranged for his mail-order parcels to be delivered -- 'Dear Mr. postman, please leave packages for Mr. Ragnall under the table in the foyer' -- when he heard a girlish voice saying "but mom, I hate milk!" How odd. Somebody didn't like the pale nectar? How extremely unusual!
An older voice responded, "Jen, it's good for you, just drink it during break."
This was followed by the sound of footsteps clattering down the stairs. He stayed out of sight while the child rushed out of the building. On a whim, he decided to follow. Up Hyde Street, left at the corner of Pacific. Across the slight hump, then down to Powell. Turn right. At Washington she went left again, then entered the grounds of the grammar school.

At this point he was glad he had learned English. As long as you spoke English, the locals would assume that you were white, and therefore given to goofiness and eccentricity. They would not question your behaviour, nor remark in any way upon your presence. It was as good a cover as any.
At least, in this part of town.
He pulled his hat further down over his forehead and headed to the bakery on Stockton. Might as well have a snack.

An hour and a half later he left, fairly replete. The waitress had quailed when she saw him -- dang some of these Caucasians were ugly! Hairy too! -- but eventually he got what he wanted, and after dawdling a while over a second charsiu bun, he paid and left. He put two dollars extra on the tray, so that she wouldn't recall him particularly. Stinginess was a surefire route to being remembered and remarked upon, and he preferred that people would simply not think about his appearance after he had departed........
Of table height, and nearly as broad. Extremely solidly built.
His people were blessed with impossible stockiness.
Oh, and hair. Thick dense wiry hair. All over.
Hidden by baggy clothes, and a hat.

His hat was a broadbrimmed gangster fedora. Very stylish.

He liked to imagine that with it on he looked like Sam Spade.


He walked up Washington again, and saw that the children were on break.
Jen was in a corner by herself. He observed her from the fence. Small, round faced, almost elfin. While he was watching from the shadows beyond the perimeter, she took out the single-serving carton of milk, opened it, and discretely tipped the liquid behind the bench. Ragnall was aghast. What a horrible waste!
All that precious sweet sweet moo-juice gone! She really didn't like milk!

For the next several days he couldn't get the little girl who hated milk out of his mind. Such a tragedy. He hadn't had milk in so long -- so unutterably long! -- and she was just pouring it out, because she couldn't bear it!

A week later, when she was about to pour out some more, a thick furry arm with a large tin cup shot out from under her bench, and a raspy voice said "in here, please!" Too startled to wonder at this, she wordlessly obeyed. When it was all in the tin cup, the arm withdrew, and she heard the sound of gulping. "Thank you", said the voice, "let us do this again tomorrow". Thereafter, every day she'd sit on the same bench, and the tin cup would extend expectantly. Eventually he came out and introduced himself. She was very sweet, and did not remark in anyway about his appearance, but just seemed to take for granted that a troll would hide under the bench at the far end of a school yard.
And he was shorter than her, though much older. She was already in third grade!
She felt very grown up standing next to him.

Once she understood that he liked the liquid that she couldn't tolerate, she made sure that there was always a glass of it in her bedroom. Her mother was overjoyed that the little girl had finally gotten over her aversion, and would collect the empty vessel after Jen was asleep. Whereupon Ragnall would emerge from under the bed, and take the little girl outside, over the roofs of the city, to a high vantage point, where they would look out over the bay and talk. He told her of first working as a longshoreman, until the unions started excluding people. About the building of the bridges, when the dangerousness of the job meant that no-one asked questions, but just hired the welders who wanted to work. The war, when again his kind had been fully employed. These last few years had been tough, but fortunately it was now possible to work from home. Everybody thought he was an Indian contractor in Hyderabad, and as long as he delivered on time, money would go to his account.
Oh yeah, and the mailman doesn't know that I live beneath the building.
He thinks that there's an illegal in-law apartment.
Just leave my package under the table.

She grew much taller in the next few years. They knew each other all through grammar school and junior high. He had worried that as she entered adolescence, she would stop believing in him -- that he would fade from visibility if that happened, chameleon-like -- but she remained the same sweet stubborn girl who first gave him milk so long ago, still trusting what she knew. She was too big to carry up the side of a building now, so occasionally they'd wander over to the Hyde And Vallejo mini-park, where he could scoot out of sight if adults approached. At night he would often visit her as she did her homework.
A creature that knew so much about masonry and bridges would have a keen, almost supernatural, understanding of physics, algebra, geometry, and applied methods and materials. Under his tutelage she became an 'A' student almost without trying. In her last year of high-school she was offered a scholarship to M.I.T.

On a bright sunny day in June she graduated from high school summa cum laude. He would have loved to have been there, but he knew that was impossible.
Only humans permitted!
Afterwards, she came home glowing, and bustled into her bedroom with milk and cookies. While waiting for her to return, he had been looking at the photos on the dresser of her as she had grown from child to young adult .
He hid his sadness, and smiled.

Trolls really shouldn't smile, it's rather frightening.
But that was one of the things she didn't notice.
She was just incredibly happy to see him.


When she left San Francisco for Massachusetts that summer, she told him she'd be back for winter break, without fail. Yes, she'd write, and please don't worry, I can take care of myself.

Then she introduced him to her cousin Winnie, who would live in her old bedroom now. A sweet child, quite bright. And she also had the ability to live imaginatively.
Winnie promised Jen that she would not forget the milk.
Ever!


That evening, he picked Winnie up and had her sit on his shoulders. He climbed down the side of the apartment house, and made his way to the most beautiful tall building he knew.
Between the towers of Grace Cathedral, he put her down and took out a bag of snacks, and while they ate he started telling her about the years that he had been a longshoreman, before it became difficult to continue that. And about the great bridges, when he had worked as a welder.
She fell asleep before he got to the war.
Well, there was still time enough.
His kind lived for centuries.

While she gently snored curled up against him, he looked across at the two great hotels. Yeah, he had worked there too. The city looked gorgeous at night. The bright ribbon of Market Street several blocks south, wisps of fog pooling in the low area downhill, Oakland glittering across the Bay.
And well, there was milk, you know.
Life was going to be good.


In winter the three of them would be together again.
He very much looked forward to it.



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