Trolls In The Hamptons
Never underestimate the power of imagination. Never overestimate it,
either. Take me, for instance, Willow Tate. Iím thirty-four and I
can almost support myself and my familyís Manhattan apartment by
illustrating graphic novels for young adults. Iím good;
they sell. I sign them with the non-gender specific Willy Tate,
but they are all my work, my inspiration, my ideas. Sometimes I write
not so good poems, too. And Iíve made candles, painted murals, built
birdhouses, and strung beaded necklaces for friends. But thatís
creativity, not Creation.
Think about it. The screen writer can create an entire new world and
make it come to life in a movie, so real you think you are there on
the desert or the mountain or some other planet. The artist can
paint flowers you can almost smell. A romance writer can tell a love
story so touching you weep into your hot chocolate. They all come
out of thin air and active minds.
But neither imagination, creativity, nor great art can make
something actual and alive. Fantasy simply does not translate into
reality, no matter how lovely. You cannot move into air castles or
subsist on pie-in-the-sky. Otherwise Iíd have conjured up my own
perfect hero long ago. He wouldnít need to be cover-model gorgeous,
but heíd definitely be as noble, honorableó and hotó as the heroes
of my action-adventure books. Maybe his only superpower would be
making my heart beat faster, but that and a good sense of humor
would be enough. And a steady job.
Instead of pulling a Romeo out of my hat, I am single, to my
motherís horror, and the only man who gets my pulse thumping these
days is Lou the Lout, the super of the brownstone building across
from mine, and thatís adrenaline, not lust I feel. The man terrifies
me. Heís never been aggressive or nasty, but he stares, even when
heís sweeping the sidewalk, shoveling snow, or picking up from the
slobs who donít clean after their dogs. From my third floor ó no
elevator, no doorman, but a great location on the East Sideó
apartment I can see him looking up, into my window. Thatís what he
does when heís not sweeping or shoveling or bagging garbage: he
stares up from his place under the entry stairs of his building, or
from the barred window of the subfloor where I suppose he lives.
My parents both tell me to close the blinds, which is about the only
thing they agree on. Itís easy for them to say, when Mom lives a
block from the beach out on Long Island and has a garden in the back
yard, and Dad has nothing but another high rise senior citizen condo
in his view.
Why should I block the sunlight and the scenery outside the walls of
my apartment? I was raised in these same rooms, which is how I have
an affordable rent-controlled unit. Mom got the summer house in the
divorce. Dad got the Florida condo. I got the City apartment. It
works for all of us, except for Lou.
I spend most of my hours right here, working, sleeping, reading, or
stringing those beads. I will not give up my view of the street, the
pedestrians, the pigeons. I need that open space in the City.
Besides, I refuse to let any rude slob steal my freedom. Okay, I
wonít walk on his side of East Thirty-Eighth Street, but that
doesnít mean heís winning his war of intimidation.
The tenants of Louís building donít seem to find him threatening,
but to me heís like the monster under the bridge, waiting for unwary
travelers. Heís no cute gnomish old man, either, just a large and
lumbering and middle aged troll.
Now thereís an idea for a new series of books. No one does trolls.
Vampires and werewolves are a dime a dozen. Dragons, witches and
psychics are done to death. But trolls?
I picked up my penó red with a fine pointóand a lined yellow pad I
always keep on the round table by the window thatís my office. (And
dining room if company, or my mother, comes.) The íputer and its
drawing tablet are for later, once I know what I want. I took a sip
of my green tea and thought yeah, a troll. I switched to a marker
and started sketching. Heíd be big, rock-like, craggy-faced, with
red skin. Green was overdone, and Lou was always flushed and angry
looking, chapped in winter, sunburned in the summer. Even on a nice
spring day like this one, I bet he dripped with sweat and smelled,
but I never got close enough to tell.
I forgot all about him as I sketched and made notes for possible
story lines. Should a troll wear clothes or not? Was he hero or
villain, victim or avenger? He needed a name. Or was he a she? Girls
bought my books too. They might like a rough and ready female
character. Or not. Trolls with boobs? Trolls in love? Iíd have to
run it by my editor after the weekend. For now my character was
Fafhrd, after the Fritz Lieber classic science fiction hero, a
gentle giant of a warrior, and best friend of the Grey Mouser.
Ah, to be in the same realm as Fritz Lieber. Right now I was flying
on the wind of imagination. This was what I lived for, what made it
all worthwhile, the bad reviews, the minuscule royalty advance
payments, the low print runs and lack of publicity. To hell with all
that, this was the fun part: the rush, the brain stimulation, the
euphoria of a great, new idea that a few brush strokes, a couple of
lines, could make into something. Thatís the creative high, the
confidence, the glow, the near post-coital satisfaction. No, this
was more like the start of a new relationship, fresh, exciting, full
of tingly possibilities. Who knew how it would turn out, but this
might be The One.
I stopped to look at my sketches, my pages of plot, conflict,
character. Damn, Iím good.
The tea was gone, along with a dusty chocolate kiss, a stick of
sugarless gum that lied about whitening teeth at the same time, and
most of the afternoon. Lined yellow pages and pink sticky notes and
drawings covered the table; new files and folders appeared on the
computer. I could have gone on for hours, I was on such a roll. . .
Which reminded me I missed lunch and my afternoon snack. Maybe I
deserved Ben and Jerryís instead of a banana. And Iíd burn some of
the calories by walking to the deli around the corner to get it. Iíd
been sitting so long my neck was stiff and I could feel my rear end
spreading. I looked out the window to see if I needed a sweatshirt,
by checking what everyone on the street was wearing, but they were
running and screaming. Then I heard the cars slamming into each
other, horns blaring, alarms going off. Bikes lay smashed on the
sidewalk as flat as tortillas; the pavement glistened with shards of
glass from doors and storefronts and windows, between new piles of
bricks and rubble. What the hell? An earthquake in Manhattan? A
terrorist attack? The UN wasnít all that far away.
I looked down the block to see if I could figure out what happened,
if I should flee the building or hide under the bed.
It was a good thing the mug was empty or tea would have been all
over my carpet, I grabbed the table edge so hard. Then again, it was
a good thing the table was there or I would have fallen over.
I shook my head to clear it. Iíd been working too hard, that was
all. And I was light-headed from hunger. No way could a troll, a red
granite giant, be swinging his fists and other proportionately
massive appendages as he ó definitely a heó slogged down my narrow
street. Parking meters bent so coins went flying; stair railings
twisted into wrought iron spaghetti; the floor beneath my feet
I squeezed my eyes shut, then opened them, figuring the daytime
nightmare would disappear. It did not. Holy shit, that was a trolló
my troll, Fafhrdó smashing the fire hydrant on the corner as if it
were a plastic cup. Water fountained out and up, making rainbows in
the sun, and floods in the gutters. The troll stood under the
streaming geyser, gazing at the colors, splashing his size
twenty-five feet and catching handfuls of water, acting like a child
at the beach, or a kid with a bottle of soap bubbles. And then, and
I swear this is true, he looked up at my window and grinned at me
before disappearing around the corner.
My fingers were numb from clutching the table. I had to pry them off
to reach for the phone.
"911? This is Willow Tate." I gave my address, but stuttered over my
phone number. They had it on caller ID anyway.
"Just relax, maíam. Take a deep breath and tell me what the problem
I took a deep breath, which did not calm me in the least. I tried to
kept my voice from shaking, or screeching. "Thereís been"óa what?ó
"some kind of catastrophe on my block. An accident. Cars, buildings
damaged, windows broken." On the second stories!
"No, I am on the third floor. I cannot tell if anyone else is hurt.
People are all standing around, some are crying. I donít see anyone
on the ground." Crowds were racing toward the street from other
blocks, jumping out of cars and rushing out of buildings.
"Yes, we are getting other calls."
I could see cell phones in everyoneís hands. Iíd guess the lines
would be flooded. No, those were the streets.
"A fire hydrant is broken."
dispatching ambulances and fire trucks. Iíll notify the
water authority. Can you tell me what happened?"
"Calm down, maíam. Help is on the way. Was it a truck?"
That sounded plausible. "Red."
"A red truck. Anything else?"
I could hear sirens already. "Big."
"Yes, thank you. I have your name and address. I am certain an
officer will want to speak to you later. Please try to recall as
much as you can. You might jot down some notes, so you donít forget
Details? They were all over my computer, my drawing pad, my table. I
couldnít help myself. I grabbed for a pen as soon as I hung up the
phone. Despite my shaking hands, I draped a scarf around Fafhrdís
hips to cover his privates. Then I had to laugh. Ok, the laughter
might be hysteria, but I had to smile at my own hubris, thinking for
one second that I had anything to do with whatever had just
happened. My burst of mental creativity had not given birth
to a physical menace. Could not, should not, would not. So there.