The old lady slid over fast and sat hard on the snowbank. Franklin climbed up from the sidewalk side and helped her up. “Thank you so much,” she laughed. “It’s hard competing for ice time with these kids!”
The ice was full of children, most spending as much time on their asses as on their feet. “Well it’s good to see kids going about productive things,” said Franklin.
“Absolutely. I think I may retire…”
“What’s that? I just retired myself.”
“No, I meant I might quit skating for today. Watch me out, okay? If I face-plant, I may need some additional assistance.” She pushed off.
At first, Franklin was sure she’d be taken out by the circle of skaters, but somehow she weaved between the snowsuits and the hockey pucks, making it to the bench on the far side. She waved to Franklin, and when he waved back, she gave him a thumbs up.
“Walked a thousand thousand miles in my life,” he said, “but never skated a yard.” On the bench with the old lady, moms and dads were starting at phones as their kids went around and around in their twisted up circle. “Christmas shopping by phone,” he sighed, and looked at the skaters one last time. They had all changed into red coats with white hats, and were lined up in five long rows. Music started from the loudspeakers on the lightpoles. The rows of children slid together, blended up for a moment, then parted again in a giant diamond shape that expanded and contracted under a slew of light beams, until they were a Christmas tree, then a Christmas train, then an icicle dripping wet, then a mountain and the cabin raised into the side of it, chimney smoking. The music grew louder. The parents were on their feet, clapping. Some were singing.
The children spun and raised their hands to the stars – and then they were the stars, and the moon, and anything pure that ever lived in God’s greatness of Space and the Unknown. They came together, hands clasped, until the lightbeams and moonbeams rose above the city, a signal requesting that someone hear a song made of snow.
Franklin stumbled down the snowbank. He put on his gloves.
In the park, a man next to him said, “Varg.”
Franklin swallowed the gum he’d been chewing. “Did you see all that? On the ice? My God that was strange.”
“Varg,” said the man.
“Jesus. Are you a troll?”
“Of course.” The creature was nine feet tall but so hunched over the garbage can that it was hard to tell. His skin was green and lumpy, his ears a foot and a half long, and his feet were bare and hairy in the snow. “But an ill one, I’m afraid. Too much holiday cheer.”
“Can I get you anything?” The troll shook his head. “Are you from around here? I don’t recognize you.”
“Well I am from here, and I don’t recognize you, either. So who’s who and from where?”
“How come strangers speak in questions?”
The troll snorted. “I’m not usually this green. What are you about, friend?”
“Postman. Retired. Widower. Going to use my retirement years to be a novelist. You?”
“Purveyor of the finest internet troll porn. Tasteful stuff, well-lit. Father of two ogres and husband to a sprite. Trying to squeeze in as much life as I can, to be honest – hence the holiday cheer and the position in which you find me upon this garbage can.”
“Got a name? I’m Franklin Hughes.”
“I already told you. Varg. No last name. What’s your malfunction, Franklin?”
“Oh it’s nothing. I have dementia. It’s an illness of age that brings disorientation. I’ve been told that I should sell my house, that I should be more careful. That I need looking after.”
“We all need looking after, Franklin.”
“Yeah. You know, I used to deliver the mail. Forty years of that. But we don’t really do that anymore. I wonder what I’d be doing if I were just reaching my working years now. What I’d choose to do, or could do.”
“Sounds like you want to write novels, Franklin.”
“Could be. Always wanted to. Life was busy, though. Things to do. Letters to carry. And all that other stuff. Maybe writing novels was always the answer. Listen, I better get home. You going to be okay?”
Varg raised his head. “Once I let my stomach empty, I will be. There’s a hole over in the woods that’ll get me home real quick. Have a good night, Franklin.”
Franklin left him there. Waiting for the bus at the road, he looked back. He could see the silhouette of Varg’s heaving body against an immense pyramid of children, one with little hands reaching for eternity as the top-most kid’s eyes bled pure gold.