The Flower Girl, The Tree Man, and the Troll
Charles C Cole
On doctor’s orders, I was power walking through Central Park, ostensibly sans cigarettes. Being prescriptive, there was no inherent fun in the endeavor. I huffed and puffed – keeping my anti-health disgust to myself as best I could. I would have opted for the busy sidewalk where I could at least enjoy people-watching, but there was a teaspoon less carbon monoxide here among the bushes. Or so I’d been led to believe.
I hadn’t wandered willingly into Mother Nature’s cloying grasp since the incident of the stolen wings. The point is: having represented many exotics lately, some more than once, I was resistant to bumping into former clients during my down time. Like most uninformed humans, I long-considered green spaces as faery-folk haven, though I’d been recently informed that was actually Murphy’s on 72nd.
When I was completely alone, I paused, one hand resting on the trunk of a sturdy tree of some maturity and size.
“Detective Joe Avery? How fortuitous!”
Though there was not a human to be seen, I was not alone. I scanned the ground, the sky, the bushes.
“Perhaps we can continue this conversation in my office, after I’ve finished exercising.”
“Dr. Bonami is a friend of mine. I knew she could persuade you to wander by.”
I’d been manipulated! By my primary care provider, no less! I put my back to the trunk; if I was giving in, at least I was going to get some rest out of the interruption. “Kindly show yourself.”
“You’re leaning your back against me.”
I jumped away and spun about. Centered, about six feet up the trunk, the tree had two eyes and a mouth!
“Nice of you to drop by. As you can imagine, it would be monumentally self-defeating for me to uproot, just to meander by your inner sanctum, let alone struggling through the door and up the stairs.”
“Hello there! I won’t argue the point. What seems to be the problem? Squirrels? Dogs?”
“Elves. Apparently, I’m just the right size and dimension for a new apartment building.”
“Sorry to hear that. Do you have any say in the matter?”
“Not nearly enough. Being from the plant kingdom, I’m looked at as just a rock with bark and leaves.”
“You don’t need me; you need a bodyguard.”
“As a matter of fact…”
I was more than happy to curtail my semi-jogging for the health benefits of another.
Back in the office, the waiting room was full, even though the sign outside the entrance clearly said: “Closed for lunch. Come back later.” Demand had picked up enough so that I could afford a receptionist. Calendula Clark was a charming misfit, half-human and half-rosebush. She smelled, invigoratingly, like a summer’s day, had a distracting habit of constantly soaking her feet in a tub of water under her desk, and had thorns on her palms which she could never keep pruned to my satisfaction.
“Bother you for a chat?” I asked.
She joined me in my consultation chambers, barefoot, tub of water in her hands.
“Is that absolutely necessary?”
“I think I’m going through a growth spurt,” she explained, smiling hopefully.
“What was the issue with the troll last week?”
“Homeless. Turns into a large rock by day. Thought he’d go unnoticed in a cemetery, but management was not impressed with the prehistoric-looking megalith squishing their daffodils. I made some calls for you. There wasn’t much room for negotiations.”
“Picture one of the larger pieces still standing at Stonehenge.”
“Where is he now?”
“Temporarily in the shallow end of the harbor, pouting I suspect. Being a danger to boats, depending on the tide.”
“After work, can you get him and meet me in the park?”
I noticed a slip of paper stuck on the thorns of her palm. “That for me?”
“Your ex-wife called. She wanted to thank you for the magic mirror. You had a magic mirror?!”
At dusk, I revisited the talking tree.
“After you left,” the tree explained, “several excited elves came by in hardhats, measuring and planning. I tried to talk with them, but they wouldn’t listen. I don’t suppose they’ve ever met a sentient tree before. I’m pretty sure they would have started using their power tools, but we had a beautiful spring shower, complete with bountiful bolts of lightning, and they scattered.”
Calendula came up the trail, riding on the shoulder of the troll like an assaulting Burmese elephantry force. She pointed at me, shouting, “There! There!”
“Tree, meet Troll. Troll, meet Tree.”
“Not that I’m not grateful, detective: That’s fine at night, but what do we do in the day when he’s a rock?”
“We get creative. Apparently, he doesn’t have to morph into a simple boulder, though that’s the common practice; he can actually will himself into any shape, like a stone wall right around your trunk!”
“Really? Delightful! Though I’d rather an electric fence. Still…”
“He won’t be a bother; he’s just looking for a purpose. I think you can give him one.”
Given the late hour, I drove Calendula back to the waterfront. In the parking lot, she stepped out of my car and suddenly gasped.
“I was feeling lightheaded up on the troll’s shoulder. I thought I was just afraid of heights. But I just realized: I was feeling wilted! I could really use a soaking!”
“Let’s order some 5-gallon spring water bottles delivered to the office. We can afford it. You deserve an upgrade from city tap water.”
“You’ve earned it.”
“Honest?” asked Calendula. “I sometimes feel like a TV news reporter, witnessing a massive disaster but unable to do anything about it.”
“Calen,” I said, recalling inspiring words from my late father, “every day you manage the most feral herd of stampeding cats ever known to modern man, and you do it without breaking a thorn. So, no more doubts. We’re in this together.”
The next afternoon, the sign on the front door was stenciled to say: “Joe Avery and Associates.”