Mamma turned around. The rest of the family Wicklow stood atop the bridge, watching the proceedings. Verona had brought Pappa, Fritz and Felix, Waldo, and even little Pip.
“Get him! Sink him! He’s getting away!” shouted Felix. Fritz laughed and threw pebbles at the barge.
“Oh good,” said Mamma, “you’ve come. Waldo, be a dear and help me open this gate. You all can distract the troll while he does it.”
But nobody moved to help.
Pappa furrowed his brow. “I can’t fathom it. What’s all this about, my love?”
“I told you,” said Verona. “Mamma’s having a duel of stubbornness with that toll troll.”
“Who’s winning?” asked Felix.
“I am, of course,” said Mamma. “He’s going to bend and snap like kindling any minute now. Come on, help your poor mother!”
“Listen here, won’t you come home?” pleaded Pappa. “You’ve been terribly busy this week, so a bit of a stress is well understandable. But it’s all over now. We’re in tip-top shape thanks to you. Why don’t we take the evening to celebrate, eh? Just the two of us. We can have a few brandies by the fire, and waltz to your favorite phonograph tunes. Now, how does that strike you?”
“Sounds awful,” said Fritz, making a face.
“I’ll be there the very instant that troll opens this gate,” said Mamma. “He’s got to learn what’s what, and that’s all I have to say on the matter.”
“See? I told you,” said Verona. “She’s gone mad. At this rate, we’ll never leave Poort Van Winkle.”
“I just can’t fathom it,” repeated Pappa, rubbing his forehead. “It simply doesn’t add up to any kind of sense, if you ask me.”
Fritz and Felix climbed onto the roof of the troll’s booth. They leaned over the side, knocked on the window, and made faces. When the troll opened the window to snatch them, they leapt up out of the way, then leaned down and did it again.
“Come on down, Waldo,” said Mamma. “Come help me open the gate. Don’t you like Verona’s breadclogs? I’ve got a pair just like them down here for each of you!”
But Waldo frowned. “Why don’t you just say you’re sorry, if that’s what the troll wants?”
“It doesn’t matter what the troll wants!” said Mamma. “He poured a pail of garbage on me! He started it, so this whole thing is his fault. He has to finish it, and I’m not moving one inch until he does.”
“That’s not what you always tell me when Fritz or Felix are making fun of me,” said Waldo. “You always tell me, ‘it takes two to fight.’”
Mamma was beginning to lose her patience. “What—why—Waldo, this is completely different! I’m not the one fighting, he is! Can’t you all see that? Now stop arguing and do as I say. Get down here right this instant, and help me open this gate!”
“We’re coming down, but only to get the rest of the food before it spoils completely,” said Verona. “Then you can sit there all night, if that’s what you want.” She gathered Pip into her arms and made to walk down the bridge to the side of the canal.
“No,” said Mamma, putting up her hand. “Don’t touch it. When I take this to the authorities, I want them to see what a mess that troll has made with his foolishness. The more food that’s ruined, the better it’ll look for us. You’ll see.”
Waldo looked at Verona, who looked at Pappa.
“Well…then we’re going back home,” said Verona. “We’ll wait for you there. You come back whenever you’re done teaching lessons to trolls.” She turned around. Pip waved goodbye. Waldo sighed, and Pappa shook his head. The twins jumped off the booth back onto the bridge and ran after the rest of them.
“Bye Mamma!” said Fritz.
“Good luck with whatever you’re doing!” said Felix, and they were gone.
Mamma huffed, sat back on the pile of spoiling food, and crossed her arms. The sour wine in her hair and clothes had turned dry and sticky. Flies gathered around the salted fish and ham. She smelled just as bad as a troll, maybe worse.
“Fine thing,” she muttered to herself. “Really a very fine thing, this is.”
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