er name is May but it is a weak April outside, warbling and unenthusiastic. Spitting rain graffities the windows on the second floor of the old Tudor where the girl named May sits in bed, chubby legs crossed, caressing her left hand. May has counted today, and there are three warts on her second and third fingers. Her mother called them kisses from a troll, which made May’s face crinkle in disgust, like she were a troll herself.
“Who wants kisses from a troll? Why are they here anyway? Why have they kissed me?”
It never occurred to May’s mother that her daughter might be afraid of vagabond kissing trolls, and it never occurred to May to be afraid. No looking under the bed occurred before bedtime, no reassurances or doors cocked open to make sure Mother was only a few steps away in the darkness.
Instead, May’s mother Susannah sits on the edge of her daughter’s worn floral comforter, looking for all the world like a string in her back is pulled too tight. Susannah never bends her spine in relaxation, never sweeps the greasy bangs from her eyes, never halts her reproach of May’s father, never deviates from the script written seven years earlier, when her overweight baby had appeared squalling into her life. 8 p.m. is Bedtime, and Susannah reads from a thick copy of Grimm’s Complete Fairy Tales, unaware of the light coming into May’s watery gray eyes. All she sees are her daughter’s advancing thickness and her colorless hair and eyes. Evidence of her own lackluster appearance.
May is first enthralled by Susannah’s circumspect choice of “The Three Spinsters” as tonight’s fairy tale, but Susannah’s lifeless drone soon challenges her patience. Her eyes rove, landing on a much-loved print that bears her name, and other weird words besides:
Go n-eírí an bóthar leat.
May the road rise with you.
It’s a print that once stood in the study of an important young man, professor of this or that, stolen at semester’s end by a student with greasy blond bangs. It hangs here now, time-worn, evidence that this man once existed.
May studies it now, for perhaps the zillionth time in her life. Her pink lips vaguely form the Gaelic words she’ll never learn to pronounce, and then her own name. May the road rise with you. Not for the first time, May sees a great highway, thick and long as the ones just outside her neighborhood, and watches it rise like an ocean wave, buckling and swirling, finally whirling in slow motion, coming to stand beside her in humanoid form, a concrete creature with kind yellow eyes as bright as those double lines. She takes May’s pudgy hand and walks with her into a blazing sunset. May, the road rise with you. It’s never occurred to May that a comma was wanting. She’ll be a full seven on May 1, her name and the month of her birth conveniently the same.
The story finished, Susannah softly shuts the book, noting the dreamy gaze of her simple daughter. She finally bends her back, touches her lips to May’s forehead. “Good night, May.” The road rise with you. “Sweet dreams.” And like a dream, she’s gone, switching off the light and latching the door safely shut.
Now, in bed with the lights out, May feels the bumps on her left hand, only softly illuminated by a dim nightlight that casts a diffuse glow on her fat fingers. She imagines the bumps not as evidence of troll activity, but as their houses themselves, little huts of flesh that contain minuscule trolls with minuscule families smaller than the smallest Barbie shoe in her neglected collection. If her bedtime story had been Swift instead of Grimm, she may have attempted to remember the word “Lilliputian.” As it is, May falls asleep stroking her left hand with her right.