The Trinket Man
Every morning as I swept the doorway I heard the low melancholic whistle of the peddler as he pushed his cart down the lane announcing his wares. He bought and sold goods from a cart that jingled and jangled like Christmas. When he passed by my house I waved, sometimes he’d stop and we’d chat.
He was a young man in an old body; the glimmer of his eyes showed he couldn’t be over forty, yet his crumpled body and teetering gait were those of a man in the winter of his life. He was never dirty, but always dressed in rags, and his firm voice and eloquence bespoke an educated childhood. I wondered about him though I never asked. We chatted about the rain and the sun, but never about the past.
I marveled at the knickknacks that rattled and clang on the ancient wooden cart. Once upon a time he might have hitched a horse to it, but now, the peddler, or Trinket Man as we called him in town, pushed it or pulled it, whatever his fancy and the state of the road. It overflowed with bric-a-brac and I often wondered how far he traveled. Sometimes his youthful eyes betrayed his exhaustion and tugged at my heart. I bought a second-hand kettle, a tarnished old necklace and chipped Delft platter. I sold him things too, things I no longer needed, hoping he might bring joy to someone who did.
The children would run after him and he would smile and sometimes pull a bauble from his cart and hand it to them. Then he would walk down the lane and follow the path through the woods while his whistle trailed in his wake.
Last winter he didn’t come after a snowstorm and the wind didn’t carry the sound of his whistle, nor the earth the tinkle and clatter of his cart. The town worried, but all we knew about him was his name, Woden, like the god of old. The children say he was just as ancient, a wanderer through time, and I often thought back to my childhood and smiled at my earliest memory; my mother’s arms and a low whistle in the wind.
Winter passed, and the snow melted. The thawing chilled to the bone, but spirits were high for spring was close.
One wet March day, the ground still hard from frost, but muddy where boots treaded, I was walking by the river towards my cousin’s house when I glimpsed a shimmer by the water on the far bank and I thought I heard the tiny tinkle of a bell. The wind swept across the river and a presentiment and sudden urgency to investigate overcame me. I ran to my cousin and together we crossed the river.
We came upon the cart among the trees, the wares and trifles stained and tarnished, its wheels splintered as if buried in snow and abandoned. A cold wind blew about us and we shivered into our shawls while the distinct, yet faint, whistle among the trees prickled our fears. We glanced whence the wind blew and trudged with our elbows hooked, as if in a trance. We’d gone but a few feet when a hand protruded from the bramble. I screamed and my cousin gasped. Our Trinket Man lay face down with his head bashed amid the thorn and mud.
The town talked of the murder for weeks, but nothing ever came to light. Perhaps a vagrant had attempted to rob him and fled.
It’s been almost a year now, and I feel the chill of the waning autumn as it flees the snows of winter. I sweep my stoop, like I do every morning. I lift my head and listen to the low melancholy whistle of our Trinket Man breezing down the lane. He glimmers in the early sunlight; his cart clangs faint and eerie as if from another time and another world. He totters by and I wave, but he no longer sees me. I watch him vanish down the lane.