”Uhm. I’m here to see Pam.”
“You the kid?”
“I mean the kid she’s been sneaking off with. The … No, let me think. The Williams boy, right?”
“Yes. Ted Williams.”
“Ah right, you look a little like your brother. Same blonde thing happening on the top of both your heads.”
“Ha-ha. Yes, sir.”
Ted held out his hand for Pam’s dad to shake. Her dad brushed his hand on his jeans and shook Ted’s hand.
“Sit down here, boy. D’ya like juice, some orange juice? It’s mighty hot out here. Hey Maggie! Bring us some orange juice. Yea wait… Yea just sit down, just there on the porch, I’m gonna see what’s going on. Just hang tight.”
The white color was flaking from the bench. Ted had to climb over to get in behind the table. He heard them talking inside, but didn’t listen. The sun hit his t-shirt, it would’ve hit his eyes if it wasn’t for that new-built roof. He knew Dennis helped and he guess Pam should have helped, but she met him by the windmill. She always walked barefoot. He remembered. He remembered every time he saw someone in the distance, a girl or woman, if she didn’t wiggle as she walked on the gravel road, it wasn’t Pam.
“There ya go. See the trick is… no don’t just drink it. That’s rude, didn’t your momma teach you better? Wait a little. The trick is… you see the glass?”
“We rinse them in water and then they go in the refrigerator for a minute or so, just a minute! Not too long. Then we pour the orange juice in. See, hold it up towards the sun. Ain’t it something?”
“Yes, sir. It looks delicious.”
“You see the droplets coming down the sides of the chilled glass? Have a sip, it’s very fresh.”
“Mmm. Very good, sir. Uhm–“
“Okay then, go on. But bear in mind I’m her father.”
“I was just… I mean, if it wouldn’t be too much trouble I’d like to take her over to the station.”
“Yea, there is a man playing guitar there, I guess for money, but he played Annie’s Song by John Denver, you heard it?”
“Yea, and it’s a song she really likes and I thought of her when I heard him play it. Yea I know. The song is definitely over, but I figured if he saw just how pretty she was, he would play it again. For her.”
Pam’s dad leaned back in his chair.
I hitched a ride from a Texan to a small town where he lived. Three more rides like that and I was in LA, but that was later. The beginning of… I guess the beginning of now, and where I am today. I stayed two days in that small town. I had to pay half the gas, so I was low on cash. I still had my dad’s credit card, but I wasn’t gonna use it before I arrived in LA, so I had to earn some dough. This town wasn’t really the kind of town where you earn a quick buck and move on. Most people worked in farms or they drove a truck. Or at least that was my prejudiced opinion. I stopped at a restaurant, a pub and a gas station but no one would hire a Latino from Florida with a heavy accent, who knew, right? I saw the train passing behind the old station house and I was in the mood for music. After all, it was the point of that whole journey, to get some experience, some musical experience. Plus the music industry had grown too… too something and it wasn’t really about struggle anymore.
There I sat, in the dirt, yea I sat down in the dirt and I held the sand in my hands, you know grasp and feel the land or some bullshit like that. The sand looked yellow in the sun, but gray-brown in my hand. Sunlit sand looks and feels genuine, more so than the beach sand in Miami. Maybe I’m full of shit again.
I played a few Johnny Cash songs. You know those old songs where he put a sheet of paper behind the strings to make it sound as if a train was passing. I sat at the rails, but no train was passing. It wasn’t the same thing, but then a boy came by. Yea I had an audience. Not much of an audience, but he was a sweet kid. He wasn’t afraid of me, ‘the brown man’, – back then I thought everyone was either afraid of the brown man or hated him. He applauded me after every song so I played a few songs just for him. I couldn’t ask for money. He didn’t look like he had any, anyway. He told me to sit still and I said yea.
Most days Pam was up in her room, supposed to study but stared out of her window. The train wasn’t regular, she thought it was spontaneous, in some way. She couldn’t really put a finger on it, but you know; a train which could come and go as it pleased. She knew trains went on rails, but it felt as if her train, the train passing that town, could go anywhere.
Once in a while a new face arrived in town. She saw him first. She was the only one looking. When the Williams family moved in, she saw them first. Ted walked ten feet behind the others. He probably noticed things about the town her family hadn’t noticed for five generations.
She read a boring book by a boring person and she saw Ted walk up to the mansion, in his normal manner; careful not to miss anything. She closed the book and hurried to the mirror. A white dress, clean enough. Her mom told her to wait in the kitchen, her dad was having a talk with Ted.
Her mom told her she had to better herself. People were talking and her mom sneered at Pam’s dress. Pam showed her it was long enough to cover her knees. Pam’s mom didn’t say anything. Her dad came in from the kitchen.
“Oh hi, Pam. That Ted-boy was here, but he left.”
“He left? What did he say?”
“Nothing important. What’s important is; you need to study. It’s the only way you can leave this town.”
“I’m studying every day.”
“Yea, but your grades–“
“My grades are fine.”
“Don’t interrupt me, honey. No your grades need to be better if you wanna get a scholarship.”
“Did you say something to Ted?”
“I told him just that. You need to focus on school right now.”
“He should too.”
“He has straight A’s.”
“Yea well you don’t. A little less Ted and a little more ED… ucation.”
Her mom laughed at his joke. Pam ran out. They screamed at her, but she ran.
Pam’s dad explained to Ted how Pam needed to focus on what mattered. He told him to finish the orange juice and then leave; Pam and their house forever. Ted held the glass up to the sun and told him he saw the droplets.
“Yea that’s good, son. Now, you get that I don’t want to hurt you two, right? You get that.”
“Yes, sir. I get that.”
“Good. Alright, are you done?”
“I think so.”
“You liked the juice?”
Ted held up the glass for the last time. “The droplets on the side of the glass look like tears of sunshine. Yes I liked the juice. But it was a little bit bitter.”
“Yea… Let me ask you a question, Ted. Are you? Do you have something?”
He sighed. “No. I have nothing.”
“It’s all gone now? You’re cured?”
“I think so.”
“Okay. Good. I mean, for you.”
Ted shook his hand and walked off. No, he ran off. He hid in the windmill. He heard Pam tip-toeing on the small rocks on the road. She must have… She ran away too! He was… He didn’t know what to do! He hugged her, lifted her off the grass. The top of the grass grazed the souls of her feet and she gasped for air, he hugged her so tightly. Her upper lip trembled when they kissed. He told her about me, about the man who played by the station, and they ran over the grass field down to the station and well… I laughed when I saw them; out of breath and some couples just look like that archetypical couple, passionately in love.
“He-he… Woh! Take it easy, kiddo. What song was it?”
I played a few strings and Pam glanced at my guitar. “Oh! You played Annie’s song?”
“Yes of course. It’s your song?”
“Yes. It’s our song.”
“Please, could you?”
“Of course! What’s your name?”
“Pam. This is Ted.”
“Wait, Mr. Troubadour, could you give us a minute? I need to talk to Pam.”
They stepped inside the station house. A plank was raised just slightly above the others, it appeared to be in a lighter color because of it, but Ted was sure they were all in the same color. Pam held his hand tighter, but Ted gathered his thoughts before he spoke.
“Don’t! Don’t say it! Never ever say it!”
She started running but he caught up with her and hugged her. This time, she hugged the air out of him.
Pam and Ted cried and hugged each other inside the station house. I gave them some time, but when I came back from town they were still hugging. I sat down and drew with my finger in the sand. I plucked a leaf from a weed growing from under the house and rolled it between my fingers and flicked it away. Pam and Ted walked out, holding hands and I started playing. They didn’t say anything, I just started playing.
Come let me love you
Let me give my life to you
Let me drown in your laughter
Let me die in your arms
Her dress fluttered. Ted kissed her goodbye. I should have said something. But what do you say? They’re young and I didn’t know them. I got to know Ted a little better on the train. He told me his story and I remember agreeing with Pam’s father. They’re just kids, I thought. They should focus on what matters.
The thing is what mattered died in their arms on that station. I never knew what happened to Pam. As for Ted, well it’s the reason we’re here. He struggled with it, his entire life, and then, it’s… I’m honored he chose me, but honestly I’m surprised he even remembered my name. I don’t remember telling him. I didn’t know him very well… I guess, from the stories I’ve heard here today, it’s just as for you guys. None of us knew him very well. We’re just a few selected persons who I guess mattered to him. I just met him one day and left with him the next. It feels weird thinking about it. Like I was a passenger, well an important passenger, on someone else’s life. Do you feel the same? Like we’re painting the life of Ted. Small fragments, puzzled together to form him, to form Ted.
7 thoughts on “The Troubadour by Tobias Haglund”
Another of your explorations of emotions and the influence of life and living on ordinary people. I found this very sad and you had the tone of it spot on. great stuff yet again Tobias.
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Thank you, Diane. That’s very kind of you. In some ways it’s kind of beautiful isn’t it? I want to believe that a single person, a stranger, could play a role, with or without knowing it, in somebody else’s life. Thanks, Diane.
ATVB my friend
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A strange and wonderful story. June
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Thank you, June. I hope it wasn’t too strange for you. But thanks for reading and commenting. ATVB
Reblogged this on Tobias Haglund.
Hi Tobias, layers as always! I agree with you regarding the thoughts of a stranger that we have touched but never known to what extent. I suppose that is why we try and do the best we can for anyone as there may be praises sung in our honour someday.
A poignant and beautifully written story.
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Thank you very much, Hugh. It is a dream, I would say; to be remembered. In a world without heavens it is the only way to achieve immortality. And in this world, the world with cancer in children, there is no heaven. So I made Ted immortal. Thanks as always, Hugh. ATVB my friend