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Don't Know What to Tell You: Short Story Excerpt

Being an opening of the account of in-the-shadows musician Freyja Erlinsen's rise to the top of the folk music world, despite being a shy, fat girl with glasses to whom everyone in the business claims they haven't a clue what advice to give her...

[NOTE FROM THE LAIRMISTRESS/AUTHOR: Actual names of Seattle landmarks, festivals, organizations and music clubs are included in this story. Personal names and characteristics have been changed to protect the guilty as well as the innocent. The climactic incident in the story is fictitious; the rest is pretty much factual and part of a historical pattern.]

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“Eighteen minutes to showtime. Is the Badger Bag here yet?” Wynda Marcus yelled through the doors of the Tractor Tavern, Seattle’s hot spot for both folk acts and unsigned country-rock bands. The Badger Bag was a knapsack containing petty cash, the ticket collection bag, legal documents regarding authorized public performances, and other items needed by nonprofit organizations producing musical events. It was decorated with an embroidered patch featuring a badger.

"Hector just called in. He's coming with it now, along with about half of the Grateful Bread's chairs", Freyja Erlinsen called back in full voice from the CD sales booth near the front door. Freyja and Wynda were two of the co-producers, both of the Seattle Folklore Society's Concert Committee, of that night's folk show, featuring the new East Coast folk sensation Marcella Townsend of Tacoma Park, Maryland, graduate of Boston University and artist/producer of one of last year's Top Ten Folk Albums, Miss You By A Thousand Miles. Marcella had just been delivered to the Tractor, along with her CD product boxes and twelve-string guitar, in Wynda's Ford Explorer. Now Freyja was arranging the CD's along the booth table along with cards indicating titles and prices, marveling at the feel of the boxes in her hands, and wondering what it would be like if those tracks and notes had been her own creation.

Hector and his significant other, Brianna, presently arrived with the chairs and the Badger Bag--Hector with his graying hair tied back in a pony tail under his baseball cap, Brianna all faux-Indian in a kind of doctored shalwar outfit (though with her slender, freckled face and braided auburn hair, she looked far more Celtic than she would ever look South Asian). Freyja jumped up to help them bring the chairs in from the curb, but stopped when she heard the evening's featured artist call her name--haltingly, lest she pronounce it wrong. Marcella Townsend herself was coming out of the Tractor's no-frills dressing room, lugging another product box. All wavy brown hair, sparkling brown eyes and glowing artistry, she suddenly seemed just a trifle self-conscious among all the pre-show hubbub. She hadn't quite finished with her eye makeup and her performer's smile was tiring somewhat. "Frey…ja, I'm sorry, I've got one more box here that I left in Wynda's trunk", she stammered. "Sorry to make extra work for you, y'all are working so hard here, doing such an awesome job…"

"Oh, that's no problem; we can either adjust the rest of what we've got displayed, or keep 'em as extras under the table." Freyja was also a Maryland native, and knew what cross-country jet lag felt like from her yearly Christmas trips back home to the Frederick suburbs. She was a plump, pleasant-faced thirtysomething vocalist and multi-instrumentalist: she played mostly guitar and violin, though she also improvised on piano and bodhrán, and had been studying Indian tabla drumming for several years. She was also the writer of numerous songs which she tried to keep collected together in the same manila folder. Her height was about average, her hair a sort of dark blond blended with light brown and subtle reddish hues, her eyes officially blue but turning grayer by the year, with flecks of gold and brown near their edges. She rarely used makeup, thinking it a general waste of time (aside from a bit of concealer stick); and her face had a kind of rugged roundness to it, with just a hint of permanent lines on either side of her small, roundish nose. She had lived in Seattle since 1991, after a fifteen-month stint in Phoenix doing contract archaeology and various odd jobs, and attempting to be a performer as she was doing here and now. She accepted the box from the taller, slenderer Marcella and shoved it discretely under the CD table, bracing her jean-clad legs as her college weight-training coach had taught her.

"Oh, thanks so much, Freyja, you're doing a terrific job. I just barely have time for the sound check and tuning, but I just wanted to make sure everything was out here first..." She turned and jogged back to the dressing room for the guitar, nearly overturning one of the chronically out-of-place bar stools as she went. Freyja watched her intently until she disappeared around the corner.

I was wondering if I could open for her, she remembered asking the Committee at their last meeting. Actually, Wynda had said, We've got an opening act already. Roselle arranged to do an opening set not long after we booked Marcella. Her sound complements Marcella's style so well, don't you think? [General sincere agreement by the committee] Does Roselle need any accompaniment? Don't know, Freyja; not as far as we know. Just wondering, Freyja shrugged. Sorry, Freyja, don't know what to tell you.

© 2001 by Karen I. Olsen

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