Elvis at 50
by Arthur Byron Cover
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
He looked at the gift certificate in his hand before actually stepping inside. A bunch of the guys at work had pitched in to buy it for his birthday. Even Skip. That would’ve never happened to the King. Never.
Inside he purchased an advance copy of Whitney Houston’s first CD; his instinct told him she was going to be big. And a CD featuring Big Jesse as Wotan in Götterdämmerung, or as he liked to call it, That’s the Way the Cookie Crumbles.
Elvis always liked Wotan, but was of the opinion that Siegfried was the dumbest character in all creation. Moe, Larry, and Curly were more intelligent. No wonder Hitler identified with Siegfried. They both wanted to screw a cousin.
Or was it a sister? In the opera, that is? He tried not remember as the used bin caught his eye and he spent his remaining credit on second-hand copies of Stop Making Sense and Red Rose Speedway. Poor Paul, he thought as he checked out the latter to see if it was beaten up, his music always makes the “used” section.
Getting into the car, Elvis once again digested the humility he had to face every time he visited a record store. Hell, every time he listened to music, period. Once upon a time he’d believed himself essential to the history of rock ’n roll. That black music never would have popular with the white teen masses were it not for him; that rockabilly would have been stillborn, and a host of future performers would never have been inspired by him to become a rock singer.
But in a land without a King, there were plenty of people capable of taking his place. Even without the example of Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran still managed to put the diverse elements together into a sound remarkably similar to the one he remembered from back in the day.
Sam Philips still discovered Carl, Johnny, Jerry Lee, and the rest. Blacks still crossed over into the white charts. Four guys from Liverpool still played together in a band. Dylan still sounded like a howling wind with a bad head cold. Sinatra still hated the younger generation.
In a world without a King, there was still Atlantic and Motown, folk and folk rock, a British Invasion, and a counter-culture. Bottom line was, Elvis hadn’t mattered. Not nearly as much as he’d believed he had.
Driving home though, listening to the oldies station playing just about any hit released during the ’50s, he was overcome with existential despair, the feeling that the last eight years were some kind of flash forward he was experiencing at the moment of death, that the Lord’s gift to him was to teach him how he might have lived if things had been different.
But no, the music was too loud. The air outside too cold and the air inside too stale and warm. His thoughts were too real. He was alive. That was all there was to it.
The existential despair was nothing new. He’d experienced it many times as the King, only he’d never known what it was because he’d never had time to check out books from the library and find out. It had been a good definition of his perpetual state of being his last few years as the King, when he began to see in his bathroom mirror another version of himself, a man undoubtedly an Elvis, but a poor, bitter, broken-down Elvis: mean, surly, never completely sober. A man who yelled at his loved ones and who always made his wife clean the catbox. A real sonuvabitch. Elvis detested him.
He named his doppelganger with a small e almost from the beginning. In the beginning the other elvis flickered in and out, and was seen only intermittently. “Elvis” saw “elvis” only when they both stood directly before the sink.
At first he ignored small-e and went about his business.
Rather, he pretended to ignore the man, fatter, seedier, more bloated than he, if that was possible. Then there was that frown. That snarl. Which appeared on small-e’s face for no apparent reason, maybe because the mood had just struck him. It was often, whatever the reason.
Now Elvis had seen that episode of Star Trek where the Spock in a mirror universe had a beard, and officers moved up by assassinating one another. It had reminded him of the music business.
So he had some idea of what was going on. In time, the connection between the two mirrors became stronger, and the more Elvis pretended to be ignoring what e was doing in the bathroom, the more apparent it became that small-e elvis was trying just as hard to ignore him.
Judging from the décor, the man lived in the South, but in a modest home which he never bothered to fix up when needed. His children — two good-looking boys — used the bathroom occasionally. He could tell — by the way they flinched whenever their father was in the same room — that he hit them. Their reaction amused him, maybe it was the only joy he got out of life.
Then there was Lor. He hadn’t known her name then, he just knew by looking in her eyes she was the kind of woman that as a teen he’d imagined marrying when he was grown up. Honest. God-fearin’. Tender. Responsible. Ready to stand up for herself.
Of course, how a brute like elvis had landed a woman like her, he had no idea. He could only think of two reasons: alcohol; and elvis still must have possessed something of that old Elvis charm.
Apparently only elvis could spot the King in the mirror. Only elvis recognized there was another version of himself who had it all, materialistically speaking, and he hated Elvis for it.
Hated the King, merely for being the man he was meant to be. Imagine that! The last thing Elvis could imagine was the possibility that the man in the mirror was the man he was meant to be.
* * *
Early one morning in August eight years ago, elvis was particularly surly. Now, by this point Elvis was a sick man, but elvis looked like he’d fallen in the valley of the shadow of death and wasn’t able to stand up again. Only drink and pure simple meanness kept driving him forward.
The drink was in a bottle of Jack Daniels next to the sink. And the hatred radiated from him like the heat off a red hot eye on a stove.
Elvis felt both the drink and meanness in his heart with a clarity surely equal in intensity to that of his doppelganger. For a brief, terrifying instant, he feared their minds might be merging, that the two universes might somehow be merging into one — and he’d be trapped in the body of that vain, arrogant man, so big on the outside, yet so tiny inside.
Suddenly elvis’s wife lurched. She was pregnant with Junior, and elvis was evidently none too happy about it. He resented her morning sickness and its intrusion on his privacy.
Before she could make it to the commode, he backhanded her and sent her flying into the wall. She struck her head and slumped to the floor. Puke dribbled from her mouth. There was a blood stain on the wall.
What happened next was a blur. Somewhat addled, himself, from his addiction to prescription drugs, Elvis reached into the mirror and grabbed elvis by the throat. The barrier between the two worlds was like a translucent curtain. Why it had chosen that moment to be traversable, Elvis never knew. All he cared about was having his hands around elvis’s throat.
Stunned, aghast, and afraid cannot begin to describe elvis’s reaction. He stepped back to avoid those hands, so like his own, as if dodging a rabid dog.
Elvis missed and slid onto the floor. The impact bloodied his nose. He failed to notice. He endured a couple of kicks from his frightened doppelganger, scrambled to his feet, and staggered toward the Elvis he wanted to kill.
Elvis, meanwhile, soiled himself. This odd version of Elvis, this small-e that the Big E had believed was a hallucination, had somehow become real and solid and wanted to do him bodily harm for reasons he was too afraid to understand.
Elvis blocked him from the door. Small-e elvis struck him with the bottle of Jack Daniels, climbed onto the sink, and without another iota of thought pushed himself through the mirror, into the world of the King, into Graceland.
Elvis watched in horror as the man tumbled out of sight, through the translucent shroud between the worlds. Alarm shocked him into action as he realized it was absolutely essential he return to where he came from immediately, regardless of what other consequences he might have to face.
But the mirror was solid. Elvis struck it with his forehead so hard he thought he might have a concussion. The mirror shattered as he bounced back. He slipped off the counter and his shoulder struck the edge of the toilet tank. Then he bumped his head against the sink.
By the time he reached the floor, he’d already decided not to move again until he had a good idea where everything in the room was.
Not that he had any choice. This new world was spinning like a top.
Over there on the other side of the hemisphere, Lor came to. She was groggy but mad as a hornet.
“Wait, let me explain,” Elvis mumbled, knowing it was impossible.
She wiped off her mouth and flung some vomit at him. “Let me explain!” she insisted. She crawled over and shook her fist in his face. “I told you the next time you hit me I was going to beat the hell out of you, and it looks like I did!”
“Do you remember, honey?” he said, with a pitiful laugh.
“Beating the hell out me?”
“No, but I promise you the next time I will!”
The door slid open and in walked a police officer in uniform. Jay had called 911. The officer’s face was slimmer and infinitely more serious than Elvis remembered, the body just as large but more powerful, but the officer was still instantly recognizable.
“Bill Smith! I thought I gave you the week off!”
“Highly unlikely,” said the officer dryly, not making a move to assist either one of them. Obviously the suspicious type.
“Don’t you recognize me?”
“Yeah, you’re that piece of dreck who’s been disinvited to our class reunions. Are you all right, Lor?” He spoke into his handheld and said there was a woman who needed assistance.
Elvis asked the officer if he was going to ask if the man of the house needed assistance.
“When I see one, I’ll let you know,” Bill said.
Elvis felt his soul turn to a bucket of ice. It was clear they thought he was the other guy. Elvis began to explain, tried to convince both of them he was the King, one of the most famous men in the world. Maybe the most famous.
He also tried to convince Bill he was a member of the Memphis Mafia, and as such had worked with and for Elvis since the beginning of his fabulously successful music career. As a matter of fact, Bill was the only one who’d been with him since the beginning.
* * *
Copyright © 2015 by Arthur Byron Cover