I’m in the trailer behind the pig barn changing into my jumpsuit and wig, and I miss The Elvisator’s act. I hoof it over to the platform as the second contestant, a black Elvis dressed all in leather, is singing “All Shook Up”. A bunch of young’uns run around in the dusty field in front of the stage, while their mamas and grannies sit in lawn chairs eating corn dogs and funnel cakes. Most of the men are off watching the tractor pull.
Sweat drips down my face and I hope my make-up doesn’t run. Five years since The King died. Five years since I’ve been on a stage. It was easier to kick the pills than to live without the adulation, the attention, the adoring audiences. I killed The King to save myself. I had to. But I sure do miss the music. Five years and you’re cured, like cancer, isn’t that right? It’s not like I’m an alcoholic. This one time can’t hurt.
Finally the man in the straw hat and overalls announces, “Now give it up for our third and final contestant, in his first appearance as an Elvis Impersonator, Ellis Orion!”
If there’s any applause, it’s drowned out by the roar of the tractors. I walk up to the mike and grin at the audience. Shake my hips. Pick out a pretty young thing in the front row and wink at her. She pretends to swoon.
The music starts, and it all comes back. The notes, the moves, the lyrics. I’m not on a rickety stage in some Podunk town inhaling greasy popcorn fumes and diesel exhaust, but back in Vegas, in the good years, my name in lights, a fire in my belly. When the music ends, I see I’ve thrown my scarf into the crowd, and two little boys are fighting over it. I smile and say, “Thank you, thankyouverymuch,” and saunter off the stage.
The Elvisator wins. He gives a thank you speech, tears running down his face. Tells the audience that he’s proud to represent The King and continue His work. The black Elvis comes in second.
I shake their hands and congratulate them, then follow the crowd past the Chitlin Strut tobacco-spitting contest down to the barbecue. A plump old lady in a tight “Elvis Lives” tee shirt pats me on the shoulder and says, “Don’t you worry, sonny. You’ll do better next time. You just need to practice.”
Next time. I promised myself there wouldn’t be a next time, that this was just a one-time thing, a joke, really. But as I buy my dinner, I’m thinking about growing out my sideburns and hair, working on my moves. About entering a bigger, better contest. Winning it. Going on the circuit.
Most of the picnic tables are filled with families, but I see a table with just one fellow sitting. I walk over and ask if I can join him. He gives me a crooked grin and says in a honey drawl, “Please, set yourself right down.”
“Thank you kindly,” I say, taking a seat across from him. And if it isn’t like I’m looking in a mirror, twenty-five years ago. Same clothes, same hair, same expression. I pick up my ribs.
“I brought my own dinner,” he says.
He lifts his sandwich and a familiar smell hits me. Fried peanut butter and banana. I think about getting up and finding another table, but it’s hot and I’m hungry.
“I can’t help but notice how much you look like Elvis,” I say between bites, “but I didn’t see you in the contest.”
“I don’t do contests,” he says with a sneer. I know that curled lip.
“So, you do a solo act?”
“No, I don’t ‘do’ Elvis at all. No offense, sir, but in my opinion, Elvis Impersonators are morons, parasites, feeding off The King, may He rest in peace. I live Elvis.”
“You live Elvis?”
“Yes, sir. I embody Him. I spread His Word by my example. People see me, and they know The King is alive in spirit. I attend all the contests I can and sit quietly, offering an alternative to those false idols.”
“You don’t sing? You don’t perform?”
“No, sir. Well, sometimes I sing in the shower. Or at church. I do love music. But I’m not interested in fame. Just in Elvis’s essence.”
Maybe this boy is right. Maybe he’s found the way. Maybe he was sent by The Lord to show me how to truly be happy without the applause, the love. I hear a scuffling and look over to see a middle-aged woman dragging a young girl over to our table.
“I wanted my little Krissy to meet you,” the mother says to my younger self, her voice breaking. She dabs her eyes with a hankie, and pushes the shy girl toward our table. The man-who-lives-Elvis takes the little girl’s hand and croons, “Why, it’s a pleasure to meet you, Krissy. You listen to your mama now, you hear, and be sure to do The Lord’s work.”
“Oh thank you, thank you, so much! Bless you!” the mother says, and she and her daughter stumble towards a group of adoring onlookers.
The man-who-lives-Elvis looks at me beaming. “That is my satisfaction,” he says.
I recognize that exalted look in his eyes.
I’m sweltering under my wig. I pull it off and lay it on the table between us. I need to get out of this jumpsuit. I stand and pick up my tray.
“It was a pleasure to meet you,” I say. “Pray for me, boy. Pray for me and I’ll pray for you.”
Jeanne Holtzman is an aging hippie, writer and women’s health care practitioner. Her work has appeared or is upcoming in Night Train, The Los Angeles Review, Dogzplot, Hobart (web), Foundling Review, The Best of Every Day Fiction and flashquake. You may reach Jeanne at J.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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