The Day Elvis Died

Elvis_Presley_1970 Crop

Photo: Creative Commons

When Jesse found me sitting on the curb, she plopped her chubby body beside me.

I asked her what was wrong –

Elvis died today.

She couldn’t say much more except that it happened at Graceland.

As far as I could figure, Graceland was an amusement park, like Six Flags. Jesse was from West Virginia. So Graceland couldn’t have been far from where she used to live.

I could see her watered eyes underneath her oversized glasses. I looked away at the sky so I didn’t have to fake cry in front of her.

The overcast, damp August day was conducive to other sorts of cries. Summer itself was dying and I knew that soon I’d be starting fifth grade. I held on to that thought as Jesse moaned to herself.

Like Jesse’s face, the day was sullen. I could see it in the way birds sat in the maples in front yards with their wings dangling, in the way the utilitarian houses on my street sighed in the mist, in the way Jesse’s hair clung flat and greasy to her head, in the way that made Graceland sound like a happy word.

I wondered if this was what the sky was like in Graceland. Was it raining and humid and were the dirt roads in West Virginia muddy today for all the people waiting in line for amusement rides?

Jesse said something about seeing Elvis at a concert once.

As far as I could figure, Elvis had become a parody of himself. Up to then, whenever Way Down was on the radio, my friends and I stuffed our shirts and imitated the Vegas Elvis, you know, Pelvis Elvis. Now that he was dead, the uneventful triviality of the song had new meaning.

None of us could make fun of it anymore in the way that we did, especially in front of Jesse.

All this occurred to me when I looked back at her. I looked at her wandering left eye to avoid seeing the dirt smudges on her cheeks.

He died of sleeping pills.

As far as I could figure, somebody was going to be in trouble if he was able to open one of those bottles to take more than he should have, or for having the dose information on the label all wrong.

Jesse pulled out her transistor radio from the pocket of her plastic orange jacket checking for more news. All I could hear was static and broken lyrics of a Loretta Lynn song. Jesse listened intently hoping that somewhere in Loretta’s voice was truth, that the news wasn’t true, that Elvis was alive and that he would wake up from sleep, or if he was dead, it was from something more profound than sleeping pills.

Jesse sighed against the newsless soundwaves and flat sky. Time slowed and sat on the curb next to us.

As far as I could figure, Jesse knew the truth. Her world was changing, growing duller. I could see it before time exhaled, stood and walked away. I couldn’t make time stay nor could I sit on the curb with her forever.

I just hoped that the rain would end by tomorrow so I could have summer back, so my brother and I could follow time to The Capitol Theater to see Star Wars,

and so with the clear sky, Jesse could stay back and listen to fuzzy Elvis songs by herself all day on her transistor radio.

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