Elvis in Paradise
The curtains are drawn. The window’s foiled over. It could be any time of day, any day of the year, any hotel in America.
He might have been asleep. He might have been dreaming. Were the dreams his own? It would be the first time in years. He wishes he could remember.
Alan and Lamar are in the kitchen arguing loudly about how to cook his bacon. Cousin Gene’s at the card table in front of the silvery window, cheek down on a game of solitaire, snoring. Gene’s supposed to be keeping watch, making sure Elvis doesn’t sleepwalk out the door.
Once when Elvis was young his parents found him on the roof of their house trying to step off into the night.
It could happen again.
Except he can’t even feel his feet. He must have slept on them funny, or else he’s somehow lost them in the night.
He closes his eyes. He doesn’t want to know.
He wonders sometimes what might have happened if he’d taken that last step off the roof of his parents’ house. Would he have fallen or flown?
That kind of test doesn’t present itself to everyone. What’ll he do if the opportunity comes his way again?
If he’s lost his feet, he’ll never know.
These are some of the problems of being famous no one told him about. You lose things. Feet, dreams. Your soul if you’re not careful. You don’t notice them till they’re gone, and then you’ll search the rest of your life for the simple stuff you once took for granted.
If he did step off into the night, where would he fly?
Over treetops and houses. Over Memphis and Mississippi. From up there he’d get a glimpse of everything for once. He’d gather up the pieces of life and understand its whole. Resolve its contradictions. Fall in love with everyone he’s ever met.
As it should be.
His fans would turn in their beds and catch a glimpse of him through their windows. They’d come out of their houses, huddle together on lawns, and point. When the press got wind of it, they’d turn their cameras and microphones to the sky.
Arms out, soaring, what could he do but wave?
Don’t do this to us! his fans would shout.
The girls are crying. They fall into their mothers’ arms.
It’s not goodbye, he’d say.
Or it is, but just for now.
Look, he’s climbing higher! Can you still hear us, Elvis? Any last words for the fans who’ve adored you, who’ve given you everything in life and asked only for your boyish, one-sided smile and the warm caramel of your voice?
Wait, it’s not like that at all! he’d insist. It’s just, sometimes you have to leave the world to get it back!
He’s not even sure they can hear him. He’s risen too far. He’s in the coolness of the stratosphere and turns his eyes to the moon.
But he still can’t feel his feet!
It’s as if the rest of him woke up but he left his feet in a dream. How can he get them back when he can’t even remember the dream?
And where, anyway, do dreams go when you abandon them in the middle? Do they find another dreamer and pick up where they left off? Do they fizzle into a million droplets and rejoin a great ocean of dreams? Will he ever know?
He lies perfectly still, waiting for the day’s rhythms to pluck him awake and bring back his feet.
A frying pan slides across a burner in the next room, rattles and pops.
Footsteps. The creak of a wicker couch.
Gene’s throat rattles on the intake, clicks once on the exhaust; his tongue ticks the roof of his mouth like he’s drunk in his dream and the words come slow and thick. Gene should know better than to drink, even in his dream.
Outside, a mockingbird warbles and tsks and chugs through its borrowed songlist. There are back-up birds behind that one. A mourning dove? One of them gives a screech. What kind of birds do they have here?
That’s right: Jordanaires. They have Jordanaires singing in the trees.
A motorboat plows the river, passing slow. A girl calls Elvis’s name. Is she on the boat? On the roof? Out in the parking lot?
Yes. All three.
He hears these sounds, just as he hears the whisper of the high-altitude winds and the soft slosh of the bay and the breaths of the nocturnal creatures asleep now in their dens. The world opens up on its voices.
But there’s got to be one moment when the rhythms get in synch and the world falls silent before the next beat, a moment when even the world is listening.
As he waits, holding his breath, his feet return in droplets, as if from the point of a needle, or from the spray of an ocean of dreams.
He opens his eyes. He bends his big toe.
There it is.
Copyright 2010 John Henry Fleming