I’ve always loved the King; he’s filled my head since kindergarten. Finger-painting, I thought everybody could hear “Heartbreak Hotel.” I just had to turn an ear towards the Whopper Radio Tower (towards Memphis, I figured out later) to hear him singing, smooth and clear, without any static or commercials.
Mom took me see to Dr. Pill, who peeked into my ears and up my nose; he said I had a loud imagination. Still Elvis kept singing me whatever I wanted, without ever getting tired. I know I heard “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in my head before the song made the radio.
By the time I was twelve, people in Baltimore thought I was strange; but isn’t everybody? Mom told me I was distracted, Dad that I lacked ambition. I just wanted a quiet job. Too short for a forest ranger, I tried picking up litter for the Parks Department, selling lottery tickets, taking tolls: jobs which didn’t require me to concentrate on anyone but Elvis. I ended up a night cashier at a 24-hour truck stop here in southern North Dakota, where I get to take home a share of the snack food that has passed its sell-by date.
The job doesn’t pay much, but it covers my rent, and I can add to my Elvis merchandise. This year I bought new bath towels and potholders with his portrait, and even an electric toothbrush that plays “Hunk of Burning Love.” To honor the King, I always wear at least one Elvis: a t-shirt, my cameo ring with his profile, or my rhinestone belt-buckle (one of my dearest possessions) with his name.
Our Highway to Heaven Truck Stop never gets busy, so I can spend most of my nights alone, sitting at the register, tuned to Elvis. The reception here in Slow Rapids is the best I’ve ever enjoyed in my 58 years. Why the King favors me, I’ll never understand. You’ve got to take things on faith.
For example, one night last July, our vast parking lot lay empty. I remember I was wearing my Elvis belt buckle with his name in rhinestone curlicues. At 2 AM a turquoise eighteen-wheeler pulled in, with mud flaps that sparkled in the dark. The driver’s seat looked empty, which I found unusual.
Then all of a sudden, with a sound like slices of bread popping out of a toaster, two turquoise midgets stood up on my checkout, each about two feet high. Their faces, round as dinner plates, had three little holes instead of noses, but otherwise the little guys looked kinda cute and smiled at me in a friendly way (their stubby teeth were turquoise too). They wore turquoise cowboy duds with white fringes, big, square sunglasses and Elvis sideburns. These must have been the stick-on kind, because their heads looked bald as a baby’s bottom.
“Irene Sputnik,” they tweeted at me together, like sweet little birds. “We’ve chosen you from the King’s tens of millions of fans in this galaxy. We’re the Bospi Brothers—the famous impresarios—and we’re opening a theme park soon on Elviana.”
“Is that so?” I asked, kinda surprised, but they tweeted on:
“We’d like you to be an exhibit for a year; all expenses paid, of course; plus a million units of your money—in cash.”
“I don’t have many expenses,” I confided. “In my life there’s just the King and me.” I tapped my ancient belt-buckle, and a rhinestone fell out. I picked it off the floor and put it in my pocket.
“Wouldn’t you like a bigger buckle, Irene—with genuine diamonds?” one of the Bospi Twins asked, winking. He had a dimple on his cheek.
I started to laugh, embarrassed now. What would I do with diamonds?
“And how about luscious, fresh food every day?” the other twin asked, waving his turquoise flipper at our candy bars piled high, and the taco chips hanging on racks next to our giant fridge for sodas. “Our staff on Elviana will get only quality rations, flown in daily from their home worlds. We’ve always believed in species-appropriate nutrition—unlike the King himself.”
“Like T-bone steaks?” I asked, my mouth watering. Rarely can I treat myself to a nice, expensive tender cut.
“Sure. For your breakfast, lunch and dinner. Just tell us how many you need.”
“Please understand, Irene,” said the twin with the dimple. “We’re not asking you to do any work. You just have to be yourself for a year. On Elviana that’s only 222 Earthian days.”
“And we’ll give you a habitat just like you have right here, and in your living compartment. We’ll replicate exactly every corner of Slow Rapids that you use, Irene.”
I thought for a minute, sitting down on my stool and fiddling with my belt buckle. Another rhinestone fell out on the floor, and I let it lie. What would Elvis do? If the King had lived as long as me, I mean; he died at only 42.
“Gee, thanks, guys” I told them quietly then, “but right here at home in Slow Rapids, I’ve got Elvis himself, singing to me from beyond the grave. I don’t even need a DVD.”
“You’ll have him on Elviana too,” they tweeted.
“But it must be light years away from Memphis. I can’t be sure I’ll get good reception.” Their turquoise faces fell.
“Won’t you reconsider?” asked the one with the mole.
“No means ‘no,’ sorry. That’s all I know.”
“Irene Sputnik, we’re disappointed,” they tweeted sadly. “We understand, though; we love him too. May you love him long.” And then they were gone, with their big rig—just like that.
I don’t mind eating stale taco chips though, and gluing the rhinestones back into my battered old belt buckle. After all, I’ve still got the King.