It had been over forty years since Elvis Presley passed away, and when the radio disc jockey announced the anniversary of his death and asked listeners where they were when it happened, the memory of my mother steering the Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight station wagon toward the city from our small rural community swirled into view—the four of us children sliding on the maroon vinyl seats and not wearing seatbelts. As the oldest, I had claimed the front seat, and when we came to a stop sign close to the city, regular broadcasts were interrupted to announce the king’s death, likely from cardiac arrest and his body found in a seated position in front of the toilet on the floor, a fact no one would likely want reported.
Mom’s hands shook, tears rolled down her cheeks, and she pulled into a new subdivision with brick homes just outside the city built mostly for the expansion of Air Force base employees.
“Is something wrong?”
“Elvis is dead.”
“A singer,” she said. She pulled a tissue from her purse, wiped tears, and pulled back onto the state highway, driving slowly and listening to the Elvis music playing on the radio. I recognized the music from records she played while sweeping and mopping the wooden floors in our clapboard house. She drove slowly, the station wagon floating along the highway like the layered mist floating above the river we crossed and the layers of smoke floating in my grandfather’s den from the Swisher Sweet cigars he smoked while sipping Jack Daniel’s at night after work.
When I’d first thought I’d try smoking, I stole a pack of matches from my grandparents’ kitchen, and when they were outside in the porch swing, I took a partially smoked Swisher Sweet from my grandfather’s amber-colored glass ashtray, lit it, and had a few puffs. I choked and gagged until I saw particles of light in my eyes like poor Wile E. Coyote saw in every Looney Tune episode when he was run over, crushed, or fell from cliffs in pursuit of the Road Runner. Like Wile E., I shook my head clear of stars, stubbed out the Swisher Sweet, though not completely, and when my grandparents came in from their swing, my grandmother said to my grandfather, “Are you trying to burn down the house? You left that stinking cigar burning in the ash tray.”
“I’m sorry,” he’d said.
I let out a sigh of relief, as if I’d exhaled and blown smoke upward toward the ceiling, and I was happy they didn’t suspect their thirteen-year-old grandson. My grandmother had raised her apron, wiped sweat beads from her forehead, looked at me with her blue-gray eyes and said, “Don’t you pick up that bad habit.”
“No mam,” I’d said.
Knowing it was Elvis’ death anniversary, I turned on my computer in my office, clicked on my Pandora shortcut, and listened to Elvis love songs softly in the background: “Love Me Tender”, “Can’t Help Falling in Love”, and “Are you Lonesome Tonight?” I thought of my mother sweeping and mopping the wooden floors of our old house that was torn down years ago and my grandparents dancing in their living room at Christmas when they both sipped whiskeys surrounded by cigar smoke. I wondered how many people Elvis must have made happy with his music even though the end of his short life was fraught with problems. I imagined the mist of my memories spinning like a vinyl record on a player, the needle inching us forward with the music, until the song is over, the sacred mist evaporates, and there is stillness.
Niles Reddick is author of a novel, two story collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in over four hundred fifty publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, BlazeVox, New Reader Magazine, Citron Review, and The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Website: http://nilesreddick.com/
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