“Elvis is Alive and He’s the Short Order Cook at the Silver Dollar Diner”
Elvis usually gets there early, by 5:30, before everyone else, though this morning he’s running late. The waitress has had to make excuses to both 6 a.m. customers and the bus boy has had to make the pancakes. He’s not very good at it, so the pancakes are sub-par, but Elvis rushes in at 6:15, still wearing blue flannel pajama pants and his hair’s a mess. He forgot to set his alarm, and he is so sorry, y’all. Elvis promises more pancakes, this time with whipped cream and strawberries for free. The customers love him.
Elvis heads back into the kitchen, singing to himself as he walks, something he heard on the radio in the car. The screen door slams, he hums. Mary’s dress waves. He never wrote songs like that, but it’s good, he thinks, this new rock music, even though it was new ten years ago. He makes the pancake batter from scratch, from a recipe he knows by heart. He whisks the eggs into the flour with a couple of quick strokes, still humming, darlin’, you know just what I’m here for. That’s more his speed.
The pancakes sizzle on the grill and he reaches into the fridge, comes back with a crate of two dozen eggs and a slab of bacon. Two over easy with sourdough toast for Walter, in the far booth by the windows, and two scrambled for Howard sitting at the counter. The two men both come every morning like clockwork, have for years, but they’re still strangers to one another. Howard used to get his eggs over easy too, six years ago when he started coming here, but he complained and complained that they were never just right. Elvis finally told him it was scrambled or nothing, dammit, and Howard keeps coming back so the eggs must be okay.
Elvis wipes his left hand on his apron and pushes his hair out of his eyes. It went gray years ago and he hasn’t had sideburns in a long, long time, but he still keeps it a little longer than his mother, bless her soul, would have found acceptable. He looks great for his age, looks twenty years younger than he is. Good plastic surgeons are worth their weight in gold. People believe him when he says he was named after himself, like Elvis Costello. My mama was a big fan, he says. Yeah, he looks kind of like the real Elvis, it’s just a funny coincidence. He says he’s been thinking of becoming an impersonator, and he hasn’t, but he thinks it’s funny and he’ll sneer and say thankyouverymuch for his favorite customers.
Elvis died on that toilet in 1977. His heart stopped for ninety seconds before his live-in nurse rushed in when she heard the thud. He watched his own funeral from a hospital bed a week later, still high on morphine after the triple bypass, and in that state he said good riddance to all those people who were so sad now he was dead. Lisa Marie knows but Priscilla doesn’t, and he wishes she’d make better life choices, especially with men, but she’s his little girl so it’s okay.
He went to Graceland once, and he bought a ticket and was ready to go on the tour but at the last minute he stayed in the gift shop. He still remembers himself too vividly, the swagger and glitz of Elvis Presley, and he can’t bear to see how it’s faded in a decade and a half. Those gold records don’t shine as bright now, he knows, and the jungle room is probably dingy and mossy, the stains showing in the carpet. The television sets are relics, the stained glass gaudy. Instead he buys a clock of himself. His hips swing back and forth with the seconds.
The pancakes and eggs and bacon are done, so he shouts order up! over the counter and Shelley comes and gets it. The sun is shining through the front windows now, highlighting BACON AND EGG BREAKFAST $2.95 in a mirror image, splashing it all against the back wall. Elvis doesn’t eat that stuff anymore and has some yogurt and strawberries in the fridge. Soon he’ll be cooking five orders at a time for the breakfast crowd and then burgers, fries and turkey melts for businessmen, and by the time he closes at 3 p.m. he’ll be covered in grease and his feet will hurt but he’ll still know everyone by their first name. He can hit the gym before the evening rush, he’s trying to get off his cholesterol meds and his doctor says it’s looking good. For right now, though, both early customers are busy eating, Shelley is reading People magazine and the busboy is trying to nap with his head on the table. He takes a yogurt container out of the fridge and eats it while he watches the sun rise over Memphis.
Alex Collins-Shotwell is currently an MFA candidate in fiction at the University of Virginia. Her work will be appearing in an upcoming volume of Mixed Fruit.