Authors: Charity Tahmaseb
Tags: #Fiction, #Contemporary, #Romance
Elvis Has Left the Building
By Charity Tahmaseb
Copyright 2013 by Charity Tahmaseb
Cover Copyright 2013 by Dara England and Untreed Reads Publishing
The author is hereby established as the sole holder of the copyright. Either the publisher (Untreed Reads) or author may enforce copyrights to the fullest extent.
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher or author, except in the case of a reviewer, who may quote brief passages embodied in critical articles or in a review. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. The characters, dialogue and events in this book are wholly fictional, and any resemblance to companies and actual persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
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Elvis Has Left the Building
By Charity Tahmaseb
I am a second-generation Elvis impersonator.
Every morning during the summer that my voice changed, I followed my father to the garage. It had, according to him, the best acoustics. After gargling with a concoction of warmed distilled water, salt, and baking soda, I stood in the center of the oil splotch. My father circled me, a drill sergeant inspecting a raw recruit.
“Remember. It doesn’t come from here.” He cuffed my head—gently. “But from here,” he continued, with a slap over my heart. “And here.” The blow to my solar plexus was never unexpected—or cruel—but it always left me breathless. “One of the gospels,” my father commanded. “Any hack—”
“Can mug his way through
,” I said.
My father grinned one of his rare, warm Elvis grins. “From the top.”
Elvis had a range of more than two octaves, and I butchered each and every note that summer. To my father’s credit, he never cringed, never chastised. After my singing chased the dog under the porch, he would place a hand on my shoulder.
“Enough for today, son.”
I read a lot that summer, a slew of stories about disappointing sons, several volumes of history. I read how Lenin believed the Russian Orthodox religion would die along with the old women. That single fact fueled hope. At my father’s performances, I scanned the crowds, mentally aging them.
Then on a day so hot sweat gathered at the back of my knees, I hit a high note, followed by a low note, and all the ones in between.
“Alice,” my father called. “Come out here.”
Dishtowel in hand, my mother emerged from the kitchen.
“Do it again, son.”
I sang, watched them exchange glances.
“Today of all days.” My father took the dishtowel and wiped his forehead. “Sweet Jesus.”
I looked to my mother, who had commandeered the towel to dab her eyes. “It’s the sixteenth, honey.”
Of August. The day Elvis died.
Like Russian Orthodoxy, the Church of Elvis endures. On Friday and Saturday nights, I preach the gospel of Elvis according to my father. The elders come to remember, the newly indoctrinated to believe, the skeptics to be converted. They come as if to communion. They come, as my father always reminded me, to pay homage to Elvis. Except for Aimee.
She came to see me.
At thirty, I’m at that awkward age as far as impersonators go—too old for the young Elvis, but I’ve yet to don the white Pinwheel jumpsuit my father wore. I’ve compromised by having a replica made of the two-piece leather suit Elvis wore for his ’68 comeback special. It’s dangerous looking—very James Dean—and the number of women willing to pay tribute to the King has increased tenfold since I started wearing it.
I was wearing it the night I met Aimee in the lounge of the north side Holiday Inn. The lounge’s bartender doesn’t water the drinks—at least not mine—and that night, I needed my scotch undiluted.
“You got a new fan,” he said, with a nod toward the end of the bar.
She smiled. They all smile. I remember them smiling at my father without understanding why. But Aimee was different. Maybe it was the untamed hair, or the too-long jacket paired with the too-short skirt, but I did something I never do.
I made the first move.
With two drinks in hand, I inched down the bar. She murmured thanks, a fine blush blazing up her cheekbones.
“You have a beautiful voice,” she said.
“Thank you, thank you very much.” The imitation never failed to get a giggle; it often led to a great deal more.
But Aimee didn’t giggle. She surveyed me with clear, guileless eyes and asked, “Do you write your own songs?”
“I especially liked—” She drew a breath and sang the first few lines of
Are You Lonesome Tonight
in a sensuous alto.
I scanned the bar, searching for heads bent in conspiracy, straining my ears for the inevitable snickers. Lounge chairs were scattered across the main floor, all empty except for a few regulars. Without thinking, I took a step away from her.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” Her blush deepened, and her fingers fluttered against her glass. “I’ve never met a singer before.” She stilled her hands with the plastic stir stick. “I don’t go out very often.”
This, I later learned, was an understatement.
“It’s…okay.” Blame the schoolgirl-plaid skirt. If I were being set up, it came with unexpected perks. “Would you like to sit?” I gestured toward a booth in the back corner. “And talk.”
Aimee beamed, and when we were sitting, she planted her elbows on the table and leaned forward. “So, Elvis—”
“Elliot. My name is Elliot.”
“Oh! So Elvis is your stage name. That’s very clever.”
“Thank you,” I said with no trace of the King in my voice.
“But honestly,” she said. “I like Elliot better.”
She gazed at me, her expression naked. In my mind’s eye, I could see a Christian missionary setting foot on some exotic shoreline. The pulse of drums rises up from the jungle floor, the beat strange, seductive. A half-clothed native woman beckons, her gaze innocent, provocative, and wrong.
It was enough to make a man forget who he was.
* * *
“I heard one of your songs today.”
I’d long since stopped trying to explain that they’re not my songs. Aimee looked at me, as she always did, with barely contained anticipation. Tonight she was wearing a too-short pleated skirt and a sleeveless blouse with a Peter Pan collar. The Mary Janes on her feet would have been innocent if not for their three-inch heels. I sometimes considered she was part of a larger conspiracy to drive me insane.
But she was waiting for me to ask. “What was it, darling?”
“I don’t remember the name, but it was very funny.”
I wracked my brain for funny while she continued.
“It went something like—” With one hand on the bar, she steadied herself, then let out a howl that had Ron the bartender grinning.
Her pitch was perfect, and I named that tune in two notes. “
Werewolves of London
, but it’s not one of mine.” Although I’ve covered it before—Elvis-style, of course. It was a crowd pleaser.
“Oh.” So much despair in a single word.
“I sing it sometimes,” I said. “Would you like me to tonight?”
The anticipation returned and she nodded.
“It’s by Warren Zevon.” What possessed me to add the next, I wasn’t sure, but it was out of my mouth before I thought better of it. “He died of lung cancer.”
“I’m sorry.” Her fingertips grazed my wrist. “Was he a friend?”
“No, I didn’t know him.”
She sighed, the sound sad. “But you sing his songs.” For Aimee, that was enough.
The summer crowd grumbled, chairs scraping against the floor. The lounge was filled to capacity, and thanks to an Elvis retrospective on one of the cable channels, I’d been booked solid for weeks. It was a good month to be the King.
Still, the audience contained several new faces. I didn’t like the look of them, and apparently neither did Ron. He caught my eye over the top of Aimee’s head and nodded toward the bar’s back entrance. He watched Aimee while I was on stage, kept the barflies and players away with a single glare. In return, she perched on a stool near the register and tallied the tabs in her head.
I wasn’t the main attraction that night. My gaze strayed to Aimee. I sang better with her in the audience. Tonight that might make all the difference.
It didn’t. I had finished
Blue Suede Shoes
and was ready to launch into
Hard Headed Woman
, which I always dedicated to Aimee, or rather “the pretty little thing sittin’ at the bar.” The phrase lit her face with an uncertain smile, and she glanced around as though I had meant someone else. There was no one else.
The anonymous cry came from the back of the crowd—not unexpectedly. “Hey, faggot! Pants tight enough?”
That was a gimme. I had several comebacks, depending on height and muscle mass of the perpetrator. People forget—the King studied karate, and my father took me to the dojo until I had earned my black belt. Of course, he would have preached temperance.
“Remember, son, eighty percent of the audience is on your side. You just sing the songs. Let them deal with the other twenty.”
Some nights the numbers were reversed, and the right comeback earned silence and respect—and an occasional black eye.
The rest was lost in the crowd’s muttering. The leather jacket grew heavy, trapping heat from the lights. I didn’t wear a shirt, of course, and sweat pooled at the waistband of my pants, which were plenty tight and glued to my legs. From the corner of my eye, I saw the hotel’s assistant manager and his “get on with it” scowl.
One more “faggot” and I would.
Predictably, it came. I decided the perpetrator was a coward, making Ron—and the two-by-four he slipped beneath the Dumpster out back—unnecessary.
The insult died somewhere between my brain and mouth. Aimee. I couldn’t say a word, at least not the ones I had planned on saying, not with her in the audience. Dread like I hadn’t felt since my first time on stage clutched my stomach. The light dazzled my eyes and the urge to pray overtook me.
Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned
Instead, I sang. I sang over the repeated cries of “faggot,” I sang as two couples in the front row stood up and walked out, I sang even as Aimee slipped off the barstool and pushed through the lounge’s double doors.
I kept the set upbeat, a lead-in to the rockabilly dance band that followed. By the time I finished
, I had won back the crowd, but Aimee was gone.
I elbowed my way through the throng, my destination, the bar. The shake of Ron’s head sent me out the double doors, through the lobby, and into the thick summer night.
She sat at a bus stop two blocks up the road, her leg extended before her, one bare foot hovering above the concrete. In her hands, she cradled the shoe. I jogged the distance, grateful for dismal public transportation and shoddily made footwear.
“Mind if I sit?”
Those clear, guileless eyes looked sad, and I didn’t like the knowledge I saw there. She scooted over, then contemplated her broken shoe. I eased the two pieces from her and inspected the damage.
“Wow.” With a finger, I tested the single nail protruding from the heel. “Suppose it could double as an ice pick?”
Was that a small smile? I leaned forward, but she wouldn’t give me her eyes again. I concentrated on the repair, and once body and sole were back together, knelt in front of her.
“That should hold, at least for the slow songs.” I slipped the shoe onto her foot. “Come back and dance with me?”
Aimee took my arm, but halfway across the parking lot, she dug her heels into the still-warm asphalt, a dangerous move considering her shoes.
“You’re going back in there?”
“But—” The word faded, she swallowed hard, and I watched the internal war against a spate of tears.
“Come here.” Her blouse was thin beneath my palm, the result of too many tumbles through the washer. The shoulder seams were meticulously hemmed, but at one time the top had sported long sleeves. I didn’t know where she lived, I didn’t even know her last name, but I held her in the middle of the Holiday Inn parking lot, held her tight because I couldn’t hold the memory of another hotel parking lot at bay.