A Girl Called Elvis
Photograph by Lyle Hart, Story by Will White
I’d never met a girl like Elvis before. In all those falls and flights of love I hadn’t even come close. It was like someone punching me in the stomach. The park and sky sunk into deep colour and I was somewhere else all of a sudden.
We met in the garden of a party and she said I looked bored.
‘Yes, you do. My name is Elvis’
She saw herself as one, and that made the two of us.
Then it began. She looked you dead in the eyes when you spoke. They were dark brown. Her smile was slight if anything and it took a while to find.
We rented a tiny flat above a souvenir shop. The hallway was a kitchen with the living room and bedroom on either end. Shelves the whole way down with a cooker in the middle. You had to shift yourself sideways to walk past and wash the dishes in the bathroom sink. Rarely they were washed so Elvis would put them all in the shower and hose them down. Sometimes she’d scrub the dishes whilst she was in the shower and you’d hear her clattering around for a good half an hour.
On our fifth year she decided she would do everything she never had the chance or courage to do:
A bungee jump,
Learnt how to play piano,
Shaved her head,
Passed her driving test,
Had a car crash,
Learnt colonized Portuguese,
Broke a rib,
Sat in silence for 3 days,
Hit a police officer,
Spent a night in a cell.
It was quite a year!
After each one I’d ask ‘It was good?’
‘Yes!’ and she’d look shocked you’d even asked.
Once she had started, everything took off. Each day she’d do something wild and I’d watch. It became normal to see Elvis jump out a plane or shave her head. She got a piano for free from an old lady and we pushed it up the street and into our living room. She became quite amazing and could recite Alice Coltrane without too much hassle. Her fingers moved like creepy crawlies over the keys as she leant back with her head towards the ceiling and her eyes wide open, in a trance. She played for hours every morning and sometimes through to evening. The neighbour’s kids would knock on the door when they heard her start up, I’d let them in and they’d sit there on the floor, cross-legged, staring up at her. Elvis never spoke to or looked at them, as her eyes clawed at the ceiling. I’d stand in the door to the kitchen hallway and watch.
One day, she was racing her way through ‘Prema’ when a wheel on one side of the piano gave out and the whole thing crunched into the floor. She flew off the keys and put her fist through the window
The kids jumped up and scattered out the door as fast as rats.
‘What are you doing?’ I came rushing in.
‘Stupid thing has broken!’ she shouted at me.
We boarded up the window that night and swept up the glass.
It was around the time the piano broke that Elvis got the news her mother had died. She changed gears and slowed right down. Her dark eyes would fill with tears whenever she spoke and I would wake up to see her up at the dresser, sobbing.
I called up Lisa to ask what to do. Lisa was a friend of mine who was very fond of Elvis.
‘Go to the country’ which seems to be the solution to everything when you live in the city.
We drove out to the cottage and it was small and pink. It made her laugh when she saw it.
Her knuckles would be jutting out from her clenched fists as she tried to relax walking in the fields surrounding the cottage. There was nothing I could do. She missed her mother.
‘I will never see her again’
‘That can’t be true’
Her mother was an Arabic woman, focused on living. She would grab Elvis’ face with her two calloused hands on her visits to our place. The only time I would see Elvis curl up and let herself be vulnerable was when she lay next to her mother in our bed. It really made me happy to see. She would walk the street beside her looking at her the whole time and listening to everything. ‘Mumma’ she would call as she buried her head into her chest. Mumma loved watching Elvis play the piano and would say:
‘Thank you, Lord for bringing me someone so special’
She would clap her hands together in celebration
There was not much to do out there at the cottage so we slept late and stoked the fire in the evening but none of this helped Elvis too much. After three days she said to me:
‘I want to go home’
I took Elvis to the airport that week. She sat in the passenger seat in silence the whole way and I felt like throwing my guts up over the steering wheel. She was so sad I could feel it in her when we hugged after she checked in. I couldn’t hold myself any longer and I started to cry. My vision went blurry and she went through the gates.
On the drive home I stopped off at a service station and drank a coffee looking out the window. I missed Mumma too. When I got home the piano was still sitting at its wonky angle with a corner digging into the floor and I went into the hallway to turn on the stove. The kids stopped coming round and I had to move out eventually. I had a letter from her once, it was short and tore me apart:
“Love is a lot!