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a short story
Shortlisted for Writing Magazine's First Person Narrator Competition
I remember the first time I saw Lenny dance. I blew dust from the record, placed it on the turntable, and lowered the arm. With a scratch and a hiss, Jailhouse Rock burst from the speakers.
‘Turn it up, Grandad,’ Lenny said, and I turned the volume dial until the floor vibrated and the windows rattled.
Lenny’s little head bounced upon his shoulders and he tapped his feet. His arms swung as his skinny body twisted to the rhythm, feet moving in a blur, left and right, and back and forth, first grazing the carpet, then lifting higher, so he jumped to the music. He giggled and grinned.
‘What is this?’ he asked.
‘It’s the King,’ I said. ‘It’s Elvis.’
I joined him in dancing, forcing my stiff body to turn, and my heavy arms to swing. My feet remained still, knees too creaky to move. Lenny smiled at me.
‘Who’s Elvis?’ he asked.
‘He’s a legend. The best singer there ever was.’
As the next song started, I sat down in my chair, took a few deep breaths, and rested while Lenny spiralled and whirled.
‘Is Elvis dead?’ Lenny shouted above the music. ‘Like Grandma?’
I nodded and looked at my wife, Mary’s, photograph sat on the mantlepiece: her perfect smile, head turned slightly to the left, hair freshly curled and styled, never looking more beautiful.
‘It’s sad he’s dead. He’s amazing,’ said Lenny.
The songs continued, Heart Break Hotel, It’s Now or Never, Burning Love; and as Lenny danced each melody brought memories of Mary: driving to the seaside, the radio turned up and the windows down, singing Elvis so loud our voices cracked, laughing at the bemused looks of people in passing cars; dancing cheek-to-cheek in the kitchen as the aroma of warm apple pie wafted from the oven; and our day-trip to Madame Tussauds in London where Mary duetted with a young Elvis made from wax, invisible microphone clutched in her hand, posing as I took photo after photo. I wiped away a tear before Lenny saw it.
Lenny didn’t tire. When the first side of the record ended, I turned it over and played the other. His bright eyes sparkled at the start of each song. When his father, my son David, came to pick him up, Lenny was fast asleep on the sofa.
‘He’s exhausted,’ I said. ‘He’s been dancing to Elvis.’
‘Elvis?’ said David. ‘The poor boy.’
‘You used to like Elvis.’
‘I didn’t have a choice. It’s all you and Mum would ever listen to.’
He scooped Lenny off the sofa and put him over his shoulder. Lenny opened his eyes and asked, ‘Is Grandma a legend like Elvis?’
David turned and looked at me.
‘I guess she is,’ I said.
The following weekend, Lenny ran into the house with David close behind.
‘Grandad! Grandad!’ he said. ‘You’ll never guess what?’
‘What?’ I asked, as he threw his arms around my legs and squeezed tight, threatening to topple me.
‘Elvis is coming to town. He’s not dead.’
I laughed with David.
Lenny let me go, ran over to the records, and began to pull out all the Elvis albums.
‘Careful,’ I said. ‘They’re fragile.’
‘There’s an Elvis tribute act playing next weekend,’ said David. ‘I’ll pay if you want to go with Lenny. A thank you for looking after him.’
I hadn’t been for an evening out since Mary died.
‘I don’t need thanking. He’s a joy. But, yes. I’d love to go.’
Lenny and I played Elvis all day. One record after another, the music only stopping to change sides. Mary watched from the mantlepiece. She would have loved this.
The next weekend, I brushed down my suit, shined my shoes, and awaited Lenny. I stared at Mary’s photograph as I waited. Our one regret was not seeing the real Elvis in concert. We’d had the money, the chance to book flights, and head to America. But for some reason or another we’d kept putting it off. Then David came along. And when Elvis passed away, Mary and I cried in each other’s arms listening to the news on the radio. It was like our best friend had died.
David and Lenny pulled up outside and I got in the car’s back seat next to Lenny. Elvis was playing on the CD player: Always on My Mind.
‘Elvis will be great,’ said Lenny.
His hair was styled like Elvis’s slick pompadour and he wore a pair of his father’s aviator sunglasses.
David’s eyes appeared in the rear-view mirror.
‘He looks great, doesn’t he?’ he asked.
‘The King would be proud,’ I said.
We took our seats at the front of the hotel’s function room. Disco lights mounted on stands flashed blue, red, yellow, green, dappling the carpets, and illuminating the chipped magnolia paint of the walls. A microphone stand stood centre of the stage next to a laptop on a rickety table. No orchestra, no band, no musicians. Lenny fidgeted excitedly in his chair as the audience filled—a packed crowd of middle-aged and elderly couples.
‘It’s the King!’ Lenny shouted, pointing to the back of the room. The surrounding crowd laughed.
Elvis strode down the aisle through the audience, overweight, sweating, skin plastered so heavily in make-up it looked like cheese, a glossy black nylon wig, and the characteristic sequined jump suit of 1970s Elvis, a yellow stain on one sleeve. As he walked past, he swigged a pint of lager, and I caught the whiff of stale cigarette smoke. He took the microphone, and in a thick American drawl, tinged with a heavy Liverpool accent, Elvis welcomed us all.
‘Elvisssss!’ Lenny squealed with delight.
Elvis pointed a finger at Lenny.
‘Good to see you, little man,’ he said.
Lenny looked at me, mouth agape, before turning back to Elvis and waving.
Elvis fiddled with his laptop. Something wasn’t working.
‘Just a minute, folks,’ he said, still in character.
Suddenly, Hound Dog started, Elvis struck a pose, and sang.
His voice was as powerful as The King's. He shook his legs, swivelled his hips, and snarled his lips. I imagined Mary sitting next to me, gripping the edge of her seat, singing along as if we were in Vegas.
More songs followed: All Shook Up, Don’t Be Cruel, Hard Headed Woman.
After each song Lenny clapped his hands louder than anyone and his screams of delight pierced the applause.
Before the next song started, Elvis knelt on one knee and beckoned Lenny to join him. Lenny leapt onto the stage. ‘Any requests, little man?’ Elvis said.
‘A song for my Grandma and Grandad,’ Lenny said looking down at me from the stage. ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love.’
Elvis hovered over his laptop pressing keys and the music started. Lenny and Elvis swayed. Elvis began to sing, and after a couple of lines, bent down and held the microphone so he and Lenny could sing together. Lenny did an excited little jump, smiled broadly, and began to sing. His young boys high pitch was in perfect harmony with the rich baritone of Elvis. It was incredible, Lenny’s sweet voice was just like Mary’s. I closed my eyes and imagined her on the stage, swinging her favourite red dress, duetting with Elvis; her dream come true. Elvis and Lenny shared the microphone for the whole song.
I pulled a handkerchief from my breast pocket and wiped my eyes.
The song finished to huge applause and Lenny took a bow. When Lenny jumped from the stage and sat down he asked me, ‘Why are you crying, Grandad?’
‘I’m thinking of your Grandma,’ I said, as Lenny climbed onto my knee where he sat bouncing along to the final few songs.
The concert finished and Lenny and I sat on the curb outside waiting for David to pick us up. We watched as a bald, overweight man loaded speakers and spotlights from the function room into his small, rusty, white van. He laid a sequined suit, protected in clear plastic, on the passenger seat, lit a cigarette, and drove off.
‘Would Grandma have liked the song I sang?’ asked Lenny.
‘Yes, very much.’
Lenny looked up at the sky, deep in thought. It was a clear, cold night, and a few stars pierced through the orange glow from streetlights.
‘Do you miss Grandma?’ he asked.
‘I miss her a lot,’ I said. Lenny was shivering. I held his cold hands and warmed them between mine.
‘Do you think she’ll ever come back?’
‘How do you mean, Lenny?’
‘Like Elvis came back to sing tonight.’
‘Maybe,’ I said.
‘Because she’s a legend?’
‘That’s right, Lenny. A legend like Elvis.’
Lenny suddenly sprang up from the curb, and with an invisible microphone in hand, legs shaking wildly, and lips snarled, he began to sing.
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