The Second Coming
Elvis Presley, the man, not the ghost, is tired on a plane. First class ain’t that classy no more, he’s found—stewards don’t balk at the two-hundred-pound man and his grizzly sideburns, stewardesses seem resolutely strong in their knees. No wooing or fainting ’round these parts, wherever these parts are; he remembers a layover in Fort Worth, a delayed flight out of Montgomery, then an unplanned landing to refuel the steel bird somewhere over the Dakotas. Elvis has been traveling and can’t remember even where he left off, where he started, what the journey was for or whether he achieved it. Now, it is only Las Vegas.
Unprompted, a woman crying overtakes his vision. He finds his eyes are closed. Traces with fingers that cannot and did not touch the crying woman’s face, the enclaves and tiny rivulets of skin scrunched in pain. Pain he made. Elvis squeezes his eyes tight behind gold aviators.
Descent begins. The pilot guides the hundred or so passengers, parishioners, in a dance dip below cloud line. There is a minute pause before his speech crackles through the speakers; the congregation hushes, catching its breath in a pregnant moment. Elvis does the same. Holds his breath in waiting for the pastor’s demands.
“The weather in Las Vegas right now is a parched 106 degrees. The time is 3 p.m. The day is Thursday, June 2. We should be landing in the next twenty minutes. Please fasten your seat belts.”
The crying woman dissolves into twinkle lights, those of Las Vegas and Atlantic City and Macau: the flash of first one neon bulb then another interrupt the picture right in the middle, a memory photograph set to flame. With increasing number and speed, lights twinkle on and burn out more, then most, then all of the woman’s crinkled, ugly face.
The white fog of cloud outside Elvis’ window shrinks back in a sudden shrug of light. The sun hits his white jumpsuit and makes it glitter while he adjusts himself. Elvis don’t think of Priscilla when he sees the desert below. It is a red and tan wasteland; crags of dead rock stretch toward the sky without menace or threat, the broken teeth of an old dog. He ain’t as much afraid of desert as he is of Vegas amongst the desert; the sun glints in a flash like lightning off the glassed pyramid of the Luxor. The skyline is different than he remembers. Elvis blinks a few times as his eyes adjust to the sudden smack of glitter in all that dead. A crown shining in sunlight, surrounded by the bodies of a mass grave. Not once does the man hum “Viva Las Vegas.”
* * *
* * *
Elvis skips the Strip to avoid the former Las Vegas Hilton, now Westgate, where he earned the Vegas record for most consecutive sold-out performances. He’s been there too much and don’t care to see what it’s become. He don’t call a limousine or even an Uber, but hails a yellow taxicab, damn Elvis Presley. In the sedan, the driver don’t notice he’s toting the King. Behind mirrored sunglasses that hide the eyes, he asks Elvis some questions and Elvis responds.
“What you in town for?” the cabbie asks.
“Nothin’ special,” Elvis says.
“You here to party? Lots of that here, all different, depending on what you’re looking for.”
Elvis nods in the rearview mirror. “Don’t I know it.”
The cabdriver pulls over at Atomic Liquors. Elvis causes no stir and is not ID-ed when he arrives. The dark, ambiguous haze of the bar’s insides is an old lover; he enters softly. He orders a soda and sizes up the place as he waits. There are folks scattered throughout the large bar and spilling onto its patio, dressed to go out. He evaluates what that means to different guests. For some, it is shorts in the dog heat and tank tops that flap open around the armpits. For others, it is steampunk stylized Victorian dress, dark for such high temperatures but manageable, the King thinks, in the air conditioning. He does not think of Priscilla.
There are women and their woman-skin, gorgeous. The women of Las Vegas both are and are not dressed for him, though Elvis don’t think that, neither. When his soda comes, he orders another first, then takes big thirsty gulps. Keeps on looking. When a woman sits next to him, alone, to order a vodka tonic, Elvis turns in her direction. She sees him and turns sideways to avoid eye contact.
He notices something else in this space. There are shining things, bright and lit like moth-trap-attractors, glowing bug-zap blue. The men and women sit on squat, square ottomans close to the ground, stand in clusters around the bar, are seated in high-backs around wooden tables. Most hold glowing blue bars of light. They stare into these rectangles and press in search of something. Some talk to one another as they search and others do not. Some sit around a table together, singularly digging through blue lights.
After the second soda, Elvis leaves a $50 bill for the braces-wearing bartender, a girl-woman he suspects is 21 at most. He exits to a scorching Fremont Street. The sidewalks bend in the heat light as waves in water. Elvis ain’t too bothered by it on account of being accustomed to it. He feels but ignores the heat as he promenades, strolls, swaggers down the concrete.
* * *
* * *
The El Cortez is old Vegas. Its antiqueness draws the King as much as anything else. He don’t think about it, but crosses the street with a scratching of polyester on polyester.
Inside, Elvis sees more of the blue lights and more tourists and more locals who know they’ll hit it big with just one more spin. The King ain’t in Vegas to gamble—ain’t really in Vegas for a reason he can recall, to be truthful. Vegas is as much a place as any other and it is here that Elvis is.
Not far inside, the casino turns in an L-shape. Elvis follows the curve past craps tables and spinning roulette wheels. There are few folks in the casino on this weekday, but those who stare into slot-machine screens or cell-phone screens do not allow him to interrupt their gaze. Only the blackjack dealers look at him, hound eyes that water between wrinkle folds.
He walks until a velvet curtain breaks the lines of slot machines. On his right, the wall peels back and the curtains part to reveal a dimly lit bar with oversized leather chairs and plumes of smoke hanging in the air. It is a square room sanctified by its deep purple curtains, velvet and thick as a mattress. What pulls the King is as much the velvet and Sinatra-era decor as it is the room’s soundtrack. What was muffled on the casino floor becomes clear as he moves closer: “We’re caught in a trap. I can’t walk out …”
There is no stage, but he don’t need one. Not Elvis, but the man performing Elvis, stands in no spotlight but glows all the same. He yanks the microphone away from his mouth in a jerking dance, hips rocking and head banging to the beat of the crescendo. When the chorus comes back, he yanks the microphone close again as if snatching it from someone’s hands, then throws it shortly and catches it in time with the music. “We can’t go on together with suspicious minds,” he croons.
Elvis takes a seat. His white jumpsuit sinks deliciously into the overstuffed leather of an armchair big enough for two. A slight puff of chest hair moves with his breathing, which has quickened in the preceding five seconds.
The impersonator wears a white jumpsuit, too. Sweat flies from his sideburns as he swings his head side to side. His well-coifed pompadour does not budge from its hairsprayed position. The song closes and the man says into the microphone, “Thank you, thank you very much.”
Another track starts. Elvis recognizes it immediately. It is a lively jumping melody that reminds the King of movie sets.
“Bright lights city gonna set my soul, gonna set my soul on fire.”
Elvis watches from the armchair while the impersonator performs “Viva Las Vegas.” The velveteen bar has only two other patrons: an old man sits facing the bartender and punches the gambling screen built into the bar, not looking up while ordering another, and a well-dressed young man sits at a table for two. The first, Elvis presumes, is a regular in this spot; the second, he thinks, waits for a woman. Neither of the other customers looks up to appreciate the performer’s efforts.
But Elvis does. He sits entranced in his chair, waving down a waitress to mumble an order while his eyes remain on the impersonator. Where some may picture Elvis as a jealous man, a man disinclined to liking another man’s rendition of his songs, this ain’t how it is. Elvis sees the man and thinks how gorgeous he is, appreciates the wisp of black hair that’s escaped the hairspray and curls on his forehead, appreciates the scruff of more curling black hair overpowering the deep V of the impersonator’s V-neck. Elvis Presley the King watches Elvis Presley the impersonator and feels what can only be described as longing.
For a moment, the singing Elvis and the real Elvis make eye contact. In this flash, which is not literal but metaphorical, the hips of the impersonator buck like a wild thing out of its handler’s control. Incidentally, the impersonator’s voice rises in a pubescent crack when it should’ve backbent low. Elvis is unsurprised; he has seen the knees of women give with a glance.
The two men do not allow their gazes to meet again for the remainder of the set. Though the bartender thinks that “Viva Las Vegas” should be the impersonator’s finale, it is not. During the actual finale, a lively cover of “Unchained Melody” that blends into “An American Trilogy,” the performer removes a glossy blue neckerchief, wipes the sweat from his forehead and tosses it to no one in the audience. It floats unpredictably on the breeze from the air conditioner, then lands softly at Elvis’ feet. He does not retrieve it.
After his set, the impersonator reappears from behind the velvet curtains and walks to the bar without looking Elvis’ way. He shines in the almost-no light with sweat and something else. He sits and does not have to ask—the bartender produces a whiskey from behind the bar. Neither does he have to ask Elvis to join him for a drink. The impersonator turns and Elvis is situating himself in the adjacent barstool.
* * *
* * *
Our story closes with Elvis in an El Cortez suite. A mirror on the ceiling reflects two white jumpsuits in motion, the sparkle of two sets of hundreds of sequins and rhinestones. Elvis Presley, the man, not the ghost, does not think of Priscilla. He hangs his head back and sees the two of them—two of him—then crosses his eyes so that the two become four. It is Elvis forever and ever and ever.
Kayla Miller holds an MFA from UNLV and is the author of the chapbook See & Be Seen & Be Scene. Her work can be found in The Collapsar, Tahoma Literary Review and The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, among other journals.