All Shook Up
Vernon rolled the die. Which was something that wouldn’t’ve happened with Elvis. Wouldn’t’ve needed to, because Elvis had everything. He had more than he needed. Elvis spent his time giving things away. He gave cars away. Bought people guns. Elvis ate whatever he liked, whenever he wanted, in whatever quantities he desired. He was married to a beautiful woman, and when she went he had a succession of beautiful girlfriends. Elvis Presley had no need of dice whichever way you looked at it.
But Vernon Tucker did. He had the pair of ivory dice that had belonged to Delta’s daddy, which she had inherited, and which Vernon himself had inherited when Delta went to paradise looking for Elvis Presley. One die had been attacked at some time in the past, so it was no longer square, and always came up tops. But the other one was sound.
He checked out the washroom at the truck-stop. It was empty. A cold feeling about the place, the stench of truckers piss. He went inside the end cubicle and closed the door. Lowered his trousers and sat on the pan. He prodded the top of his thigh, looking for a good vein.
Vernon didn’t know if Elvis had gone to paradise or no. Even Delta, before she went after him, wasn’t sure. She used to laugh and say, ‘Shit, Vern, I don’t know what they’d do with him up there.’ Her laugh was a shriek, even then.
The way Vernon looked at it, between himself and Elvis there was no comparison at all, apart from the fact that both of them came from Tupelo, Mississippi and had lived in Memphis, Tennessee. Oh, yeah, and they both sang and played the guitar. And liked guns. And food. And womens.
Delta would’ve married Elvis Presley, no argument. She’d worshipped the ground. Vernon knew that he was her second choice of husband. That she chose him because she knew that she’d never get the chance of the King. And Vernon played up to it just to hang onto that girl. He talked like the man, he slicked his hair back like the man, and he worked on those lazy pelvis movements while he sang Lovin’ You or Heartbreak Hotel.
When they first met, Delta would say, ‘Vern, when you’re singing, up on the stage, if I half close my eyes and don’t listen to your voice, it’s almost like you’re him.’ It was enough to keep her around, anyways.
Vernon didn’t get paid for his singing. He got paid for driving the company truck. But sometimes, when he’d been on stage or hogging the mike in a club, he’d have his drinks served up and there’d be nothing to pay. And that was probably the same with Elvis. Vernon couldn’t imagine the King buying his own beers.
‘I can’t believe he married that Pree-cilla,’ Delta said once. ‘I’ve thought about it for a week and I still don’t know why. He could’ve had anybody.’ Vernon knew who ‘anybody’ was. You didn’t have to be psychedelic to guess that.
There was one time when Delta seemed to forget about Elvis Presley. She didn’t forget about him entirely, even then, but she sort of phased him into the background. That was the time they ran out of rubbers, and she started percolatin’ a little kid. There was no question about names if it’d turned out to be a boy, which is what Delta was hoping for. Vernon hoped it’d be a girl, and if it was he’d wanted to call her Delta Mae after his wife and his mother. Delta said she thought Lisa Marie was a nice name for a girl, sounded more modern, kind of up to date like.
But there was no need for any names. Whatever it was trying to come through never made it past the twelfth week. Ended up in a white enamelled bucket instead of the crib Vernon had been building on his day off. The doctor said they should try again, real soon. But Delta didn’t think it was such a good idea. It was her body, she said, and she had a mind to do with it as she pleased.
She bought an Elvis clock the next time she went out, and Vernon had to hang it for her in the front entrance of the house. On the hour it chimed the first verse of Love Me Tender. Whenever he came home from work it would be waiting for him. Elvis’s face and the time of day.
After that she bought everything she saw with Elvis on it, or with Gracelands. There were portraits of the guy all over the house. She had too many to hang on the walls. They were stacked up in closets, and around their bed, along one side of the staircase. Delta had forty-nine different Elvis T-shirts. She had three Elvis mirrors, two Elvis wrist watches, and dangly Elvis ear-rings for each day of the week. For his birthday one year, she gave Vernon an Elvis Presley screwdriver set.
That was Delta.
Her mind was scrambled with Elvis. When Vernon looked back at that last year, he should have seen what she was doing. It was obvious that she was burying herself with Elvis Presley. But then again, what could he have done about it? Vernon wasn’t the King of nothing. A person wants to bury herself, well, hell, there ain’t gonna be no way anyone can stop her. Not with loving and not with worrying, anyhow. Vernon had lots of love, specially for Delta, but it didn’t make no difference at all. And worrying came natural to him, inherited from his mammy, and it never did a jot of good for either of them.
He stopped working to take care of her in the Fall, took her out for long walks, try to use up some of the energy of the girl. He cooked and cleaned and wiped up her mess, and he didn’t mind doing it too, but when she stopped sleeping he couldn’t manage to keep up with her no more. Right after Christmas they admitted her to the state hospital and held her there in a secure ward.
Vernon went to visit every day at first. There were womens in that place nobody would believe. One woman climbing up the walls, or trying to, like she was Spiderman or one of those things out of a comic. There was another woman swimming along the floor doing the breast stroke, like she was in the ocean, but she was on plastic tiles. Sometimes the tiles were wet, if they’d just been washed, and sometimes they were dry. It didn’t make no difference to that woman. They called her the fish.
And there was another one who thought she was a piano. She played herself with her fingers, on her chest, along her thin thighs, and the sound came out of her mouth. Her husband was a composer, so he could only visit her at weekends. He smiled all the time to hide his sorrow. They said he was a Minimalist.
Delta was frantic, she trekked around the ward. She asked the time. She didn’t recognise Vernon. When he walked with her the length of the ward she’d push him away. ‘What’s the time?’ she’d say, ‘Have you seen him?’ But she wasn’t asking anyone in particular. She was talking to something else that wasn’t there.
The drugs quietened her down. When they put her on the drugs she’d doze all day and night. What they hoped, the nurses, the doctors, and Vernon himself, was that they could find some balance with the drugs, so Delta wouldn’t be restless or out on her feet. The ideal seemed to be somewhere between the two. But they never managed to get it right. If she didn’t have the drugs she was crazy, and if they gave her a small amount of drugs she went into a trance.
Vernon would look at her from time to time, and he’d wonder how he could have loved her so much. She wasn’t there any more, the woman he’d loved. The woman who’d been over the top for the King of Rock’n’Roll. By the spring she was wasting away, pale, hollow eyes, and her limbs like twigs. And before the summer was out she died. Just closed her eyes and went to sleep for ever.
After the funeral Vernon got his old job back on the trucks. He cleared all the Elvis Presley souvenirs out of the house, thought that by doing that it would wipe the memory of Delta. But it didn’t work. She was still there. It was as if she had penetrated the walls of the house, left traces of herself in the bricks and the fittings, as though the entire structure was porous, clogged with the memory of her. He’d shake his head to get her out, but she was always on his mind.
Vernon threw the damaged die away and worked out a system with the good one. He threw a bullet or a deuce and he’d use a gun. Stick it in his mouth and blow the top of his head off. A five or a six and he’d use chemicals, take the same route as Elvis. A trey or a four and he’d throw again.
There was a small pull-out table in the cab, which Vernon used to eat his sandwiches. It had a circular indentation for a cup or a mug. Someone who wasn’t a trucker had designed it in an office. He took the die that had belonged to Delta and her daddy and cupped it in his palm, flicked his wrist slightly so the thing didn’t bounce off the table when he threw it. It didn’t wobble or begin to look iffy in any way, came up clean and proud, like nobody could’ve argued with. The big one, number six.
A call to Marty, the youngest driver in the fleet, always boasting that you could buy anything on the road. Guy with a cast in one eye, but who always looked at you directly with the other. Mr Cool. The whole business took two hours. Tincture of H, that’s what Marty called it. ‘Enough to keep a man happy for a week.’
Vernon didn’t answer, he was looking for something that would last a while longer than that.
The lavatory at the truck-stop was not like Elvis’s. Catered for a whole different class of folk. The floor was covered with cracked tiles, and around the bottom of the stained pan a couple of the tiles had crumbled to dust. Delta had a photograph of Presley’s bathroom in Gracelands, which had a blood-red shag-pile carpet, a telephone, and ebony fittings. They had found the man dead in there, wearing only the trousers of his gold-coloured pyjamas, and it had taken five men to lift his bloated body out and downstairs to an ambulance. Vernon prodded for a vein in his skinny thigh. He hadn’t been eating lately, weighed next to nothing.
He filled all three of the syringes, plunged them into a vein on the side of his thigh. Sat there for what seemed a long time. Thought about Delta, tried to think about the time she was happy, when she was smiling. He leaned back against the wall and closed his eyes. Didn’t feel any sensation at all.
There was the sound of Scotty Moore’s electric guitar and Bill Black’s acoustic bass from the instrumental solo of I Don’t Care If The Sun Don’t Shine. And it was authentic, he could hear the unknown Bongo player. Elvis would cut in any second now, with that raw sound of his, reaching out for eternity.