My Grandad’s name is Elvis Presley. He’s alive and well and living in a remote cottage in the Outer Hebrides. I know what you’re thinking, I’m either deluded, lying or both, but if you read on, you might just change your mind. I first found out about this life changing information one innocuous Tuesday evening while I was staying at my Nan’s.
I go to see if she needs any shopping done or a prescription from the pharmacy. Not that she can’t look after herself. She may be in her late seventies but she still runs around like a teenager and is as sharp as a pin. Well, it was on this Tuesday afternoon that I did all the little chores around the house and Nan went on Facebook. I went shopping to pad out her food cupboard, bought the evening paper and got fish and chips for tea.
I first noticed a change in my normally happy-go-lucky, upbeat grandmother, just before the daily dose of her favourite soap. She was multi-tasking as usual, reading the paper and watching telly. The opening credits of the soap started when she took off her glasses and began to stare at the wall. Tears were streaming down her wrinkled cheeks. “Nan?” I asked gently. “What’s wrong?” She broke out of her trance and wiped her eyes. “I’m fine,” she said scrambling out of her chair. “I wonder if I’ve still got that whiskey left over from Christmas?” I watched as my tea-total grandmother hurried over to the cabinet in the far corner and sank to her knees. I heard the clink of bottle on glass as she frantically searched for the booze. When she finally got her hands on it, she wasted no time, and swigged straight from the bottle. Something was very wrong.
“Isn’t someone getting married on that soap you love?” I said. “You always love a wedding.” She took another slug from the whiskey and fixed me with a hard stare. “How come you’re not married yet?”I felt like I’d been slapped. “W-what do you mean?” I stammered. “I haven’t found the right man yet.”
“Bollocks.” she said.
Again, I felt a bit slapped. “There’s never a right man to marry.” she continued. “Your grandad for instance. I never loved him. Well, not like that gut wrenching kind of love, the kind of love that tears you apart, that pulls your intestines out on the floor and tramples all over them.” I stared at her, as if I was looking at her for the first time, but then, I’d never seen her polish off a quart of fine Scotch whiskey either. It was the drink talking, surely, and what was all this about her not loving Grandad?
“Read that.” she said pointing to the newspaper. A large photograph of Elvis Presley took up the centre spread. A classic black and white picture of him in uniform, complete with peaked cap, fresh out of the army. The headline screamed, ‘Elvis Lives’ – The Hot Tub King! The King Of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Presley, has been seen partying hard with a gaggle of bikini clad babes in a Swedish Hot Tub. A coach load of tourists spotted the Jacuzzi Hound Dog cavorting with the bevy of beauties in Gothenburg, a popular holiday destination in Sweden.’
Underneath the report was another picture, a blurry one this time, of a eighty something man, a silver fox in a hot tub, surrounded by young women. There was steam obscuring his face, but yes, it could have been just an old man in a hot tub, and with his aquiline nose, the characteristic little snarl on the upper lip and the cheeky dimpled smile, it could well have been an elderly Elvis, but the man was dead and had been since 1977, allegedly expiring on the loo from a heart attack. He wouldn’t be the first person to die from constipation and wouldn’t be the last. I sympathised. I had had some nasty bouts myself. Me and Elvis had a lot in common. In fact, I’d always been quite a fan.
After having finished the bottle of whiskey, Nan came over to the sofa and sat down. She stabbed the newspaper viciously with her index finger. “This is a pack of lies!” she said. “It can’t be him. He’s never been to Sweden in his life.” I nodded. “You could be right there. I mean he wasn’t allowed to tour was he? He never left America, so even if he is alive, why should he leave now?”
“Exactly !” said Nan folding her arms.
“I know it sounds stupid but I always thought Elvis could have been my brother in a past life.” I laughed at my own words, but Nana wasn’t laughing. In fact, she looked at me, almost in contempt, like I was imbecilic. “Well, he would be too old to be your brother now, wouldn’t he ?”
I laughed again. “I know. That’s why I said past life.”
She looked at me again, this time curiously. “Why would you think he could even be related to you?”
“I don’t know. Elvis was my nickname in college cos of my black floppy fringe and the way I can curl my upper lip.”
Nana give me the once over. “Yes,” she said. “You have his physique, before he put all that weight on.” She looked off into the middle distance. “Of course, he’s lost all that weight now, since he went on that new diet.”
There was a strange silence and I contemplated her use of Elvis in the present tense, but only briefly, then she said, “You lose your temper like he does.”
“I hope I can stop short of shooting out a television set,” I said. “But that’s because I don’t have a gun.” I laughed at my own joke but Nan wasn’t amused. She was anxious despite the alcohol in her system. She turned to me and gave me a crumpled tenner. “Will you get me some more drink from the off licence ?”
I looked at her in surprise. “But Nan, you don’t drink.”
“Well, I’m drinking tonight,” she said. I stood up and put on my coat. “Are you sure about this?”
“Yes, and you should join me if you know what’s good for you.” I didn’t ask any more questions, instead I went to the off licence and brought back wine and beer. I poured out two glasses of wine and handed one to Nana.
I noticed the newspaper was still open and a handsome young Elvis smiled up at me in his smart uniform.“I definitely have his lip.” I said and snarled to show her.
She smiled slyly. “That doesn’t surprise me. He still has it himself.” She looked at the paper again and took a sip of wine. She was starting to relax. “I should phone up those journalists and give them a piece of my mind.” she pointed to the Hot Tub picture. “He wasn’t in Sweden.”
“I don’t think so either.” I said humouring her. “I bet he doesn’t even have a passport.”
Nana gave me another contemptuous look, like I should know better. “I’m saying I know he wasn’t in Sweden, ” she said quietly, “because that day, he was with me.” I looked at her, saw the sincerity in her eyes and realised that she wasn’t joking. My heart sank. Alzheimer’s was the first thought in my head, but, she went to the doctors all the time, wouldn’t it have been spotted before now? Was this how it started? Damn, she’d been so lucid up until now. I felt tears prick my eyes and took a large gulp of wine.
So that was how it felt when you were losing someone you loved to dementia. It was devastating. Where had my Nan gone?
“On that day, last Tuesday, he was with me, in Scotland.”
“Last Tuesday, really?” I shouldn’t be humouring her but felt I had to. I was scared not to. “We didn’t do anything really. Just talked.” she said. I took another gulp of wine. She was ill, deluded, but at the same time, calm and almost credible.
She sighed. “I hope he doesn’t see it.”
“Elvy. If he sees this story he’ll go ballistic.” She continued staring down at the newspaper for a moment and then sat bolt upright and sprang up from the couch. “I’ll phone him.” Nan ran to the phone and began to dial.
“Nan, who are you calling?” She couldn’t possibly be calling Elvis. He was a figment of her lost mind. The phone rang out a couple of times. Oh, let me guess, I thought, he’s out. Elvis is not at home today. I heard a click on the other end and held my breath. I wondered how she was going to get out of this one. ”Hello?” she asked. “Is that Elvy?”
I heard a faint voice over the phone, a deep Memphis drawl with a Scottish twang.
“Oh, so you’ve seen it?” said Nan. “It’s all a pack of lies. I don’t know who that man is in the tub, I mean he’s got grey hair and I knew it wasn’t you ‘cos I was with you last Tuesday. Yes Elvy, I know you didn’t need your Viagra.”
I’d had enough. I snatched the phone from her. “Who is this?” I demanded. I was met with silence down the line. “Who are you and how do you know my Nan?” Suddenly the phone went dead. Nan grabbed it from me.“Hello?” she said down the phone. “Oh, you frightened him off.”
“Frightened him off? What kind of fruitcake is he? If you’re playing a joke on me Nan, it’s not funny.” When she saw how disturbed I was, she softened, sat me down and said gently. “It’s not a joke. Elvis is alive.”
I sighed and put my head in my hands. I didn’t want to hear any more but Nan just kept going. “I know I should have told you about him, but I couldn’t. All these silly stories in the press are deliberate misinformation, to deflect from what’s really going on. And when I saw all that stuff in the newspaper…”
I went to get my coat. “Nan, I have to go.” I could hear the weariness in my own voice. “I’ll get a doctor to come and see you. He’ll sort…”
“No, wait ! I have pictures to prove it!”
“Nan, don’t do this. It’s not funny any more.”
But she was already running to the bedroom and before I could button up my coat, she’d brought out a shoebox full of photographs and had got me to sit down and look at the pictures. I recognised most of them, I’d seen them before. There were pictures of Nan when she was younger. There were even some of me as a baby. Underneath the photographs, at the bottom of the box was a brown paper package. She opened it carefully and took out a dozen black and white photo’s.
These were pictures of my Nan I’d never seen before. A young, slim, vivacious woman, dressed immaculately in fifties fashions, her hair piled high on her head in a beehive. In other pictures, she was dressed more casually, in checked shirts and cut off jeans. Next to her in each one, their bodies pressed together, was a young man, who looked so much like Elvis, it couldn’t really have been anyone else. A young and sexy Elvis, next to a young and sexy Nan, but it couldn’t be, it just couldn’t be.
“Look,” she said. “There we are outside some casino in Vegas. It’s still there. You can check it out on google Earth and this, this one was taken outside Graceland gates. Can you see them?” She pointed to herself and Elvis with their arms around each other and then at the golden gates with ‘Graceland’ embedded in the middle.
“We had a fling,” she said, putting the photographs back in the brown paper wrapper. “It lasted a couple of months, best time of my life, until I found out I was pregnant. I met your Grandad and married him quickly. I never meant to trap him or trick him. I was a lucky sod. No-one ever knew whose child I was carrying. I did love your Grandad and we had a very happy marriage, as you know.”
I shook my head. “What were you doing in America in the first place ?”
“I was on one of those exchange trips. I made friends with a girl over there, who had two tickets to go and see him at a local venue. We went backstage to meet him,” she smiled coyly, “and the rest, as they say, is history. We’ve secretly kept in touch for over 50 years.”
I shook my head again. I found it all so it hard to believe, but bit by bit, it was making sense. Last Tuesday Nan said she was going to stay with a friend, so I wasn’t to come round. She had also seemed strangely happy the day Elvis had died and I wondered why at the time. I thought she’d at least be sad. She was always watching his awful films, the ones he loathed himself.
I followed Nan into the bedroom and watched her put the box of photographs under the bed. “Elvis was blonde, just like your mother.” She looked at my black hair.
“I dye mine.” I said running my fingers through it.
“Just like your Grandad.” she said.
We drank and talked into the night and I learned about Grandad Elvis. “Don’t tell anyone.” said Nan. “Not even your mum. She doesn’t know.”
“How am I supposed to keep something like this under wraps?”
“I shouldn’t have told you, but I know you well enough, to know you can keep a secret. He doesn’t want anyone to know he’s alive. He loves just being Mr. Aaron Jones. And he has the best cover. He’s an Elvis tribute act. A critic last week said that he was nothing like the real thing and that suits him just fine.”
I stayed the night and we fell asleep talking. The next day, I had a lot to think about. “I mean it.” said Nan as she walked me to the door. “You tell anyone about Elvis and they’ll have to scrape you off the floor by the time I’ve finished with you.”
“Nan, that’s a terrible thing to say.”
“Well okay, I’ll just box your ears then.”
“Don’t worry. You can count on me.”
On the doorstep, we hugged goodbye. “Do you think maybe I might see him sometime?”
“We’ll see, but remember, I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. Maybe I’ll get him to send you a lock of his hair.”
A month later, I got a package. The post mark was Scotland, the Outer Hebrides. Inside the parcel was a lock of black hair and a photo of a man with a mountain behind him. He looked like he could be Elvis and my Grandad at the same time. He signed the photo ‘Jonesy.’ I still have it, along with the lock of hair. Nan’s right, I can keep a secret. Maybe they’ll find it when I’m dead and it will end up in a tabloid newspaper. Whatever happens, it all goes some way towards proving that my grandad is Elvis Presley and he’s alive and well and living in the Outer Hebrides.