‘They say, don’t build up your hopes too high. They never said that about fears.
They never said don’t build up your fears too high.’
It's better out, than in.
‘They say, don’t build up your hopes too high. They never said that about fears.
They never said don’t build up your fears too high.’
The inventor had been commissioned to design and build a bridge, with some payment up front and the rest when he presented final blueprints. “Another commission to make another boring thing.” he said grumpily. As he worked away, a little girl entered his workshop. “Oh! It’s a toyshop!” she exclaimed excitedly.
He looked at her from over his glasses. “This most certainly is not a toyshop! What do you want?”
“Where are your family?”
“If I knew that,” she said closing the door behind her and coming further into the room, “I wouldn’t be lost.”
He was about to tell her to leave him alone, when he realized it was actually quite refreshing that she wasn’t bowing and scraping, like most people, and most people knocked before they entered his workshop.
“I know where they went,” she said, “and if my assumptions are correct, they’ll be passing here to look for me.”
“Where did they go?” he asked, putting the blueprint on his desk. He knew he wasn’t going to get any work done for the moment.
“They went to market.”
“Can’t you go find them?” he snapped. He hated distractions and he didn’t like anyone coming into his workshop, unless they were learned men like himself and this was a very forward little girl.
“What I could do, is wait here until they pass by. Why expend energy chasing after them when I could sit here in this interesting room with you? Besides, my mother and father are the ones who should be frantically looking for me, not the other way round.”
The inventor peered at her again, then took off his glasses and rubbed at the space between his eyes. He decided he could add precocious to forward.
“You may stay, but please be quiet. I have work to do.”
“I’ll have to have the door open so that I can see my parents pass by.” The little girl opened the door and all the sounds of the street rushed in. He would never get any work done now. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“What are you working on?” she asked looking at the blueprint.
“A mobile bridge.”
“Whoever heard of a mobile bridge?”
“Exactly, which is why I’m inventing one.”
“That sounds fun. Can I look at the map?”
“It’s not a map. It’s a blueprint.”
“Blueprint, map, it’s all the same to me. What’s your name?”
“Leonardo.” He puffed out his chest. “Leonardo Da Vinci. You may have heard of me.”
“Oh, yes, I recognise you now. You’re the man who owns the donkey stall!”
“No, I do not! I’m known for my inventions and my painting.”
“Do you paint people’s houses?”
“No, I do not!”
“Leo Nerdo…that’s quite a long name to remember. May I call you Leo?” He nodded, exasperation rendering him mute. “I’m Caterina.” she said, looking around the workshop. She picked up something on his desk. “What’s this?”
“That’s a water powered gyroscopic compass. Please put it down, it’s a prototype.”
“And what’s this?” she cried excitedly, spinning a wooden contraption that hung from the ceiling. “That’s an aerial screw!” He got to his feet quickly and grabbed it to stop it rotating.
“And what’s this?” She picked up a drawing from the table. “A man with no clothes on and he’s got four arms and four legs?”
“That’s Vitruvian Man.” said the inventor. “Don’t smudge it!”
Caterina pointed to a painting on an easel. “And who is this lady?”
“That’s Mona Lisa.” He puffed himself out again. “Do you see her enigmatic smile?”
“Does she have wind? This place is messy Leo. Let me help you clean up.” Immediately, she began to recover a pile of scrolls from the floor.
“No, don’t do that!” he said in a panic. “I’ll never be able to find anything!”
She ignored him and put the scrolls behind the door. She found a brush and began to sweep the floor. As she swept, she whistled a tune. The inventor relaxed a little and found that he was able to work away as she whistled. He dipped his quill in the ink on his desk and began to write and draw. Eventually, Caterina stopped whistling and put the broom away.
“Why have you stopped whistling?” he asked.
“I thought I might be annoying you.”
“Not at all. Please continue. I can’t whistle and you do it very well. That’s a beautiful tune.”
“What? You can’t whistle?” she said. “I thought everyone could whistle.”
Leo returned his quill to the ink stand and looked at her. “But I can’t.”
She laughed. “It’s easy. I can teach you if you like.”
She went to him. “Well, purse up your lips like this, no, like this, that’s better and push air out of them like this, no, you’re doing it wrong.”
For half an hour, the little girl tried to teach the inventor to whistle but it was no good. Presently, the little girls parents passed by the door. “My mother and father are here!” she cried out happily. “Goodbye Leo.” It was suddenly quiet and empty in the workshop. He tried to work but he was so distracted by the fact that he couldn’t whistle, that he stopped working on the blueprints for the bridge. He decided that if he couldn’t whistle, he would invent some kind of whistling aid, something that would enable him to whistle as tunefully as Caterina. Immediately, he began working on it.
Six weeks later, a man came with a final contract for Leonardo to sign, upon completion of the final plans for the bridge, but he’d been working on plans for something that would help him whistle. He’d modelled a head with eyes, nose and mouth that looked amazingly like him. When you pulled a lever at the side of the head, the lips pursed and a tuneful whistle came out. He sat looking at it now, while the man with the contract waited for him to sign. Leonardo picked up his quill, dipped it into the ink and paused. “I can’t sign this.” he said. “I haven’t finished the plans for the bridge.”
“Why not? You were meant to have them by the end of this week.”
“I’ve been working on something else instead.” he said. “It’s taken up all my time.”
The man looked at the whistling head. “Not that thing I hope.”
“And what’s wrong with that?” Leonardo asked defensively.
“Look, I need you to sign this contract, the builders are waiting for instructions to build the bridge.”
“I don’t have it. It’s not ready.”
“Well, when will it be?”
“Another two months perhaps.”
“I can wait another week, not one day more.” The man left, taking the unsigned contract with him.
Leonardo sat there for a few minutes dumbfounded. He should have been working on the plans for the bridge – not the whistle. He didn’t care about the bridge, he just wanted to be able to whistle. A little girl could whistle and he couldn’t. It got to him, why, he didn’t know.
Just to make things worse, his whistle invention had come to nothing.
Just then, as if to taunt him further, he heard a beautiful whistling pass by his workshop. He ran to the door and flung it open, and there she was, skipping by, whistling, the same little girl from over a month ago. “Hello,” she said brightly. “How are you?” Caterina was with her mother this time and when the woman saw who it was, she bowed, stuttered and blushed to meet such a celebrated figure. “Oh, Signor De Vinci…I do apologise for my daughter’s familiarity.”
“Not at all.” said Leo. He looked down at the girl. “Do you have a moment Caterina? I was wondering if you could help me with something.” She nodded, let go of her mothers hand and stepped inside. The mother froze, too surprised to follow. Leonardo showed her the mannequin head, demonstrated it proudly and told her how he’d spent all his time doing that, when he should have been working on the bridge. Caterina smiled. “This is clever but you don’t need to whistle.”
“But I am Leonardo De Vinci and I should be able to whistle or invent a contraption to make me whistle. Plus you said it was easy.”
“Not for everyone. Some people just can’t. Accept it and be happy with the things you can do.”
Leonardo sighed. “You’re right. I was being conceited and vain…and not very modest. The only trouble is, I don’t have time to work on the plans for the bridge now. I’ll have to do about six weeks work in one week. I will lose my commission.”
“If I helped you, perhaps we could get it done in time.”
“You? But you’re just a little girl!”
Caterina raised an eyebrow. “Not so little.”
Leonardo shook his head. “I’m sorry, that was a conceited thing to say.”
“I’m very good at drawing.” she said. “And I’m good with numbers, perhaps I could help you with your blueprints?”
“And you can also whistle.” he said. “Is there anything you can’t do?”
“I could say the same thing to you.” she said.
Caterina helped Leonardo with his plans for the bridge, much to the delight of her mother, who brought him cakes and presents and many blushes. Caterina and Leo managed to cram six weeks into one. When the man came with the contract, Leo was able to sign it. He realized he didn’t need to whistle after all. He was Leonardo De Vinci, a genius, and he was going to start work on plans for another flying machine tomorrow. He said goodbye to Caterina, and as she walked away, he could hear her whistling a happy tune. He pursed his lips, blew and a whistle came out. She heard him and ran back into the workshop. “See! You can do it Leo? All you needed was to loosen up a bit and be little less serious.” She pointed to the painting of Mona Lisa, on the easel. “Be a bit more like her, but less windy.”
What am I doing in the newspaper today? Did I just make a new movie? Did I tell the world about my journal, about Bobby and Jack, about Chile and the Bay Of Pigs? People would never believe that I could be interested in those things and write them down. I wrote a whole lot of other stuff that had nothing to do with politics. There was a method in my madness and I’m good at pillow talk. It’s surprising what people will divulge when their guard is down. Maybe you didn’t think I would know a word like divulge. You thought I was dumb. Well, there are a lot of things you don’t know about me. I’m a fast learner and it’s surprising what you can learn between the sheets and then use against someone when the chips are down. That sounds mean and I’m not a mean person but I’m just fed up of being treated like a piece of meat.
So, that photograph, in the New York Times, blowing along the wet street right now, that’s me with my blonde curls, in my white dress covering my generous curves. I remember my curves and so do all the men. I remember that photograph being taken as if it was yesterday. It’s the one where I’m not wearing any underwear. My dress billows up around my thighs but I manage to keep it down with both hands. It’s a good job there wasn’t anybody hiding in the grate underneath. They’d have got an eyeful for sure. I used to be her, that woman in the photograph. A Hollywood starlet who became a huge star. It’s difficult to remember, it seems so far away.
I’m confused. I see my photograph in the newspaper but I also see my reflection in a large store window in down town New York and they don’t match, not even a bit. I’m not the woman in the photo any more. In fact, I’m not a women at all. I remember that sexy, vital, alive person that I was. Men would say those things about me. Sexy. Vital. Alive. Funny that, because sometimes, I couldn’t be more dead inside.
Strange, how they saw me. They thought I was actually what it said on the tin. And maybe I was, sometimes. Or maybe that was an act. Or maybe that was just a part of me, or none at all.
Now I am getting confused, because as I walk forward to the big glass front of the New York store, I see that I am very small against the huge window, a scruffy little thing. I feel small and vulnerable, like a child. It reminds me of when I was a child. A man, a lodger in my home, lured me into his room, did things to me and told me not to tell anyone, because nobody would believe me if I did.
I could even scream if I wanted to but I wouldn’t be heard, I wouldn’t be believed or heard.
But, despite this, I told my mom and she slapped me across the face and said I was a liar.
Well, all I can say is, that man was right. I wasn’t believed. He didn’t know her at all, yet, he was able to paint everyone with the same brush like that, and come up smiling. He was completely on the nail there, very sure of himself. But how did he know I wouldn’t be believed? How do men like that know?
After that, I developed a stutter. It never really went away but it was bad for a few years after that and particularly in my early teenage years. I was able to control more as I got older. I could make it go away most times, if I tried hard enough. I am an actress you know.
But when I get nervous or anxious, it comes back. I don’t have a voice now. I can’t seem to speak.
I’m right up to the glass and staring inside. A little girl is staring right back at me. She comes out of the store, stands and stares. She doesn’t look quite so little any more, she’s about eleven, twelve and has a calmness about her that I never had. That’s a comforting trait in another person, if you’ve never had it yourself.
Something tells me she’s a good person, not like Bobby or…Jack, or the others, not like all the other John’s who used me and left.
When I say John’s, I make it sound like I’m a prostitute or something. Ha. Why is that funny? I guess it’s not.
Well, I sort of…when I’ve been with men, I’ve always meant it, somehow, even when I didn’t.
The casting couches don’t count. I needed to get something back because there was no way out.
It was kinda weird, ‘cos I knew men. After all, a man had wanted me that way when I was eight. I was always wanted in that way, even when I didn’t want to be wanted. I was desirable to men from the onset, so, like I said, there was no way out, had never been a way out, no respite.
Wait! I remember now! I’m an icon. That’s what they call me. It was nice being an icon, sometimes. I needed the world to love me but I also wanted to love back. I wanted to be a mother so badly. A mother to a girl like that one standing outside the store. She’s looking at me in such a peculiar way. There’s a woman with her now and they’re talking and still looking at me. Now the woman walks towards a car, but the girl is still standing there, staring, for the longest time.
I think I’d have been a good mother. I wouldn’t have slapped my daughter if she’d have told me some man had done something to her. Children don’t tend to lie about stuff like that. I understand the shock and horror at first, but at some point, I’d have pulled myself together and sorted it somehow, to protect my daughter and make her feel safe. I’d try to make sure it never happened again. At the least, I’d know what not to do.
Looking back, I guess my mum couldn’t handle it. Unlike some moms I’ve heard of, who might enjoy the whole thing. My mom at least had the decency to go insane. In my mind, that gives her an out. Her insanity, her guilt, shows me she cares on some basic level. So that excuses her, and yes, I’d like to think I’d be a good mother. Or at least, know what not to do.
I also think I was a good friend. People said, I was just a dumb blonde. I hated playing all those dumb blonde parts. I could say you were dumb, or the person next to me is dumb but you don’t know what’s cooking inside. How dare people make assumptions about me. I’m a little hot headed. I might be a little crazy. I might be a little insecure now and again, but who isn’t?
I’m a quiet thoughtful kind of gal these days and empty vessels make the most sound. Isn’t that what they say? My last husband taught me how to hold still with myself, how to have a little healthy introspection. Playwrights know about things. But maybe I was a dumb blonde on occasion. Who doesn’t make mistakes?
I wasn’t stupid enough to know I wasn’t being used. And I was clever enough to know, my bust could get me places, straight on the road to Hollywood. I am also smart enough to know that my biggest mistake was to confide in my own mother. I guess you could say ‘she’ and ‘him’ helped make me who I am today…among others. There’s only two ways to go when you’ve been introduced to sex too early. You either go the closed legs way or the wide open legs way. No prizes for guessing which way I went.
Some people make a mockery of nature, they twist it and eat unripe fruit, but despite everything, I always thought sex was a beautiful thing. Early experience opens you up whether you want it to or not and whether you keep it to yourself or not. A door is opened, somewhere, never to be closed again.
The skull of a new born baby is soft, malleable. You can be modelled into any shape when the clay is still soft, then the shape stays.
I shiver now. I got wet when it rained earlier. That girl is coming over. She kneels beside me and talks in a soothing voice. Then she feel around my neck. “Thought so,” she says, “I’ve seen you around here for a day or two now. You don’t belong to anyone, do you?”
I tried to talk back but some kind of strangled something came out. She laughed and a hand came out to stroke my damp fur. “We need to get you dry.” she said. Then she turned and shouted to the woman standing by the car. “Mum, you were right! She doesn’t have a collar. Can you bring the blanket?” The woman immediately went round to open the trunk, took out a pink blanket and came towards us. I was gently rubbed down with the blanket, then the girl wrapped me up in it and carried me to the car.
I may smell of wet dog right now but I feel very special. Perhaps it was my birthday today and that’s why I was splashed on the centre page of the newspaper. Some sort of anniversary, but not of my life…of my death.
I wonder, who was it I talked to about reincarnation all those years ago? Was it Joe? Or Henry? Or Frank? Or maybe one of my girlfriends? It doesn’t matter who it was, but, if they could see me now…
Once we were in the car, the girl stroked me behind my ear and said thoughtfully, “I think I’ll call you Diamond. Would you like that?” Some strangulated sound came out again, but it’s okay, I’ll work on it, like I worked on my stutter.
Her eyes widened in delight and she cuddled me close. “I love you!” she said. Oh God. Why did I never hear that before? If a puppy could cry, I would right now. I seem unable to contain my joy any longer. My tongue comes out and licks the girls face.
One animal is much like another. We’re all slaves to the flesh. Dogs hump other dogs. Hollywood stars hump other Hollywood stars. I sure as hell ain’t blonde any more. I don’t have that white dress that blew up as I stood on that vent. I didn’t think that would go off in history and be one of those, what was I talking about before? Oh yes, icons. An iconic moment in history. That world that I needed to love me, a million people, could never give me what this person is giving me now. She is giving me hope…and something else. I’m surrounded, suddenly and finally, by love. I don’t care too much how I got here. I’m just glad I did.
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.