Mom doesn’t like how short he is. “Elvis is supposed to be six feet tall,” she says. She’s painted my nails to stop me from biting. I keep the chewed-off ends in my pocket and prick the tips of my fingers whenever I think of the other boys at school, how they have hair where I don’t, how they get sweaty after gym class while I’m dry and pink like a sunset.
Grand Canyon Village, AZ
Mom says we’re two peas in a pod even though we’re eating meatloaf. She watches Elvis sashay throughout the diner. That’s the word she uses, sashay. “His rhinestones are all wrong,” she says, reading me the dessert menu. I think how her perm is like an unmovable object that’s blocking my view of the family behind her. I imagine them smiling at Elvis. Riding around in their new Winnebago instead of our old Caravan. “We love rhinestones,” they say to each other. “We love Are You Lonesome Tonight?”
Mom won’t let me drive the car, so I pretend to somewhere in Encino by closing my eyes. Tonight’s Elvis reminds me of my gym teacher, the time he tried to teach us to two-step, and all I wanted was to dance with the other boys, the ones who call me fag and sissy. Did other boys call Elvis that when he sashayed down the stage or did they use another word? Mom won’t look at anyone but him.
Lake Oswego, OR
Mom carries a purse full of singles. Elvis sings Blue Moon. “Not his most popular,” Mom says, but gives him two dollars anyway. Lately, people have been complementing her southern accent. They ask her to say certain words. “Is it true everyone says y’all in Texas?” our waitress asks. Mom laughs while keeping an eye on Elvis. The waitress calls me handsome, but I’m busy looking at the boy in the corner, making up our life together. “Where y’all headed?” the waitress asks when she drops off the check. “Oh, you know,” Mom says, “here, there.”
Mom’s perfume smells like baby powder. She calls it the powder room instead of the ladies’ room. I use a restroom, not a bathroom. Elvis kneels at our table and Mom is ethereal, rising from her seat like a newborn in another time, her cheeks powdered baby red. “May I have this dance young lady?” Elvis asks, and I wonder if his real name is Earl or Gus or if he was born this way too.
Mom orders the Baked Alaska. “It’s cake,” she explains, and I wonder what about Fried Texas, Smothered New Mexico? I keep a letter to all the boys I will ever love in my pocket and it begins with, “I know you don’t know me, but—” Mom found the letter last week at that laundromat outside Las Vegas, the one with the Elvis slot machine. “I’m disappointed in your grammar,” she said, then she sang the only song I knew by heart. “I can’t help falling—” she began, sashaying by the dryers.