Although Ronald Reagan was President of the United States, Mary Grain wore her raven colored hairdo as if JFK wandered the West Wing. On the Saturday just after her thirtieth birthday, Mary woke her daughters long before dawn and then telephoned her sister.
“What time is it?” The call woke Peg.
“Peg. This is important.”
“What’s wrong, Mary?”
“Nothing’s wrong. But, this is important. I’m coming by...“ Mary checked her watch; she already had dressed., “I’m coming by in half an hour. I need you to watch the girls...”
“Nothing’s wrong, Peg. I just need you to watch the girls for a few days or so.”
“I need you to watch the girls for a few days or so.”
“What are you talking about Mary?”
“I hear you fine, Mary. But, what I don’t get is why you’re calling me at fricken’ four o’clock in the morning telling me you’re bringing Lisa and Marie over to my house for a few days or more.”
“I’ve got to go.”
“Mary?” Peg asked, obviously not seeing her sister’s responsive bob. “What’s going on?”
“I’ll be over...” Mary glanced at her watch again. “In half an hour.” She hung up and called for her daughters to hurry along.
While Lisa and Marie dressed, Mary carried her suitcase and a backpack for each girl, all filled with clothing and essentials, to her car parked in front of the house. She was back inside the house in no time.
“Girls, hurry. We’re going to Aunt Peg’s.”
The sleepy-eyed, ten year-old twins slunk into the living room decorated with second-hand furniture and glazed ceramic bowls, pots and ashtrays Mary made in a pottery class she took for a year, one year ago.
“Come on, come on.” Mary waved her down-turned hands as if shooing a couple of frisky kittens rather than two drowsy towheads.
In a minute, Mary managed to get her daughters buckled into the backseat of her car and was rounding the corner at the end of the street, heading east to Peg’s neighborhood.
Neither Lisa nor Marie bothered to ask why they were driving to their Aunt Peg’s house even before the sun rose. They’d been on other such jaunts with Mary since their dad left their mom for a disbarred lawyer named Marta Snyder, who took to managing a topless bar at the edge of town after her legal defrocking.
Not long after leaving the house, Mary pulled the car into Peg’s driveway, her sister standing in the living room picture window looking outside, shaking her head. Before Mary, with the girls scrambling to keep up behind her, reached the front porch, Peg opened the door.
“What are you thinking?” Peg demanded.
“I’ve got to go. I’ll only be gone for a few days...”
“Or so,” Peg cut in. “Where are you going?” Peg wanted to add “this time,” but held her tongue.
Mary nodded, like she did on the phone. “Come on girls. Into the house. Your Aunt Peg is going to watch you for a few days.”
“Or so,” Peg mumbled. “Why in the name of God are you going to Memphis?”
Mary laughed in a manner that seemed to say “Oh, come on…surely you know” as well as “That’s a silly question.”
“Come inside,” Peg told Mary, the girls already in the living room.
“I’ve got to go.”
“Come inside Mary. We’re going to talk.”
Mary shook her head. “I’ve got to go. I’ve got to drive to Kansas City. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
“To Memphis,” Peg said. Mary nodded.
Peg stepped out onto the porch and closed the front door behind her so the girls could not hear her speak.
“Are you nuts, Mary?” Peg regretted the question even as the words tumbled out of her mouth. Mary only smiled.
In a whisper as if the porch was a stage, Peg asked Mary if she was taking her pills.
“Yeah, yeah,” Mary replied, looking over Peg’s head. “I’ll tell the girls good-bye. Then I’ve got to go. I’ve got to get to K.C., to the airport.”
“You call me when you get to the airport.” Peg pointed her finger at Mary, as if scolding a naughty child.
“I will.” Mary stepped up to Peg and hugged her. “I love you, Peg.”
“Lord, Mary. I love you, too.”
A couple of minutes later, after kissing her daughters good-bye, Mary was motoring down the Kansas Turnpike, heading east to Kansas City.
Mary arrived at Kansas City International Airport in plenty of time for her eight o’clock flight to Atlanta, with a connection into Memphis. There was no direct flight to the Tennessee city.
“Good morning,” the ticket counter clerk, in a navy dress, greeted Mary.
“Hello. I’m going to Memphis.”
“Alrighty, then. And, what’s your name?”
“Mrs. Elvis Presley,” Mary replied.
Keeping her smile, the counter clerk asked “Come again?”
“I’m Mrs. Elvis Presley. I’ve one bag to check.”
The ticket agent stood still for a moment. “Alrighty, then.” She typed something into the computer terminal at her station. Several seconds later, she furrowed her brow. “Well, I’ll be...here you are.” She tapped a forefinger on the display screen. “Mrs. Elvis Presley.”
Not a month earlier, the counter clerk read an article in one magazine or another about Elvis Presley’s ex-wife. The woman standing in front of her heading for Memphis looked vaguely like the picture of Priscilla Presley she remembered seeing featured in the article.
“Well, then, Mrs. Presley...one bag, you say.” Mary nodded.
In little time, Mary’s suitcase was checked and she was handed a boarding pass. The counter clerk directed Mary to the boarding gate, not far from where they stood.
“Thank you.” Mary smiled.
“Very nice to meet you, Mrs. Presley.”
As Mary started off, the counter clerk quickly spoke. “You know, I just loved your husband’s music.”
“Thank you.” Mary stepped back towards the ticket clerk and patted her on the shoulder.
While Mary made her way to the gate, the counter clerk telephoned her co worker at the gate to let her know Mrs. Elvis Presley was flying to Atlanta, then on to Memphis that morning. A waiting passenger overheard the gate worker’s end of the conversation and, before Mary’s arrival at the boarding area, the room was buzzing with the news of Mrs. Elvis Presley.
Mary found an empty, molded fiberglass chair next to a matronly looking woman in a boxy looking canary-yellow suit. Mary nodded to her as she sat.
“Hello, dear,” the old woman said. “Dear,” the old lady continued. “I’m so sorry about what happened to your husband. I guess I never much listened to his music, but I did see that picture he was in with Mary Tyler Moore. Mary Tyler Moore was a nun.”
“‘Change of Habit’,” Mary said.
“Oh dear, that was the name. What a nice picture. They don’t make pictures like that anymore, do they?”
Mary shook her head. “No, they don’t.”
“Where are you headed?” the old woman asked. “I’m going to Savannah to see my grandchildren.”
“How nice,” Mary replied. “I’m heading home.”
“To Memphis, dear?”
Mary nodded. “To Graceland.”
A short time later, the gate attendant, in the same blue dress as the counter clerk, called over the intercom for first-class passengers to head to the jetway for boarding.
“Have a nice flight,” Mary said as she rose to join the other forward-cabin passengers.
‘Thank you dear…you too. It was very nice to meet you, Mrs. Presley. Your husband was such a nice young man.”
“Thank you. He was.”
Mary joined the line of passengers having their boarding passes collected at the door to the jetway. In half an hour, the plane was airborne. During the flight, Mary drank a couple glasses of California sparkling wine and nibbled on some cheese. She was seated next to a harried-looking businessman who busied himself during the entire flight, reading and rereading documents from his brief case.
Once in Atlanta, Mary made her connecting flight to Memphis, which happened to be running only a few minutes behind schedule. By the time she arrived in Memphis, Mary was tired from the day spent traveling. She wasted no time in collecting her solitary bag from the luggage carrousel and hired a cab at the taxi stand.
She directed the driver to take her to The Fairmont in downtown Memphis, a hotel where she had booked a room with a king bed a few days earlier. On the way, traffic was congested due to an accident involving a semi and a van filled with Cub Scouts returning from a Jamboree. In the slow progression past the scene, Mary became entranced with the blue and crimson pulse of the hazard lights topping the emergency vehicles.
Arriving at The Fairmont, Mary paid the cabbie and followed a bellman into the lobby. He led her to the registration desk and to an available receptionist, a young woman with tangerine colored hair.
“Welcome to The Fairmont,” the young, orange-headed woman greeted.
“I’ve got a reservation.”
“And what s your name?” The young woman smiled.
“Mrs. Elvis Presley.”
The receptionist laughed, sounding forced despite her best efforts. “Oh, I love that joke,” she said. “Although, course, most often it’s a fellow checking in as Elvis.”
Mary furrowed her brow and said nothing. The two women looked for a moment to be having an elementary school stare-off.
“So....um…what is your name?”
“Mrs. Elvis Presley.” Mary narrowed her eyes, pursed her lips a bit.
“Urn…well…” The receptionist stroked her keyboard, seemingly imputing “Mrs. Elvis Presley.”
She glanced at the screen on the computer in front of her, much like the airline counter clerk did in Kansas City. “Oh.” The receptionist looked at Mary, who raised her eyebrows and smiled.
The young woman glanced back and forth between Mary and the computer terminal a couple more times. “Well, you just didn’t look quite like from the pictures I’d seen…in magazines and stuff.” She paused, blushed and apologized.
“It’s okay. I should he in a non-smoking room.”
“Right…of course…king-sized bed.” The receptionist quickly checked Mary in and then snapped her fingers as she called for the bell captain. “Please take Mrs. Presley personally to her room.”
He nodded and nervously led Mary towards the hank of elevators at the lob by’s edge. He kept switching Mary’s suitcase from one hand to another, not because of a problem with the weight but because he was nervous. Once on the elevator, he managed a mumble. “Gosh, Mrs. Presley, it’s nice to meet ‘ya.”
“Thank you.” Mary smiled and patted the bell captain on his shoulder. After exiting the elevator, the bell captain escorted Mary down the dimly lit hallway with paisley patterned carpeting.
After settling into her room, Mary ordered a salmon filet with asparagus tips from room service. She prepared a gin and tonic from the mini-bar while she awaited her meal. Halfway through her drink, someone rapped at the door and announced “room service.”
“Good evening, Mrs. Presley,” the uniform-clad server greeted, carrying Mary’s dinner tray into the room. “We’re all so excited to have you here at the hotel.”
She patted the server on his shoulder and thanked him.
“Would you mind...would you mind if I asked for your autograph, Mrs. Presley?”
“Of course not.” On a blank valet card, Mary scribbled “Mrs. Elvis Presley.”
“Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” The server exited and Mary ate her meal. When finished, she telephoned her sister.
“Where are you?” Peg asked.
“Memphis. You know where I’m at.”
“I called Dr. Wingate,” Peg said. Mary did not reply. “Dr. Wingate says you haven’t been to see him in over a month. Dr. Wingate says your prescription hasn’t been refilled.”
“How are the girls?” Mary asked.
“Kiss them for me,”
“Mary, what’s going on?”
“I’ll call tomorrow Mary hung up the phone and mixed herself another drink. She went to bed after watching television for awhile.
In the morning, Mary made an appointment in the hotel’s beauty salon to have her hair done.
“I just love your hair style, Mrs. Presley. A classic,” the stylist said.
“Thank you.” Mary patted the stylist on her shoulder.
While she was at the salon, storm clouds slowly began to blow over Memphis. The temperature dropped ten degrees by mid-afternoon. Rain started falling at the dinner hour.
In her room, oblivious to the storm, Mary dressed in her best outfit and called the front desk, asking for a cab to take her to Graceland.
“Of course, Mrs. Presley.”
When she came down from her room into the hotel lobby, a dozen staff members were gathered around the reception desk to see Mrs. Elvis Presley exit on her way to Graceland. The taxi waited right outside the door for Mary.
The cab driver was briefed by the bell captain as to who his passenger was to be that evening. He complimented Mary on Elvis Presley’s music.
“Thank you,” she said, patting the back of the seat behind the driver. Upon reaching Graceland, the driver asked Mary if he should wait. “Oh no, I’ll be staying,” she replied.
The rain fell harder than when the storm had first started by the time Mary arrived at Graceland. She lacked an umbrella and hurried to the closed gate leading onto the Graceland grounds. A security guard in a rain slicker happened to be on the opposite side of the gate.
Mary waved and called out for the guard to let her in.
“We’re closed for the day,” the guard shouted back.
“I’m Mrs. Elvis Presley,” Mary said to the guard.
“I’m Mrs. Elvis Presley.”
The guard grunted and walked away.
Mary stood very still, staring through the gate decorated with musical notes, up the driveway towards Graceland. She clutched onto the gate. Her tears blended in with the cold rain splashing against her face.
(c) Mike Broemmel 2005