the king

I’ve seen plenty of Elvis clocks before, clocks made from painted plates where the hands sweep over his portrait; clocks where the dial is set in a golden record beneath a selection of silhouette poses; clocks where his wooden legs swing from side to side at the hip. But I’ve never seen an Elvis clock like the one just above Janet’s head. It’s a brutal, plain cream affair, curved at the top, square at the bottom, like a jukebox I suppose, except without the colour or the interest. There are no likenesses or photos or signatures, just his name above the dial, The King below it, and either side, at nine and three o’clock, 1935 and 1977. You may as well have his gravestone up there on the wall, marking out the time.

The only reason I can think of for having it up there is that Janet was given it as a present. But then – she’s put it in a prominent place, on the wall immediately behind her chair, and not tucked away in the hallway. And to be fair, the other Elvis memorabilia is so awful it’s a relief to have somewhere else to rest your eyes, other than the comedy plastic figure on the mantelpiece doing the jailhouse rock on the mantelpiece in a blade of sunshine, and certainly not the Elvis mirror to the left of it, where the artist has reduced the smoulder to an evil sneer.

It doesn’t help that Janet has a thyroid condition that makes her eyes bulge, or that she’s a little anxious and grips the arms of her chair so tightly her knuckles whiten. In the close, hectic atmosphere of her front room, it’s hard to resist the feeling we’re in some kind of domestic diving chamber, coming up to the surface too quickly.

‘He was only forty-two when he died,’ I say, doing the math from the clock. ‘Such a shame.’
‘Yes,’ says Janet. ‘And do you know how he died?’
I stop myself mentioning anything about giant hamburgers or pills or toilets, and go for something blander than the clock.
‘Heart attack?’
She nods.
‘Forty-two,’ she says again.
‘Yes.’
And then: ‘Terrible.’
Elvis sneers at me from the mirror.

I’d been asked to accompany the nurse on the visit. I couldn’t see any specific risk on the system, but sometimes you have to dig deep to find the original cause, and frankly, I didn’t have time. Plus the visit rounded the day off nicely, so I was happy enough to tag along. It was a simple visit, too, so there really was nothing for me to do other than sit opposite Janet and talk to her about this and that, and make her some tea, and generally ease things along whilst the nurse cantered through her review. For now she was in the bathroom, dipping a sample of urine, and I was sitting in the front room, marking time with the clock.

‘I went to Graceland,’ says Janet.
‘Did you?’
‘Yes.’
‘Wow! What was that like?’
‘I went with the club. It was a long time ago, before they let you in the house. I saw the gardens. I saw the swimming pool. I saw the grave.’
‘That’s amazing! The grave!’
‘Yes. I saw it all.’
‘So that was a little while ago…?’
‘Nineteen eighty-two. But then my aunt died and I was left all alone.’
‘Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.’
The nurse strides in from the bathroom, waving a dipstick in the air.
‘All clear!’ she says.
Janet turns her enormous eyes in her direction.
The clock ticks loudly on the wall.

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