rock n’roll alien

you see before us
the brightest star in the constellation of Capricornus
Deneb Algedi
actually, you know
it’s really not
that’s just the cute little system humans have got
of putting names to everything
like Elvis the King!
for example
my favourite mammal
that’s enough semantics for today
I can tell from the clacking beaks of my subordinates
they want me to sit down and set the coordinates

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.
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?’
‘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.

the name of the fox

Ray answers the door. I know from the referral he’s eighty something, but if you snatched a look on a foggy night after falling out of the pub you could be persuaded he was twenty-four. His skin has a deep leathery tan, hair dyed black, swept up in what would have been a substantial quiff in the late fifties; his teeth suspiciously even, cardboard white, his flowery shirt unbuttoned to the navel, revealing a slew of chains of differing lengths and thickness, pendants of silver and gold, crosses, St Christophers, a US dog tag, an Egyptian ankh.
‘Hi!’ he says. ‘Come in!’
‘Just a flying visit, Mr Clarke. The nurse asked me to drop by with a couple of things for Daphne.’
Daphne?’ he calls over his shoulder. ‘Another lovely person to see you.’
Oh fantastic! Wowee!’ says a thin voice from the room straight ahead.
‘Go through’ says Ray.

The lounge is a shrine to Elvis. Images of The King on everything, from mirrors and paintings and gold records and film posters, to ceramic statues, a throw over the back of the sofa, even the clock over the mantelpiece – Elvis in his Las Vegas incarnation, legs apart, arms windmilling the minutes and hours.
‘Hello, Daphne! Lovely to meet you. I’m Jim, from the hospital.’
‘Lovely to meet you, too!’ she says, holding on to my hand, squeezing it, gradually pulling me in. ‘Aren’t you handsome?’
‘You’re making me blush,’ I say.
‘Now, now,’ says Ray.
She laughs and releases my hand..
‘I’ve just dropped round to bring you this special cushion to sit on. To protect your bottom. And some cream for the carers to put on in the morning.’
‘Now – you hear a lot about the NHS,’ says Ray, taking the things off me. ‘But I have to say, we’ve had nothing but the very best treatment.’
‘That’s good to hear,’ I say.

Daphne is beaming up at me from the armchair. I’m guessing Ray does her make up, because there’s something doll-like in the way the lipstick and rouge has been applied. She’s immaculate, though, as perfect as the figurine of Elvis, circa sixty-eight special, in a glass bell jar on the coffee table. She’s cuddling two soft toys, a fox in a waistcoat under her left arm, a scruffy looking teddy bear under her right.
‘And who are these two gentlemen?’ I say, patting the bear on the head. ‘They look amazing.’
‘Guess their names!’ she says.
‘Well – this one here, I’m going to start low and say … Ted!’
‘Yes!’ she says. ‘Now – what about this one?’
‘Mr Fox? Hmm. That’s a bit more tricky. But I’m going to take a wild guess, and I’m going to say… Elvis!’
‘No. It’s Montgomery. How do you do?’ and she offers up his paw for me to shake.