Two Quarter King
By Daniel J. Bishop
18 March 2002
The first miracle passed almost unnoticed. I guess that's the way first miracles are. It came to the tune of "Love Me Tender." A husband and wife, long estranged, suddenly found each other again.
The last miracle played out to "Long Black Limousine." We didn't know it would be the last miracle at the time, of course. For all we knew then, Elvis was going to be with us forever.
Or maybe the first miracle was that Elvis was there at all. He just kind of showed up at Fairview Mall one morning. Rita had just opened up shop; she works at the video outlet down there. When she looked past the counter, there was Elvis, as large as life, standing in the walkway outside the store. Just like that. No one knew where he came from. After he left, no one could say for sure where he'd gone.
But maybe his showing up there at all was the first miracle. And maybe his disappearance was the last. It wasn't the real Elvis, of course, just a nickel-plated statue. But it was Elvis, and two quarters would buy you a song. There weren't any buttons, either -- Elvis picked the song you heard. If you needed "Hound Dog," that's the song he'd sing. It was like Elvis just knew what songs were needful.
Betty Carpenter tried it first, and that was what brought her and Ernie back together again. Not that they were apart on the outside, mind you, but the whole town knew that those two were growing on rocky soil.
Two quarters. The King had one of those things like on a pool table, where you stick the coins on a little tray and push them in. Not like one of those slots where you just drop the coins in. Those other kind of machines want to make it easy for you to pay, so you kind of forget just how much you're spending. The King made you put out a little effort, think about what you were doing. Sort of made you commit to spending the money, so there couldn't be any accidents.
Then he'd be off, his mechanical hips shaking in time to the music. Kids climbed onto him, even though their parents scolded them for being so disrespectful to the King. It wasn't as though Elvis minded. He was young, like in that movie King Creole, when he still had hope and years ahead of him. And every song brought a miracle.
Most of the miracles were simple things. Finding lost jewelry. Mending broken hearts. Helping folk get through tough times. Simple things, but things that matter in the deep places of the soul. The things that ring true. The kind of things his songs did for people while the King was still alive.
I guess it was after Jimmy Lewis put in his fifty cents that we all knew that Elvis had come back to loan us his own kind of grace. Jimmy Lewis had never done a right thing in his life. It only took one listen to "Kentucky Rain," and something happened in him. He put away his old life and got a job the very next day. Nothing fancy, just flipping burgers down at the Allen Wally's -- but who would have thought they'd hire Jimmy Lewis? And who would have guessed that he'd still be working there to this day?
Me, when I was a kid in high school, Ernie Carpenter was one of my best friends. And one day we fell out over this girl. Who it was isn't important. Why we carried on that feud, I don't know. I ended up with Rita, and he ended up with Betty, and the girl went her own way. Ernie and me, we just got so mad at each other that we didn't speak for twenty years.
I thought I was doing right until I paid Elvis's price and let him sing for me.
I can't even remember what he was singing. The words and the music weren't the important thing; just the way that it felt, knowing Elvis was there, trying to make things right. Then I knew that I had to swallow my pride, that it was my job to try to make things right, too.
That was the King's real power. He had all that fame, all that pain. The world beat him down, but he still gave joy to so many.
Rita says that Elvis never really died. The flesh dies, she says, but the King lives on. These things were the soul of the man: the Gospel he loved, his hope, and his fried peanut butter sandwiches. The things that we believe in, our thoughts and ideas, our hearts, and our love -- they never pass away.
I don't know if we all paid our quarters. I don't know if there was a miracle for all of us, or just the ones who took a chance.
I'd like to think that Elvis was there for all who were needful, or hard of heart. Not the real Elvis, of course, but maybe a kind of angel wearing Elvis's face.
One day Gary Roebuck sold his rusty old Pinto after listening to "Long Black Limousine." Some might say that wasn't a miracle, but God knows finding a buyer for that old heap of scrap took more than mortal doing. The next day, Elvis was gone.
I'd like to think he's still out there, shaking his hips in another part of America. Making his miracles. Playing his music, and reminding us he's still the King.
Copyright © 2002 Daniel J. Bishop
Daniel J. Bishop lives in Toronto, Ontario. He is co-owner of Golden City Comics. His work has appeared in Jackhammer, Spellbound, Enlightenment, and Fables. He was Submissions Editor at Cyber Age Adventures, where his first submission won a first-place prize in the Electronic Runes Readers Poll. For more about him, see his Web site.