In her heart of hearts Melly Marvel Sprawling knew- she just knew it!- that Elvis was alive.
Her parents humored her, because if there was one thing Phelan and Marietta Sprawling knew it was that there was no putting a damper on their daughter's enthusiasms.
The thing about knowing such a thing with such conviction is that it rather sets one apart. Just the knowing. And it wasn't like Melly Marvel went about trying to collect converts. She was quiet in her certainty. But even that could be unsettling- to see an 11-year-old so sure of her convictions, so terribly certain that Elvis was undead.
'You have to allow for the possibility that he might have died, Melly Marvel,' said her Aunt Moriah, the one who loved Elvis and had once seen him with a girl on a motorcycle at the intersection of South Goodlett and Central. 'You have to at least allow for that,' she said.
'I have to do no such thing,' said Melly Marvel, in that way she had of completely shutting down a conversation by, through the steeliness of her tone, implying it would be the rudest possible thing to carrying on having it.
In her heart of hearts, she knew. How she knew, no one else knew, but they had some thoughts.
A public broadcast telethon entitled 'Elvis, Where Are You?' seemed to have played a pivotal role.
'It was hosted by Bill Bixby, some old actor,' Marietta told her sister over the telephone. 'With people calling in about seeing Elvis at all sorts of fast food joints across the U.S.'
'It's funny how he's never in Europe...'
'But that seems to have her convinced. You know how impressionable she is...'
'They're like a sponge at that age,' sighed (the childless, slightly bored) Aunt Moriah.
'We want to get her turned on to something else, but all she cares about is Elvis. I sometimes wonder if I did the wrong thing when I bought that tape...'
You see, Melly Marvel had a scare.
A rather sickly child with a constantly running nose, she'd busted an ear drum, a trauma that resulted in various surgeries and treatments and antibiotics and a full year of bloodied ooze leaking from her ear- an embarrassingly menstrual situation that necessitated the plugging of a said ear with a cotton ball acting in a mortifyingly public tampon-like capacity.
So Melly Marvel's ear was on the fritz.
One particularly gloom and doom doctor surmised that she might even be deaf by the ripe old age of 12, a distressing augery after which Marietta Marvelliefielles Sprawling drove herself and her daughter one parking lot over to the Target, marched into the store to the music section, and fished a cassette out of the bargain bin.
If Melly Marvel was going deaf, Marietta was damned if she wasn't going to hear Elvis Presley before she did.
They were vaguely related- Elvis and Melly Marvel. In that way that all of the family tries of Mississippi are gnarled together so you can claim kin to pretty much anyone you want.
For obvious reasons, Melly Marvel claimed Elvis. He was, after all, the King.
'She's reading a book now,' Marietta confided to her sister. 'Some book with irrefutable proof.'
'Dear God, heaven help us. I can only imagine what she'll do with irrefutable proof!'
'He's got to be dead, right?' asked Marietta, with a hint of embarrassment tinged with a sliver of doubt.
'He died on the toilet, you know. No one would choose to go like that.'
'Melly Marvel said he did that to throw everybody off. She says he's smarter than we think he is. She says she's smarter than we are.'
'Sounds to me like Melly Marvel's getting the big head.'
But, you see, it wasn't really that Melly Marvel had the big head. It was just that she didn't understand why everyone else couldn't see something so obvious. She did not know why they refused to believe.
'He's obviously alive,' she told herself. For there was proof. People had pictures! And there were voice messages! Bill Bixby had said it was so.
In truth, Melly Marvel didn't know who Bill Bixby was, but someone had thought him worthy of TV airtime and she always trusted the TV. Plus, Elvis had his phone number and was calling him from the beyond.
And so when Bill Bixby looked deep into his television audience, across all the tubes and miles and wires, directly into Melly Marvel's eyes and told her that if she just let Elvis know she wanted him to reveal himself, that she wanted him to come back, if she just called a 900 number and told Elvis that she needed him to return, he would do it, Melly Marvel was sorely tempted.
But then she thought about Elvis. Really long and hard she thought about how badly he must have wanted to leave, to escape, to get out of the life he had- badly enough to fake his death while using the toilet.
Melly Marvel couldn't even talk about using the toilet without blushing. She certainly couldn't imagine faking her death there!
That was how badly he had wanted to abdicate. Enough to risk the embarrassment and the jokes of dying while doing a #2.
That was serious. Even in her fervor and her longing for his return, Melly Marvel could see it. He was better off now and Melly Marvel didn't want to disrupt him. She didn't want to selfishly recall him to the life he'd left when he was, she knew, so much happier on his own.
She had been holding the phone in her hand but now she put it down.
'He's better off,' she told herself, drawing comfort from the fact that it sounded so glamorous, the city where Elvis had set up his new life. There could be no lovelier haven, she knew, than this magical land called Kalamazoo.