K. J. Kovacs: Fiction: April 2020

I have no clue what information is pertinent, so without further ado:
K. J. Kovacs – Southern Legitimacy Statement :
I had a bona fide sign from the King. Make that signs, plural. I’m tempted not to tell you about the signs, because maybe you don’t deserve to know. I can feel the waves of your doubt rippling all the way up the Mississippi. Riverboats bobbing in the wake of your doubt. Elvis frowning down on you from his big bronze statue in the Memphis Travel Center under the scornful watch of the woman who is just a regular employee at the Information desk but acts like she owns the place; she hollered at some kids for eating greasy fried okra while craning their necks to see all the way up to the top of his head —no way would she allow anyone to eat anything in that hallowed space around his statue, not that it’s up to her. But she’s okay in my book, because she leaned over and told me to skip Graceland “that big tourist trap” and go over to Sun Studios – “That’s where it all began. Forget about Graceland. That ain’t him. That ain’t the real Elvis.”

When I say he’s alive, I don’t mean he’s literally inside that statue or sitting in some diner deciding between the Heart Attack on a Rack and the Daily Specials. I mean that when you’re coming up 65 toward 40 at 3 in the morning and the mountains won’t let go of the fog, and you’re trying to see even one foot in front of you but you can’t see squat, and you’re driving about one mile an hour and praying a hundred miles an hour and trying to remain calm, and you turn on the radio and right at that exact moment, no DJ lead-in, Elvis starts singing softly…it’s a song you don’t recognize, one of his old gospel ones, and you know in that moment that he’s traveling right along with you there on that road like a guardian angel and that song is the answer to your prayer. That’s what I mean.

And just in case you aren’t one hundred percent certain, when your clutch gives out and you just barely make it to the shoulder on 40 west about 25 miles into Arkansas, darned if the man who shows up in his tow truck doesn’t tell you out of the blue that his mom’s older sister was friends with Elvis when they were teenagers and his mom and aunt were best friends so his mom knew Elvis, too, and whenever he was in town, just trying to rest his weary bones for a few days before the next leg of the tour, he’d call the aunt and ask if he could stay at her place for the weekend, and his aunt would call his mom, and she’d go on over there and they’d all hang out. And you stare at him and say, “Elvis was kinda like a member of your extended family?” and he says, “Yeah I reckon” with a quirky smile, and you say, “And your aunt and mother hung out with him around here?” And he nods. And you know you weren’t imagining it about Elvis being your guardian angel in the foggy mountains at 3 in the morning, making sure you got through okay.


You Look Like An Understanding Soul

You know how people always say, “I don’t know why, but strangers always pick me to start telling their troubles to in the supermarket; I guess I have one of those faces, or maybe they sense something different about me. . .” and they say it with a mixture of noblesse oblige and longsuffering, the way you might expect an angel to talk about the sad-sack human to whom he’s been appointed? And you know how the person in question is not someone to whom you yourself would ever choose to unburden your life’s sorrows?   Well, you’d be right not to, because case in point, Miss Jolene, or “Jolene the Movie Queen” as I call her (she once wrangled a walk-on part in a Tyrone Power movie) only not to her face (she’d like it too much) has been saying that to me for as long as I can remember. It’d make you gag to hear the way she says. Case in point:

“This poor elderly woman in Publix was telling me all about her shingles and then about how her dog’s Pilates instructor is queer and he and his boyfriend or as they like to say domestic partner want to be parents so they got this female friend of theirs to agree to be impregnated by one of them, and now she’s pregnant and what did I think of that? Poor dear, she was in a tizzy over it. I told her it would all work out and not to worry. I don’t know why she told me, but you know, they always do. It’s as if they know…” Then she looks off into the distance, and I know she’s waiting for me to say, “As if they know what, Miss Jolene?” but I don’t. I say something like, “Curiouser and curiouser” or “Hmmm, that is odd,” and then quickly change the subject, because if you don’t think of something other than Miss Jolene to discuss a toute de suite (this is the correct wording, it isn’t “toot sweet” like I thought it was for my entire life ’til last year when Marcus corrected me), the only thing you will be discussing until cows grow wings is Jolene the Movie Queen, and once those cows grow wings, it’ll still be about Miss Jolene, like how she knew all along that something was different about those cows, how they’d lately taken to looking at her as if trying to tell her something with their big cow eyes. She fancies herself to be telepathic. Claims she dreamed about that freak earthquake they had a few years back up in the nation’s capital a week before it happened. And dreamed about a plane crashing before the 9-11 terrorist attacks. And bla bla bla. “If you’re a bona fide (it’s not pronounced “bonnified” it’s pronounced “bone-a-fee-daye”) psychic, then why don’t you ever warn people when you have those ESP disaster dreams?” I ask. “Who would believe me?” she says with this faraway sad look. Like it’s a burden to have ESP, but at the same time, it makes her superior. Except the thing is, she never mentions any of those dreams to me until after the fact, so I have my suspicions as to the veracity of her dream life, but I don’t say so to her. She’s writing a book on the subject, so I’ll let someone else break the news to her about her being a phony.

Anyway as I was saying, it wouldn’t be flying cows that would stop Miss Jolene from making everything end up being all about her. You have to be cleverer than Dan Webster to think up one single thing that won’t end up being all about her. Most people don’t even bother trying, but I do, because I cannot stand to listen to her going on and on and on about, for example, how Claire or Danielle or Shelby or yes, the entire poetry group embarrassed her by gushing over her latest poem, the one about the mysterious silver-eyed phantom who emerged from the pearlescent mintgreen seafoam whispering her name, or some such equally hog-washed rubbish bin of turnip turds. She always writes stuff like that, about some mysterioso man in the midnight fog, or the forgotten forest, or the haunted bayou, or the you-name-it, he’s always out there somewhere being mysteriously beguiling and otherworldly as he moves through sighing Spanish moss or jade water pooling in mermaid shapes or shimmering flotsam in silver eggs or if he’s throwing his phantom mystique around right in plain sight, like on Main Street, he’s long and lean under a slick moon or winking neon or eavesdropping oleander or, you get the idea. I hate that stuff. “Why don’t you ever write a poem about someone real?” I ask from time to time. “Like that time you were in Manning and that guy who worked at Smith’s across from the Waffle House told you about the lake up the road had more gators than fish, and every time someone’s dog went missing, nobody bothered to look for it because everybody knew damn well the fate of that dog, and some woman piped in ‘that’s what happened to Ruthie’s dog last week’ remember, Miss Jolene? Why don’t you write a poem about that?” But it was pointless. Same old patronizing smile, like I was a pitiful half-wit, which isn’t necessarily redundant, by the way, because not all half-wits are pitiful. Some of them are downright happy, and there’s nothing to pity about someone’s who’s happy. “Nobody wants to read a poem about someone’s dog being eaten by an alligator, dear.” Followed by a small shake of her platinum beehived head and looks at me with one of her “You poor thing, you really don’t understand, do you” looks, which is classic, because she is the one who doesn’t get it. Last week she finished a new poem and asked me to read it – she always asks me to read them, Lord knows why – and I thought I’d bust out in tears if I had to read it all the way through, because darned if the damn thing didn’t hit the ground running with a long tall shadow moving along the edge of the scrub pines at the side of a dusty old red clay road, only as she drew nearer, she realized that there wasn’t anyone there, only the shadow of — you guessed it — a mysterious man who it turned out was in a parallel universe and it was his reflection (which to our world’s eyes looked like a shadow) that had somehow fallen through a tear in the fabric between the two worlds and was moving among the pine needles and trumpet flower vines, but wait! was that the edge of an actual shoe or was it a trick of the eye? 

I just about cried. 

I’ll bet you all the bees in Beaufort that every damn last one of her poetry coterie would be pleased as punch to have a break from the wil-o-the-wispies and hear a poem about a dog-devouring lake.

So you see why I was saying that Miss Jolene is not someone to whom you’d tell your troubles. As for those people in the supermarket, I can guarantee you that they start bellyaching to whatever sucker has the misfortune to be standing behind them in whatever line they happen to be in. It doesn’t need to be someone with a compassionate aura wafting around them like the smell of cotton candy at the county fair, and it most certainly doesn’t need to be Miss Jolene. They just want to tell something to somebody and they don’t much care who. I ought to know— I just did the same thing to you.