What Kids are Scared Of
The Elvis’s wig itched and smelled moldy as Artie slapped glue on it and palmed it onto place atop his bald head. He swung open the dented door of his Dodge Caravan, slammed a few pills, slung a string-less guitar over his shoulder and tried to process the decibels from a party of six-year olds around the back of the white house.
“Thanks for coming,” Mr. Gladsphere said, pumping Artie’s hand, placing three fifty dollar bills in them. “Glad you work on short notice.”
“Better that the clown wasn’t available,” Artie said. “A lot of kids are scared of them.”
“Let’s go,” Gladsphere urged as Artie tried to walk faster, his white leather pants croaking against his large thighs.
“Where’s the clown?” Gladsphere’s son Jimmy cried, when they arrived out back.
“Oh, the fat Elvis,” his great aunt, Ginny said, adding to Jimmy’s complaint while staring at Artie; close enough for him to notice the booze on her breath. “Oooooh, he’ll do,” she laughed at her own come on.
At Showtime, Jimmy’s mother gave him the less than Vegas introduction but presented him as a special guest. The kids were silent, checking him out head to toe as if he were an alien, his large pant bells stiff as a board, and rhinestones twinkling like miniature burning bright headlights but certainly not like stars—never like stars. Artie was now The King.
Sweat rolled down Artie’s chest like streams of rain against a window and then he jerked to life as the music began, “WELL, IT’S ONE FOR THE MONEY…TWO FOR THE SHOW…,” he sang, and gyrated.
When “Blue Suede Shoes” ended, the Gladspheres looked at each other, Ginny squealed enraptured and the children asked what Artie’s name was.
“I am The King,” he said. “You wanted The Clown but I am a king!” he said.
“I want a balloon elephant,” Jimmy said.
“How about another song instead?” Artie asked in a southern accent; a Southern Jersey accent.
“I want an Indian headdress,” some kid said. “A balloon one.”
“Devil in Disguise?”
“A dog, a swan, a sword!” They all yelled at once.
Sprouting from the sleeve of Arties’s white leather jacket, crinkly strands of the worn fringe limply dangled. They connected to the oversized cuff and the “hold that thought” finger he held up as he left the stage.
“Where do you think you’re going? Is it too hot for you?” Ginny said in a sultry way, but Elvis ducked her, cutting around the corner of the white house and back toward the Caravan. “You’ll never make it back,” he thought, taking seven tiny white pills from his jacket and gulping them down.
Inside the van he looked for a bag of balloons, an air compressor and his white rubber clown face with orange hair, which flared upward on the side. He moved to his knees sifting through belongings in the cargo area. He started to throw them around; looking for all the things he had lost.
Timothy Gager is the author of thirteen books of short fiction and poetry, including two novels. His latest Chief Jay Strongbow is Real his first book of poetry since 2014. He has had over 400 works of fiction and poetry published and of which eleven have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His work has been read on National Public Radio. He’s hosted the successful Dire Literary Series in Cambridge, Massachusetts since 2001.