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Selected Stories by Robert Moulthrop


  Mrs. Mellors
  Friends In Need

  Uncle Louis
  Elvis’s Dog, the One Named Moonbeam
  Olden Days

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Elvis’s Dog, the One Named Moonbeam

They don’t got no picture of any dog named Moonbeam over at them Elvis shops across the way from Graceland, I found out the other day when I went down there specially to see if they did, that shopping mall place right there on the highway on the same side as the plane. Walking in that heat, think someone’d give a woman a ride. I didn’t mind, though. I needed to be there, see for myself. But it weren’t there.

I mean, it wasn’t like I didn’t look. I didn’t have much time, but when I need to I can be sharp. Sharp as a tack. Sharp as a needle. Right sharp, Melvina used to say, back when she was talking to me. She will again, that’s for sure, I’ll make sure of that. But that’s not the point, Melvina. The real point’s about that Moonbeam dog.

I don’t know if you ever been to Memphis, but it’s not like Graceland’s right downtown or anything. I didn’t mind the walking out, the day was hot all right, nothing hotter than a Memphis May, especially with that wind off the river bringing all that humidity right up into your hair. I had to slow down after a while, the sweat was rolling off my eyebrows something fierce and somehow Jim’s best handkerchief, that one he used out with the pigs, kept it in his back pocket, he’d use it first to wipe his knife, then put it up and wipe the sweat right off his forehead, stick it in his pocket, blood and sweat, he’d say, that’s blood and sweat, they don’t get no goddam tears off me. He was right. They didn’t. Anyway, I took that kerchief, washed it, not so much with bleach or anything, I wanted something there to smell a little, kept it in my pocket and somehow, Jim’s handkerchief, it was gone.

I asked them at my new job, the hotel, they’re real nice, keep the laundry clean, it’s hot, I like to tell you, I don’t mind the heat, but I asked them ‘cause I thought that maybe that there handkerchief—it was red and had these redder bloodstains—had gotten mixed in with the laundry, I mean it’s red and we got only whites—the pillow cases and the sheets, white, like I said, so’s a red kerchief would stick right out.

But they hadn’t seen it. So I walked and used my hand to take the sweat off, just pretended everything was fine, because that Moonbeam, I was sure, that dog, well I just knew. I just walked along the highway, right along with all them cars, most of them I figure going out to Graceland, same as me. I woulda took a ride if one had offered, but then no one did, so I just kept right on.

I got to tell you, tell a lie if ever I seen anything as pretty as those gates. See, I’ll get the money, go in later, proper, with the rest of everybody on one of them tours, I’ll see everything—all the bedrooms and the trophies, and the kennels, that’s for sure. But I knew that was for later, so I didn’t care that all I’m seeing now was just those Gates o’ Grace. That’s what I called them then, after I saw what they was, with all that music written right across, and that guitar.

I didn’t see them right at first. I can be so stupid sometimes. I can say that about myself, it’s okay, but I don’t want Melvina saying anything.

So there I was, this one side of the street, and I looked across and saw them shops over to the other side, it was like an Elvis Mall, the shops were called the Elvis This and Graceland That, and I thought well, the house must be right over there behind those shops, I’ll just get that picture of that Moonbeam dog, and then I’ll have a look. But when I got across the street, something made me turn around and there they was, them gates. I’d been standing right there. And I looked back across, just stepped and peered around, and sure enough, up the hill behind the gates, you could see a corner of the house, white and pretty as a picture, just up around a corner of the drive. The gates was closed, of course.

Well, I had seen enough. It was real hot and I thought being in the cool would be better since them gates would stay there while I went inside the Elvis Mall. So I went in.

Now first I wanted just to look, you know. Kind of get to see what might be there, and it was something—Elvis pencils, Elvis key chains, Elvis records, Elvis books, Elvis pictures, just about every single thing you could think of about Elvis, so I thought I wasn’t going to have any more trouble patching things up with Melvina. I had it all planned out.

She’d be there at her register at Bortman’s, that’s the place I have my dinner every day. You can’t eat what they give you over to the hotel, food not even fit for pigs, Jim wouldn’t have even put it out, he would have pitched it right into the pit over to the ravine. But Bortman’s is nice, they give you meat-potatoes-and-greens of some kind, dollar eighty-nine plus tax, and you get it yourself on a tray so you don’t have to leave a tip. The plus tax part is on Melvina’s machine, she knows the tax, but she don’t have to, comes right out when she just hits the keys, click-click, like that, on the side like that, she doesn’t even chip them red nails of hers. I’d have nails like that, I didn’t have to be at those sheets in all that hot water every day.

I wish we hadn’t stopped talking like we did, Melvina and me. But she was the one who said, “There’s no such thing as any Elvis dog named Moonbeam.” Right out like that she said it. All I said to her was, “Elvis had a dog named Moonbeam; ain’t that a pretty name for a dog?” Then she said what she said and I said, “Well, I’m sorry, but that’s true. My husband, Jim, he knew a man who had a friend what ran the kennel, cared for all them dogs at Graceland, he told Jim that the first hound in the last litter right before Elvis died was called Moonbeam, cause he was born by the light of that full moon, and he was the one who howled all day and night on the anniversary day of Elvis’s death every single year until he died. The dog I mean.”

And that was when Melvina said, “Well, I don’t know how you could say that. I’m from Memphis,” she says, and she says it real stuck up like, I kinda thought she might be, that red hair and nails and sometimes wearing black stockings, but up til then she’d been the first nice person to me since I came, she’d say things like “Oh, hi” or “Boy that gravy sure looks good tonight” or “Sure you might not want some extra lemon for your ice tea?” Real friendly. But then she says that about Elvis’s dog named Moonbeam, I didn’t want to talk to her again, and so I didn’t. Then I went down to the Elvis Mall, like I said, and they had all this stuff.

But they didn’t have no picture there of Moonbeam. I couldn’t understand it. I asked everybody, every single person there behind the counter, all those pictures, all those books, “One of you has got to know,” I said. And this one, he had his hair pulled back into a ponytail, wore these funny glasses, they said he’s in charge and he said, “Lady, there isn’t any picture cause there wasn’t any dog. Someone made that up.”

I must have just stood there looking, cause he said, “Lady, trust me. I know everything there is to know about The King. And there ain’t no dog named Moonbeam.”

Well, I smiled to let him think so, just to be polite, just to let him think I valued his remarks. But I knew better.

First of all, Jim would never tell a lie. He never would have told that story if it wasn’t true. The other thing, there would have been a dog named Moonbeam. Moonbeam is a Elvis kind of name. And I know that dog would have cried and cried, just howled to the moon, just heaving up his voice right to the moon, just like his name, and would have done it every year at least. I can feel that kind of howl. I still do it every night into my pillow, and my Jim he wasn’t nowhere near as Elvis for the looks, except his hair.

What I think I’ll say to Melvina, tomorrow when I slide my tray down the line, real smooth, two waters and two ice teas, and gravy in the mashed potatoes, thank you very much, I think I’ll say, Well, Melvina, I think it’s that we both were right, you and me, about this here Elvis Moonbeam dog.

You’re right, I’ll say, there ain’t no picture of no Moonbeam dog. And I’m right, I’ll say, because I know my Jim he never lied. So sure as you and me are standing here, there was some kind of dog, and I am sure he had that name. What I’ll say is, I think maybe, Melvina, it’s them Elvis people, the ones out there, they run things, think they know just every single thing. I think this Moonbeam may have been a secret dog, the special one that Elvis had right up with him on the night he died, right there with him, right inside his bed, Elvis holding onto that there Moonbeam dog while he just slipped away, and now they don’t want anyone to know. But my Jim’s friend, he knew, and now, Melvina, you know, too. And so that Moonbeam dog’s our secret.

So maybe, I’ll say, when you get a day off, you could come with me to Graceland, and even if there ain’t no picture, I can show you in the kennel where my Jim said that that there Moonbeam lived right up until the day he up and died.

  © Robert Moulthrop, 2011

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