Love Me Tender by Leah Mueller
Mike and I slumped beside our restaurant table and stared at the overhead television.
The screen seemed enormous, especially for 1977. Our Greyhound tour had almost ended, and we were heading home to downstate Illinois. The two of us had purchased a 30-day Ameripass, which enabled us to jump on and off the bus at will. We’d seen such exciting towns as Winnemuca, Nevada and Joplin, Missouri.
I didn’t care to glimpse the interior of a Greyhound ever again. During the past week, I’d developed the habit of retching every time I stepped into a bus. The combined stench of sweat, cigarette smoke, and cheap disinfectant overpowered my senses.
Every morning, I staggered towards my seat, holding my nose. Mike encircled my waist with one arm and helped me navigate the aisles. The poor guy even paid for my bus ticket with his trust fund money. This generous act enraged his conservative parents. Mike was their only child. They had higher aspirations for him than becoming the lover of a bipolar vagabond with no prospects for her future.
Our bus had stopped somewhere near St Louis for a scheduled rest break. The adjacent restaurant served beer and cheap burgers. At eighteen, we were old enough to drink in Missouri, but not Illinois. I didn’t care much for beer, but I ordered one anyway.
The television sounded deafeningly loud. Its screen featured gleaming images of Elvis Presley. He strutted across an endless series of enormous stages, belting out renditions of “Jailhouse Rock” and “Hound Dog.” Elvis’ slicked-back hair and petulant expression always struck me as ridiculous. So did his trademark ass wiggle.
It was just my luck to be caught in an Elvis Presley vortex. “God, look at this dipshit.” I pushed away from the table and shook my head. “Why are they doing this to us? Isn’t our bus ride punishment enough?”
Mike looked amused. “He’s the epitome of middle-aged Christian housewife fantasies. I’m sure they love him in these parts.”
Suddenly, I realized that everyone in the restaurant was glaring at us. Two women at a nearby table gave us the stink eye and snorted in disgust. A couple of men grumbled, then returned to masticating their lunch. Even the server shook her head and turned away.
An announcer’s voice burst from the television. It sounded both dramatic and reverent. “We say goodbye to Elvis Presley, who died today, August 16, 1977, at age 42. This day will always be remembered with great sadness. Goodbye, Elvis.”
Mike’s eyes became huge and terrified. “I guess we’d better get the hell out of here.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “The bus will leave soon, anyway.”
The two of us filed out the door to our waiting coach. For once, I didn’t gag at the threshold. We found our seats and settled into them without whispering sarcastic comments about the other passengers. As the bus pulled away, I could still see Elvis, flickering at the end of the restaurant.
Leah Mueller is the author of ten prose and poetry books. Her new book, “The Destruction of Angels” (Anxiety Press) is forthcoming in October 2022. Leah’s work appears in Rattle, NonBinary Review, Midway Journal, Citron Review, The Spectacle, Miracle Monocle, Outlook Springs, Atticus Review, Your Impossible Voice, etc. She is a 2022 nominee for Best of the Net. Her flash piece, “Land of Eternal Thirst” will appear in the 2022 edition of Sonder Press’ “Best Small Fictions” anthology. Website: www.leahmueller.org.