Treenie pushed backward through the front door. With both hands she carried a white box wrapped with a gold ribbon. She held the box carefully, as though it contained some precious relic. She placed the box on his lap then slid in beside him, close enough their thighs touched.
“Here you go, baby. I’m really sorry about the other night. I’m not trying to pressure you at all.”
The box felt light on his lap. “What is it?”
He pulled the ribbon away and dropped it on the couch. “You didn’t have to get me anything,” he said. It was true, nothing kills a good relationship like marriage—he’d learned that lesson twice—and though their discussion (as she put it) was a long way from killing anything, it did contain the virus that could evolve into something lethal. Still, it was nothing that required an apology, and certainly not a gift.
“We’re having fun. That’s all you want. I get it.”
He slipped his fingers between the box and lid and lifted and shook it all until the box bottom dropped onto his lap. A layer of tissue-paper covered the contents, and he scrunched it out of the way so the whole package looked like a small explosive device had detonated inside. He saw white fabric with a wide row of black and orange running lengthwise.
“What is this?”
“You’re going to love it.”
She stood and pulled a jumpsuit from the box. She held it by the shoulders and let it drape in front of her, revealing the suit’s full flamboyance. A tiger stretched across the chest in a great leap of motion. His back legs started at the left hip, and his head and extended claws sat on the right breast. A long ‘V’ cut in the center of the suit cleaved the tiger’s torso. A belt hung over the hips, covered in the same pattern that lined the out seam, and a double braid of gold chains looped from the belt.
Treenie’s head tilted toward the tiger. “This is the tiger suit he wore in seventy-three.”
“That’s the actual suit?”
Treenie had been holding it by the shoulders, her head poking over the top like she’d been modeling it, but with Ed’s question she dropped her hands and let the suit fall to her waist. The legs bunched on the floor, and the gold satin fabric that filled the wide space flared open.
“It’s not the suit. That’s on display at Graceland. This is an exact replica though. It’s not the cheapies you find around—I ordered this special from a place in Memphis.”
Ed leaned forward and rubbed a piece of the slick fabric between his thumb and fingers.
“Do you like it?”
Halloween was still five months off. The anniversary of the King’s death was almost three months off.
“What have you got in mind?”
“It’s for you … to wear.”
He leaned back on the couch and combed his fingers through his hair, troubling over the thinner spots just above his forehead.
“Halloween’s a ways off.”
“That’s not what I had in mind.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Well…” She let the “L” sound drag into silence, and she stepped over to one of the recliners and carefully placed the jumpsuit on the back of the chair. The legs dangled over the seat, and the flared bell-bottoms hung halfway to the floor. She patted the jumpsuit into place and ran her palms down the front, smoothing the material. “What I thought…” she spoke in a slow, steady cadence as she stepped across the living room, “…is that we could use it.”
“I thought maybe I could be one of your groupies.”
“Elvis had groupies?”
“More than he could handle.”
She ran her hand high up his thigh and kissed his earlobe.
“What do you think of that?” she whispered. “You could take advantage of a naïve groupie.”
Her breath had been hot in his ear, and now her tongue went back to sliding around his earlobe and occasionally sneaking into his ear canal.
“I don’t know if I’m quite up for that tonight.”
“How do you know unless you try?”
“That’s not what I mean. I just don’t feel like some big production.”
“You don’t like it, do you?”
“It’s a nice jumpsuit.”
“If I’d known you a few years ago I would have gotten you the black leather suit he wore on the sixty-eight comeback special. You would have been hot in that.”
She slid off the couch and knelt between Ed’s legs. She unbuckled his belt and undid his zipper. The doctors said it wasn’t all physical. He was capable—they assured him. They suggested relaxing or practicing on his own. They recommended that he not think about it, but most of the time he struggled to think of anything else, and already he’d begun to think about it. The empty jumpsuit watched him from across the room. He leaned his head onto the back edge of the couch, closed his eyes, and waited for Treenie to give up.
A few days later he gave it a test run. He had just showered and stepped into his bedroom with a towel around his waist. He pulled the box from the closet and set it on the bed. He cleared away the tissue paper. The leaping tiger across the chest was on top. Ed rubbed his hand over the gaping jaws and extended claws. He lifted the suit out of the box and held it up in front of him.
He dropped his towel and sat on the edge of the bed. He struggled for a few seconds, attempting to find the proper way to slide his legs through the opening in the chest. He poked his feet into the crotch a few times and had to bunch his legs together and bend and straighten them at intervals to maneuver each leg into its proper slot. He stood and pulled the pants to his waist. He adjusted the crotch and felt the freedom of going without boxers, and he wondered if Elvis wore underwear with his jumpsuits. He would have to remember to ask Treenie.
He worked through another set of awkward motions to finagle his arms into the sleeves, arching his back at times, bending his arms in strange ways, stretching fabric. He tugged the zipper to its end—three inches above his belly-button—and went to the full-length mirror on his closet door to inspect the results.
He saw a strange version of himself. Despite the long scar down his chest, simply exposing his skin to the V at his navel created some kind of sexuality, something primal and full of energy. The tiger, the bell-bottoms—he surrendered to their absurdity, their excess, the sheer suggestion of showmanship. He kicked out the flared fabric then brought his legs down into a wide stance and swiveled his hips. He circled his hands in a karate chop move he’d seen Elvis deliver on stage, and then he dropped into one of the dramatic crouches Elvis sometimes used to punctuate the end of a song. At the bottom of the maneuver he felt the fabric rubbing against his bare skin, and much to his surprise, he found himself nudging toward arousal.
He lay back on the bed, unzipped the zipper, and began stroking. So often lately he’d been unable or had been content to save the effort for when he was with Treenie, but this time he could feel it. He could finish. The release waited there, deep and low inside him. It started rolling upwards, a small roil of pearls—but he stopped. Treenie. Her idea, and he decided to save it for her.
A few nights later they got together to watch Elvis movies. They had made it through Spinout in their ongoing Elvis film festival, and this night Treenie brought over Easy Come, Easy Go and Double Trouble. They dimmed the lights, popped a bag of popcorn, huddled together on Ed’s leather couch, and began watching Easy Come, Easy Go. There was Elvis on Ed’s 54” television, playing another military man, this time a Navy diver named Ted Jackson. It was the same formula as all those movies: small-time adventure, a love interest or two, a male nemesis who Elvis would most likely fight in a bar, an authority figure, a few maladroitly wedged in musical numbers.
Within the first minutes of Easy Come, Easy Go Treenie was already completely engaged, but Ed paid more attention to her than the movie. During a long underwater sequence near the beginning Ed reached for the remote and turned down the volume.
“What are you doing?”
“The suit, I tried it on.”
“How was it?”
He shrugged his shoulders but smiled. “We could try it.”
She rubbed his leg and leaned in and whispered, “I’d like that.”
He mounted the stairs two at a time. In his room he undressed quickly and began maneuvering into the suit. Whatever he may have learned from the trial run did not readily return. He sat back on the bed and kicked and straightened his legs into the pants. He twisted his elbows and stretched his arms. A jolt of pain shivered from his neck into his left shoulder. He dipped his head to the right, trying to stretch his neck. He took a quick glance in the mirror at the tiger leaping across his chest, his own zipper scar splitting the tiger’s torso, the gold braided belt drooping from his waist, the giant flare of the bellbottoms. So he looked a little ridiculous—he felt pretty good, confident, and he had his expectations that Treenie would like it all, regardless.
He yelled downstairs, “You ready?”
Treenie yelled back, “I just wish you had ‘Also Sprach Zarathustra.’”
“I’ll explain it later.”
Ed strolled into the room with his arms out and his palms up in a what-do-you-think pose.
“Very nice,” she said and stepped to him and worked a series of wet kisses along his neck and up to his mouth. A trace of her lipstick remained on his cheek, and she wiped it off with her thumb.
“So, what now?”
“Well,” Treenie said, “if you were a big star and could have your way with a young girl backstage or at your hotel what would you want to do with her?”
“Hey, did he wear underwear with these things?”
“I don’t know.”
“Seems like the kind of guy that would wear underwear at all times.”
“The question is—are you wearing anything under that?”
She came in for another kiss, and this time she put her hand down the front of the jumpsuit, at the southern end of the ‘V’. And he was ready. No questions about it. And what occurred next occurred with an abandon and vigor Ed had not brought to bear in years—decades maybe. A night destined for the memory books, shelved right alongside that first glorious afternoon on Susie Tompkins’s strawberry sheets when they were sixteen, and that random and generous blow job delivered by a red-headed stranger in the Little Red Rooster parking lot not long before he met his first wife. Those moments still arose from time to time like angelic gifts.
It might be said that he and Treenie hungered for one another, and their mouths would have supplied the evidence—only ceasing physical contact to emit some sub-lingual groan or moan or ecstatic exhortation. Their hands found flesh and their fingertips explored as though this was all a new and superior way to commune with the world. And they found other versions of their bodies, of their selves, versions built to chase, produce, and experience pleasure, versions that knew nothing of shame or reticence. A new and intoxicating freedom.
And Ed kept up—strong, vigorous. No threatening lulls. No intrusions or portent of his own failings…of the edge dulling and disappearing. No. He went and went and went—such variety, such virility, the drive of a teenager again but with the wisdom to appreciate all that transpired—until they both were spent.
They had not moved from the living room when the passion took hold, and after its zenith Ed rested on the couch and Treenie nestled onto his chest. The suit lay wadded in a heap on the chair, a casualty of desperate disrobing.
“That was nice,” Treenie said.
“Hasn’t been that way in a long time.”
She snuggled in closer and sighed a satisfied sigh.
He waited for his breathing to slow, for his heart to settle.
She brushed her fingernails over his deflated penis and said, “I can’t wait for the encore.”
“You know what sounds good to me?”
“What?” She still petted him with her nails.
“I could go for a burger.”
“Yeah. I’m starving all the sudden.”
“Want to go to Steak ‘n Shake?”
She’d kept her head on his chest as they spoke. Now she lifted it and rolled over so she could make better eye contact.
“Only if you wear the suit.”
“No.” He laughed.
“It’d be perfect. Some random guy a tiger jumpsuit at Steak ‘n Shake eating onion rings and drinking a banana shake. I Guarantee people would take pictures.”
“I don’t think we need any pictures.” He slid from underneath her and went over to the suit. “But I am hungry.”
“Come on. You have to do it.”
“The drive thru.” It wasn’t a question.
He shook his head no, but picked up the suit anyway. “The drive thru…” He sat down and began working on the legs. “But that’s it.”
So off they went, Ed in his flying tiger jumpsuit, sans underwear. Treenie in her shorts and tank top, sans panties. They were two people lost in their own time and place. They knew it too, and laughed about it. “I hope we don’t get pulled over,” Treenie said. “I should ask for an application,” Ed joked. “Tell them I have previous experience—Burger King, store 1524, Birmingham, Alabama.”
And Treenie told the story about the Christmas Lisa Marie wanted to see snow and there was none in Memphis, so Elvis called for the jet to be fueled up and they flew 1500 miles… just to see the snow, and then flew back.
“Must be nice to able to do that on a whim,” Ed said. “Good thing I only wanted a burger.”
“You don’t need a plane to get whatever you want.”
They pulled into line behind a Suburban at the drive thru.
“Sure you don’t want to go in? It’s not too late.”
They were quiet. A newer country song—something by a guy with two first names—played softly.
“You know, maybe you were right.”
“About going inside?”
“The suit—I haven’t had that much fun in a long time.”
The building glowed white in the night. Ed rubbed the braid draping from the tiger suit’s belt. The Suburban’s red brake lights tinted their faces.
“Come here.” She leaned toward him. She grabbed his head with both her hands. For the longest time she did not say or do anything—just held his head and gazed at him. The song on the radio faded out and another one began. The Suburban rolled forward, and she finally kissed him.
As for their order, they went all out. Burgers, onion rings, chocolate shakes—more food than they would eat, but the world belonged to them just then, and they desired a feast. After they received the food, before they rolled too far from the drive thru window, Treenie checked the order, and sure enough there’d been a mistake.
“Fries,” she said.
“No onion rings?” Ed pulled along the curb.
“Just fries.” She smiled at him.
“I’m not going inside. I’ll eat the fries.”
“I’ll go.” She winked at him and bounded from the car, receipt in hand.
Ed watched her go. She was right, about the suit, about moving in. She was right. And he would tell her. The second she opened the car door, he would tell her. Maybe you should move in, with an eye toward … the longer term.
He could still see her as she strolled up to the front counter and leaned over the stools by the front register. She showed the receipt to an employee, and he nodded and headed toward the back. She took a seat at the far end of the counter and gazed off toward the kitchen activity. Yes. He could see them together far into the future. And he liked watching her knowing that, and knowing that soon she would be coming back to him. He sipped from his milkshake and waited.
Four teenagers—two couples—came up to pay. Ed imagined they were on a double-date—a movie and a milkshake. One of the girls carried a large yellow purse, and something about it Made Ed’s chest go gooey, like something warm was leaking there and filling him up.
The girl set her purse on the counter and soon she and her girlfriend were laughing together. The boys waited to pay, hands in pockets, doing their best to pretend they weren’t impatient. Ed sipped his milkshake again and used his straw to dig out the cherry. (All the while he took care not to drip on the suit—he figured such a garment would undoubtedly require a trip to the dry cleaners.) As he chewed, another man drifted toward the counter. He wore camouflage pants and a gray hoodie, and he held a phone pressed to his ear. He paced to the counter then to the door. He ducked to peer out the window, and after seeing whatever he needed to see or not see, he looked over his shoulder toward the high school kids.
This guy seemed out of place in a way Ed couldn’t quite pinpoint. He nonchalantly paced back over to the counter, put his back to the kids and to Treenie, and, with aplomb and confidence, scooped the purse from the counter and cradled it close to his body. As he started for the door, he kept the phone pressed to his ear.
He had been invisible to the teenagers and to Treenie. But Ed saw it all. He said, “Hey,” when the guy scooped the purse, as if his voice from inside the car could disrupt the action. And as the guy strolled through the exit, Ed, acting on instinct and adrenaline, exited his car and stepped forward and said “Hey” again.
The guy looked up. He had dirty blond hair and three days of stubble. He tucked his phone into his pocket but otherwise kept on.
Ed stepped into the path, and though dread seeped into his feet, he had every intention of holding his ground.
“That’s not yours.”
The guy stopped halfway down the sidewalk. His eyes blazed with a distant intensity. His nostrils flared. After a second, he tilted his head.
“The fuck you supposed to be?”
“That’s not yours.”
“The purse—it’s not yours.”
The guy cradled the purse close to his body, like a yellow football. He began a slow, untimid march toward Ed.
It dawned on Ed that this man, though he appeared to be a 135-pound petty thief, could be armed. It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a purse snatcher to carry a knife, maybe even a cheap revolver.
The guy didn’t stop until he’d come within an arm’s length of Ed, and Ed thought: do not get stabbed in a Steak n’ Shake parking lot. Do not get shot while wearing an Elvis jumpsuit. He imagined the EMTs trying to piece together just what the fuck went down: a middle-age man in a tiger jumpsuit with a gaping chest wound and a stray yellow purse lying nearby.
He instinctively put up his hands.
“Are you calling me a thief?”
Not in a Steak n’ Shake parking lot. Not over some tweaker nabbing a teenager’s purse for its lone $20 bill and her parents’ Master Card.
Ed stepped back. “Hey, man…. I didn’t mean anything…”
The guy closed the space, like they were engaged in some strange, blade-less fencing match and he intended to claim the surrendered territory.
“Who the fuck are you?”
Ed could smell the guy’s breath—cigarettes and rot.
Do not get stabbed. Ed blurted out, “Elvis.”
The guy narrowed his eyes. They still glistened with intensity. He worked his jaw in a phantom chew and sent his tongue circumnavigating his lips.
“Aren’t you dead?”
Ed looked into the restaurant. He wanted just then for this whole thing to be over. He hoped the high school kids would notice the missing purse and rush out. He wanted Treenie to waltz through that door with a bag of onion rings. But Treenie still sat at the counter, and the kids were moving toward a different exit. They did not even know what they were missing, what had been stolen from them.
The guy noticed Ed staring into the restaurant. He glanced over his shoulder then back to Ed.
“Elvis died on the shitter.” He smiled as he spoke.
Ed could not discern if this was merely a random factoid or an overt threat, but the guy did not leave long for Ed to ponder. His smile contorted to a grimace. He took a deep breath. The sinew in his neck pressed against his skin, and he shot forward. He did not attempt to slip past. No, he seemed to be intent upon running through Ed, as if neither of them was more corporeal than the morning fog.
Ed did manage to grasp one of the purse straps for a second and to hold on until it snapped. He lost his balance and slid backwards on the pavement. The thief’s footsteps padded off into the quiet forest of the night, and surely he would never be caught.
Ed lay there, staring into the light-polluted sky. Traffic hummed out on the highway. A car door slammed in some unquantifiable distance. The sidewalk was warm, but his lower back blazed with a furnace of pain. His elbow ached. He could still smell the guy—a three-day-old wet towel smell, tinged ever-so-slightly with a redolence of urine.
Treenie would be there in a minute. She would fuss over him, touch his cheek, ask what happened. He would tell the story, say he did what he could. He’d tell her he was okay—though any bruises always took longer to heal these days. He’d joke and say, He freaked out when I told him I knew karate.
He stood up. His heart had slowed, but his back and elbow still burned. Already a deep stinging had developed in his hand where he’d clung to the purse strap, and undoubtedly other nicks and aches would emerge.
Treenie finally backed through the door, a bag of onion rings in hand, and for a second there, he ignored the pain and all the pain yet to come.