Creative Writing

Published on July 20th, 2015 | by Rafael Alvarez


“Cherry in Magnolia”- Part 5: Smooth, Fast & In High Gear!


“Don’t fall or trip on things, stay away from happenings…”– Nancy Sinatra

By the time the hearse pulled into the cemetery driveway—inching along the boulevard named for the man in the back, cops blocking mourners who would have jumped beneath its wheels as willingly as a jihadist in Tel Aviv—Cherry had collected more than $30 in requests for songs made famous by Elvis Presley. 


He didn’t even have to sing (a good thing), not much anyway. Just about everyone who dropped change or paper in his pink and black hat took up the song themselves. These were not the beautiful people at Graceland the night before.

They were the more beautiful people: Denise from Huntsville, Jerry out of Kankakee, the roly-poly twins Alice and Arlene who took the Greyhound after the bars closed in Vandergrift.

Alice: “When through the woods and forest glades I wander …”

Arlene: “How great thou art …”

Most were awful but some were sublime and by the time Cherry put his concertina away—a glint of gold on the periphery, black vinyl in the grooves of his master’s voice—he’d squeezed life into “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” a dozen times, “Suspicious Minds,” for the conspiracy theorists, and “Love Me Tender” just about every other song.

Few got through all the verses without breaking down. Standing up, touching his toes and folding the ball cap over his earnings like a purse, Cherry snaked and edged and pushed and pardoned-me through the crowd and—just about the time the stone masons had entered the mausoleum with a wheelbarrow full of sand, buckets of water and trowels—spotted the car on the front lawn of a dentist’s office cater-corner across the street from the graveyard,

Charlene the Pig stood barefoot on the roof taking pictures with a 110 instamatic camera, a flash cube (ain’t no time for squares, skank-bucket, “Let’s get real gone …”) popping into the advancing twilight.   

Inside the mausoleum, workmen began to seal the crypt, first with a double slab of concrete, then with blank sheets of marble to be inscribed somewhere down the line.

“He really was the best looking man I’ve ever seen,” said a woman buying a 1935-to-1977 t-shirt from a black teenager who had a shopping bag full of them.

“Ten dollars, ma’am,” said the kid.

“Give me two,” said the woman.  “Make it three.”

Leaving the bicycle behind, Cherry crossed the highway toward the Monte Carlo, bird-dogging so easy to do in a mob, and sat watching it for hours before the crowd had dispersed and the police on the scene began giving away the floral arrangements to fans per the orders of Vernon Presley. 


He watched as Charlene slid down the windshield on her ass like it was a sliding board, rolled off of the hood and began running back and forth across the street grabbing as many flowers as she could, handing them to Willie—who dutifully put them in the road-filthy car—before going back for more.   

When the cops finally told her “No more,” Charlene ran back to the Monte Carlo and wedged herself into the passenger seat.

Before Willie could turn the ignition, stems and petals poking into his neck and shoulders, a sneezing attack coming on, Cherry grabbed a cab that had just dropped off a couple from Kansas City—“party’s over,” said someone who watched them jump out, anxious and unsteady—and told the driver to follow the gold car with the black roof.

The cabbie nodded toward the Monte Carlo, “That one Chief?”

“Yes, wherever it goes.”

“Ain’t going nowhere ’til some of this mess clears out.”

“That’s alright,” said Cherry, settling into the back seat, taking the hat from his satchel and separating the dollar bills from the change. “Just don’t lose it.”

“No sir.”

Cherry had a plan: Follow closely (neither Willie nor Charlene would know they were being tailed), wait until one of them had to take a piss (10-to-1 says it’s the tub, said Cherry to the cabbie, who wanted nothing to do with it), grab the car (lemon-squeezee), and put Charlene on the street.

And then, on the drive home—after giving his prize a good wash and an oil change, pull some kind of trick to get some new tires, at least on the front—he’d lecture his younger brother about how far to stick you neck out for piece-of-ass and how far not to.

And savor thoughts of the soft crab sandwiches on white toast with lettuce and tomato they’d enjoy together at Ma’s kitchen table deep in the bleeding heart of the Holy Land. The Local Voice Ligature

Part 1: Who Died and Made You Elvis

Part 2: Getting There Is Half The Fun

Part 3: Wednesday, August 17, 1977 – All Hopped Up and Ready to Go

Part 4: Thursday, August 18, 1977 — Sixteen Coaches Long

"Cherry in Magnolia"- Part 6: Take Me To The River
“Cherry in Magnolia” – Part 4: Thursday, August 18, 1977 — Sixteen Coaches Long

About the Author

Rafael Alvarez is a reporter, short story writer & screenwriter based in Baltimore. He has been visiting & writing about Mississippi since 1984. A former staff writer for HBO's "The Wire," his new book is a collection of short fiction called "Tales From the Holy Land."

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