“Here goes everything,” I mumble and push the button. A whirring noise starts. In its cantankerous manner that reflects my own attitude, the garage door shifts against its will, lurches, and swings upward.
“What’s this?” Aunt Rae pats an unmarked box, large enough to hold a small refrigerator. The oscillating fan we set up to combat the Dallas heat stirs her long gray hair. “A hidden treasure?”
“Might be that old lamp Stu’s first boss gave us for a wedding present. Pretty hideous.” I straighten a poster board sign that reads “$1 each.” Stu’s business ties remind me of dinners and dances, parties and pain.
Rae separates the arthritic box tabs, sending dust particles in every direction. The dust sticks to my sweaty legs. I dig beneath the crumpled packing paper until I reach gleaming black pottery. Recognition slams into me, and a prickling heat crawls up the back of my neck. My stomach turns lumpy and sticky with irritation like my mother’s fig preserves that Daddy pretended to like but which I scraped off into the trash. The heat of the day presses in on me, intensifies like a solar flare. At the same time, sounds and awareness of others recede into the distance like a fog curling back toward the bay.
I shake off my crazy reaction. It’s nothing. I won’t let it be anything. I slap the tabs down, push the box toward the corner. Cardboard scrapes concrete. “It’s nothing.”
“Oh, come on.” Rae puts a hand on my arm. “This lamp I gotta see.”
“Leave it alone,” I snap. In my head, I hear my mother’s shocked gasp. “Claudia,” she’d say, “if you can’t say something nice . . .”
I should go through these things alone, although I haven’t bothered. My weakness angers me more than my aunt’s interference. “I’m sorry, Rae.”
She waves off my apology and dips her arms into the mounds of paper. Heaving, she lifts the object from inside the box and staggers backward. “What is this?” She grunts and struggles under the bulk.
The box catches on a chiseled nose. I step forward and tug the box loose. My stomach folds in on itself like cardboard crumpling. I kick the box out of the way (a little harder than necessary) and wince at my already-sore toe.
I embrace the hard edges of the base. Propping one knee beneath the bust, I brace an arm under the ceramic chin and a hand on the smooth, round head. “Aunt Rae,” I say, embarrassed as I maneuver the bulky pottery around to face her, “meet”
“My God!” My aunt’s mouth goes slack.
“No,” my voice cracks, “just Elvis.”
It isn’t a sculpture of any report. Cheap and tacky, the Elvis bust ranks right up there with black-velvet wall hangings from Tijuana. Since the first time I saw him over twenty years ago, I’ve wanted to get rid of Elvis. The heat of my anger burns hot until it slowly begins to evaporate, forming at first a barrier in my thoughts like a steamed-up mirror.
I remember Stu’s college apartment where the bust held a place of honor on a stool in the corner of the den. Stu’s giant stereo speakers were laid on their sides next to Elvis as if bowing to his sovereignty.
“What he said then,” Rae whispers, “it was true.”
Confused, I start to question her, but a flurry of expressions flicker across her face. She reaches out to touch the bust, then pulls back. Her many silver rings flash in the early morning sunlight, sending a kaleidoscope of colors bouncing around the garage, as uncatchable as her look. “You can’t sell this, Claudia.”