The Pearl River Excursion (Part 3)

At seven-thirty that night, twelve senior club members, along with Ewan (by special invitation) and Ishani (who knew how to operate the new coffee machine), gathered for an emergency session of the club committee. The clubhouse was a small timber building with a high sloped ceiling and stained-glass windows. It had previously served as the local Presbyterian church. While much of the original décor had now been replaced, parts of it remained, some were adapted for new uses. The club had added a jukebox, karaoke machine, a bar, and a selection of memorabilia.  

At the far end of the building, beneath a single hanging light, everyone chatted while Ishani served their coffees. Finally, when everyone had their drinks, the committee members sat on two long pews that had been kept specifically for meetings. Ewan and Ishani, not being committee members, sat to the side on foldout chairs. Harry stepped up to the pulpit and cleared his throat. “I know this meeting was called on short notice,” he said, “so I appreciate you all being here tonight. Thank you very much.” He looked around at the curious expressions on the faces watching him. He took a slow, deep breath. “I have extraordinary news… Elvis is alive.” 

Groans and sighs of annoyance came from the pews. 

Brendon shook his head. “Harry, not you as well.” 

Tony turned and glared at Ewan. “This is your doing, I’ll bet.” 

Jerry snatched up his jacket and stood up. “I can’t believe you dragged me down here for this! I’m missing my son’s basketball game.” He headed for the door; the clunking of his boots on the wooden floor echoed through the room. 

“Hold on, now,” said Ronnie. 

Jerry stopped. Everyone hushed and looked at Ronnie. Ronnie was the oldest member of the Walnut Ridge Elvis Impersonators Club. He was a slight man with a little pot belly and an oversized head. He was a terrible Elvis impersonator, having a thick Irish accent and almost no rhythm, but he tried. Previously, he had been the local Presbyterian minister; the clubhouse had been his church. When the church closed a few years prior, he organised for the building to be sold to the club for a pittance, rather than taking top dollar from a property investor and seeing the building demolished. Ronnie then joined the club—more out of love for the building than for Elvis—and the club expressed its gratitude in giving him a seat on its committee. 

“Let’s not part in bitterness like this,” pleaded Ronnie. “I know, I know, this is not the first time Ewan has claimed to have found Elvis. But you all have your ways of showing love for Elvis, and this is just how Ewan shows his. We can’t blame him for that, can we? And Ewan did not call this meeting—Harry did. Harry is a reasonable man, I’m sure we can all attest to that. Not only that, but he is also club president. He deserves to be heard, doesn’t he? I say we nip this in the bud, and then we can go in peace. If Elvis is alive, then let Harry show proof. If not, then we put the matter to bed here and now.” 

The hall was silent a moment. Everyone watched Jerry. He screwed his face up, clenched his fist. Finally, he huffed and came back to the pews. “All right,” he said. “But I put forward the motion that if this is just another one of Ewan’s phony Elvis sightings, then Harry should be removed as president.” 

An argument broke out. Some defended Harry and others sided with Jerry. Ewan watched on, clutching his folder. Ishani sipped her coffee. Just when it looked like the argument was about to turn into a full-on fistfight, the warm twang of an electric guitar reverberated through the little hall, as sweet and soothing as a hot chocolate on a snowy day. The committee’s shouts faded, their snarling faces relaxed, and soon every one of them was silent, everyone was still. One by one they turned toward the narrow stage at the back of the room. There, seated on a foldout chair next to an old amplifier, Harry gently strummed his beloved Hagstrom Viking—the same model guitar Elvis played in his ’68 Comeback Special. He began to sing Are You Lonesome Tonight? Harry might not have mastered the Elvis hip shake, and he lacked the Elvis charm, but boy could he sing. Jerry had often said that if you closed your eyes and listened to Harry sing, it was as close as a person could get to being in the same room as Elvis Presley. Everyone listened. A few sang along. Harry concluded the verse and let the final chord ring out, then set his guitar in its stand beside the amp. He turned to the committee members watching him. “You don’t need to argue,” he said. “Jerry, I second your motion. If I’m wrong about Elvis, then I’ll stand down as club president.” 

It was agreed. 


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