ELVIS, MY FATHER by ‘Donna Williams’ 2016
To my father, ‘Jackie Paper’, I was known as Polly. What follows is a proposed theatre show called Elvis, My Father, based on a true story and featuring memories of my father, a man who would tell me he was Elvis. The show is available to perform at no cost under a Creative Commons Licence as long as I am credited as its writer and I would ask that my husband, Chris Samuel, to be informed of any performances so he has a chance to experience the show.
Elvis, My Father by Donna Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
“Wow Digger Dunn, remember Bedrock motors well, but what you have written i always think of those days not a truer word has been spoken or written i was there for a big part of it as you know Donna Williams some very wild times i must say but you yourself came out being the SHINING light of it all little sis, loved uncle Jack or arky as he was called sometimes i must say ive missed him everyday since he passed he was a one and only character he was to bad we cant relive the goods times a true story written so well. Dave xxxx”.
“Its a lovely story except its not really a story. It was real life. What a life. I remember parts of it. The house. The pool. Your room upstairs the velvet wallpaper. Funny how things like that stick. And potato cakes and chips. Still love potato cakes. LOL. I remember if there was a party there was always a fight and I seem to remember a gun. Fists through the walls. Some excitement those parties. Helen McDonagh”
BLUE SUEDE SHOES – ELVIS PRESLEY
In her own world Polly’s father Jack was “Jackie Paper” from the song, “Puff The Magic Dragon”… who loved that rascal Puff, and brought him strings and ceiling wax and other fancy stuff… that he had found in the shonky second hand cars he traded in at Bedrock Motors… but if you asked Jack, he’d have told you, he was Elvis, Elvis… her father.
Polly never called her older brother by anything. Her mother eventually hit her until she could force her to spit the word “muh-therr”. Only her father freely got a name of sorts and he accepted he was “Jackie Paper” even though, maybe, he’d have loved just once to have been called “Dad”.
Jack was like Willie Wonker, not the Johnny Depp version, the 1970s Gene Wilder version. Magical, eccentric, a walking ‘fruit salad’.
Jack would keep contact in small doses, playing hard to get so Polly would pursue instead of defend, always leaving her wanting more so she learned what it was to want.
Jack would suddenly jump up on the snooker table and sing and dance like Elvis. He would use made up language for everything, spoke through objects and made the cat speak and dance. He would delight like a child over sparkly things, velvet, sequins, roses and kittens. And he understood the allure of chocolate.
They had chocolate every Friday night. And I don’t mean they’d have a snack of it after dinner. I mean they had chocolate bars for their dinner, all of them.
Jackie Paper would arrive home with one of every type of chocolate bar and he’d say all the names of the chocolate bars and ask which they’d like and they’d dive into the box and he’d rejoice in hearing Polly squeal “Crunchie”, “Polly Waffle”, “Kit Kat”. He was getting language from her and she never felt worked on or therapised. It had the added benefit that she felt like a ‘real girl’, ‘just a kid’, ‘just one of the kids’ and there is no kid whose identity and self esteem needs that more than a kid with autism.
LET’S HAVE A PARTY – ELVIS PRESLEY
Jack’s car yard, Bedrock Motors, a place of shonky cars for as little as $150. The workers were ex crims from the local prison, usually folks her father knew from his days as a Fitzroy Poor Boy when it was a place of slums and crime and bush people seeking work in the city.
These were money savers, penny pinchers, 2nd car wives, students, nostalgics, people looking for a project. These were people without education, professions or prospects, people who lived on the cheap of chips and potato cakes.
These were people on welfare with more kids than they could easily afford who paid off a $150 car in weekly installments of $10. These were single women in the 60s without jobs in a time before the ‘single mother’s pension’ who used their bodies with which to pay off the furniture, the rent, or a $300 car.
These were people who paid off a $150 car with their household goods, or goods they, their brother or a cousin twice removed had burgled from someone else. These were people who swapped guns and porn for cars or people who needed a car bought under false I.D that they could ditch straight after the armed robbery.
Polly was a five year old self entertainment factory and this meant when she was dropped off at Jack’s car yard she indulged herself in whatever buzz she could find… his big glossy pricing signs and colored vinyl flags, scribbling in his receipt books and dropping his tits and arse wall calendar that marked the sales of various salesmen into the fiery incinerator to his screams of “Polly, no,… don’t! She’d get into the shed with its stolen goods and buzz on press button this and turn dial that, on the surfaces and textures in there, the things hidden and high up, glossy magazines full of nude people, gun cartridges and shiny bullets Polly would put in her mouth.
In the 60s Bedrock Motors had characters like Cyril The Fox and Ron The Pig, The Sparrow, Digger Dunn, Ha Ha…
By the late 70s Jack owed some percentage to cops. They dropped in to the car yard owning the place, developed a percentage in the business, attended Jack’s parties, lavishing themselves on his food, his grog, his snooker table, his swimming pool or with his wife. Elvis, the king, was losing his crown.
Jack was a Jack of all trades and did his own repairs, panel beating, filling and spray painting. If a car had lost its suspension, he could fill the boot with bricks. If a car’s driver seat had lost its bolts, he could hold it in place with a load of twine strategically bound to everything around it. If a car didn’t have a spare, take it from another car. If a panel had been shoved in he could get a bucket of filler and keep filling then sand it off so nobody could tell.
If it had rust, he had learned from his pal Vinnie to use sticking plasters over the hole much the way you’d address a hole in a finger, then a layer of filler and nobody would know. A sand and a spray and a clean and, bingo, you couldn’t believe he could sell such a gem so cheap.
“A quick game’s a good game, Polly’, he’d tell her.
JAILHOUSE ROCK – ELVIS PRESLEY
There’s ‘interests’ and then there is ‘merging with things’. When a Buddhist monk is deep in meditation becoming one with the silence or ‘the light’, losing all attachment to body, to mind, to emotions, this is not being ‘focused on a special interest’, it is the process of ‘merging’.Merging, to master it, requires high level skills in dissociating from one’s own body, mind, emotions.
Polly used to merge with the wind, putting her face into it, her eyes closed, losing all awareness of her separateness from it. She would merge with the charged dust particles swimming and swirling and dancing against a blue summer sky. She merged with the smell of lemon blossoms and the buzzing of bees, with the feel of velvet under her palm, with the wild flying sparkly water drops of the hose and the sprinkler.
Then it was the flocked velvet wallpaper, the tinkling glass chandelliers she’d climb up to to clatter and try and spin. It was the beaded curtain she’d stand in for hours clattering its strings. It was the cat she’d lay with, two feet apart, merging with its breathing, its purring, mapping its patterns until she knew what it was to feel like a cat.
But the first time Polly faced a war over her over-developed mastery of merging was when she began to become a doorbell.
Wind, wind, wind, ring, ring, ring, ring, ring, wind, wind, ring…. Hour after hour, scream after frustrated and infuriated scream by her mother who failed to appreciate her bliss. The bell cover was removed. She wound the bell: “brrrr”, “brrr”.
Polly arrived home from school to find the ringable doorbell was gone completely. In its place was a push button one with no bright sparkly “ring”, just a 1970s “bing-bong” chime. If there was one thing she loved more than a winder it was a press button. Press, press, press, bing-bong, bing-bong, bing…
Her mother took the batteries out. Polly was like a junkie going through withdrawal. She took the back panel off, found the chime bars and struck the chime bars with her finger: ping, ping, ping, ping, ping….
Then Jackie Paper, planted the tuning fork…
When Polly found it, the magical musical metal tuning fork was just standing there, staring back at her from the hinge of her closet, just standing there like a tall stiff soldier waiting to be collected. She explored it, struck it, and… ping!
From there it would live in her pocket, supporting her amidst the isolation, alienation and bullying. When distressed she’d take out the tuning fork and …. ping, ping, ping.
WALK A MILE IN MY SHOES – ELVIS PRESLEY
Her cousins and some of the local kids would later call the brothel like house ‘a mansion’. The big ground diggers had gouged a huge 30 foot and up to six feet deep sloping hole in the ground in the shape of a kidney bean with cut in mud steps leading in from the shallow end.
The mud disappeared under wet cement as big men with bare arms barrowed it into the hole. Trowels smoothed it up the sides of the hole and had she ever seen a cake being iced perhaps Polly might have said it was like a cake being iced in reverse. But it would be another two years before she could fluently understand sentences and four more years before she would be anything more than echolalic.
Her little brother was still bombed out on Valium. He’d be kept that way until he could hold a cup and avoid the baby bottles. One day he would, walk and then run fast enough to escape his two siblings obediently holding him down as his mother plied him with more pills or gained enough functional speech to be understood and one day tell. But more likely by the time he could tell, like the rest of them, he wouldn’t. Such was the family culture.
The biggest bathtub in the world filled with clean crystalline water from the hose. Up and up, and up it rose, higher than Polly’s head. Finally, it shimmered with diamonds of sunlight caught upon the water. Polly plunged herself in and disappeared under the surface. She swam like a dolphin the length of the bottom. Then threw herself this way and that, feeling the weight of the water holding her, giving way.
Her little brother was toddling now. Polly saw him fly, flung by their alcoholic mother. Into the deep pool, he landed with a splash, going under. Polly saved him over and over and over.
Now Polly laid on her back, floating, staring up into the sky. Then under the water, blowing air out of her nose staring up through the glassy surface of the water, untouchable in a world under glass.
The little brother was three now, an escape artist with his own tricycle. He threw the Thumbelina doll into the pool. The wound up toy baby doll moved like a baby drowning under the water. Polly would rescue the doll, over and over and over.
The little brother was in the pool with Polly now. Clad in yellow floaties on each arm. Jack came home late most nights in a house that smelled of cigarettes and beer and never cooked dinner. On weekends he was the guy Polly saw through the bars of her attic bedroom, mowing the front lawn.
Jack had been to the fish pond with a net and a bucket. He strode to the pool with the bucket full of gold fish and set them all free. They swam around Polly and she dived under, swimming free with the fish. Then Jack jumped in.
She’d never know if any fish went through the pool filter. But with a net Jack caught them up again, one after the other, back into the bucket and into the pond. You’d never know when that mood was going to take him again. But it did, over, and over, and over again.
BRIDGE OVER TROUBLED WATER – ELVIS PRESLEY
The forty foot palm tree could be seen from far away, towering over the six foot brick wall front fence that protected the street from people like them. The palm tree had become Polly’s closest friend. During the insanity of domestic violence, it was there, solid in the dark, unaffected, grounded.
The front yard had a pine tree full of spiraling branches you could climb up and up and up into the colored lights. Jack had put them up in there to make their own giant Christmas tree just like ‘The Richies’ had in places like Toorak.
For Polly’s tenth birthday Jack had got her a cat. Salami was grey with white markings. She had loved him up from a kitten to a cat and he had made it to at least one year old and had still not been poisoned, shot, or strangled by her mother.
Polly and Salami would lay on the purple carpet of her attic bedroom about two feet from each other and… breathe. They would get into sync, eyes fixed on each other and their breathing would become like two musicians playing an instrument in harmony. The autistic girl who had no friends, had a bestie.
She was in the front garden and Jack was with Salami. Salami was rolling about on his back on the grass.
“Watch”, Polly, watch carefully, said Jack.
Jack slowly stroked Salami’s belly with a finger. Salami laid there mesmerized, arms over his head in surrender. Jack held an opened hand above the cat’s head, turning it clockwise, then
“Schpoor, de schpoor, de schpoor”, he cooed in his mother’s old language known as ‘The wee ways and the pee ways’. Salami was under Jack’s spell.
“See, Polly”, said her father, his pale blue eyes flashing wildly, “I am Jesus… and I can hypnotise animals”.
WELCOME TO MY WORLD – ELVIS PRESLEY
Somewhere between gunfire and smashed glass, between an attachment disordered alcoholic mother a rampaging maniac father and the house being regularly filled with drunken party goers, Polly was mute again.
Derailed and lost in the thinly disguised loony bin of the family home Polly ambled around in a associative catatonic dream state being comfortably numb. But whilst her mutism episodes were commonly for days or weeks, this latest one had so far now been months.
She had wandered her way back up the stairs to the barred attic bedroom she slept in above the rest of the house down below. As she got to the opened doorway she stopped dead and screamed. Something… or someone… was in HER bed.
From her bed, he was staring at her, armless, dressed in a wedding dress and sitting up. She grabbed the intruder by the hair and dragged him out of her bed. She dragged him to the stairs and threw him down. His six foot frame cluttered its clumsy way down the stairs flounced with white netting.
But no sooner had the demon been banished, it was on its way back. It walked its creepy way, step by step, back up the stairs, aided and abetted by one crazy grimacing father who hid like a puppet master behind the drag queen mannequin bringing it to life as a life sized marionette.
The creature was almost at the landing. Polly attacked it again, a little wild cat kicking and flailing. Jack laughed himself silly. His laughter, contagious, infected her as her rage ran out of steam. She gave in, tamed by the crazy man.
The screaming, the rage, the laughter, had broken the spell. Polly had returned to the body, re-incarnated. She began to self chatter again in whispered mutterings, to recite TV jingles.
Around the house Jack jumped up on the snooker table, gyrating as he belted out a song into an invisible microphone. Then he announced to her and his imagined audience, “I AM Elvis”. And Elvis’ voice came through her father, singing to her, for her and she again became his daughter.
THE WONDER OF YOU – ELVIS PRESLEY
It was Christmas Eve, 1973. The parents were off their tits again with the same old “who screwed who” and “I’m going to kill you” scenario. It was still guns blasting holes in walls, broken ribs, smashed in teeth, Jack being Jack Nicholson in a scene from The Shining. His wife being a Borderline Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. A beer coated 45 record went around and around on the turntable. Broken glass sprawled all over the kitchen floor. Party goers who had drunk their fill, swam in the pool, shagged what they felt like had ran away to leave the kids with the aftermath, again.
Polly and her older brother bundled their three year old brother him into the only safe lockable room in the house – the ironically named living room. The older brother ran the gauntlet of the rampaging maniacs killing each other in the rest of the house. Next he made it back with the presents.
Amidst the screams and crashes beyond of that locked door, the older siblings gave the little brother Christmas. For that moment, for the only moment of their siblingship, the older brother was the magic master, the hero, for the first time, and perhaps for the last… and Elvis, her father, was left in the dust.
BLUE CHRISTMAS – ELVIS PRESLEY
Her name now was Donna, Donna Williams. An accomplished author, teacher and artist, she had travelled the world, was now 32 years old and safe on a farm in mid Wales, 10,000 miles across the ocean from Australia and the last person to ever call her Polly had been Jack. She had heard from in birthday cards, Christmas cards, Easter Cards throughout her homeless teens, throughout the domestic prostitution she finally escaped by her mid twenties, throughout her journey from being illiterate and innumerate to university educated, famous and known throughout the world and her last six years living in the UK. Now Jack had two weeks to live. The phone call came. She accepted the charges.
And with a final push, he flew.
….and such was the death of Elvis, her father.
His bowel finally returned to his torso without party or fanfare
the book he would now never write
“how to cure your own cancer”
a grandiosity of a magical thinker.
Willie Wonker had run out of magic.
The incision, the turning point
colostomy bag on the junk heap
return to a normality of people who shit
in toilets, with effort, with volition, with self.
Like gulls on a clifftop surgeons surveyed the landscape
cancer is a traveller, it makes its own map
the pancreas, the liver…
At 59, he woke to the rest of his life
and learned that would be two weeks long
And all she was was a voice
down a telephone line 10,000 miles away
In a country he had never flown to
This man afraid of flying.
She calls him Dad, for the first time in his life
He tells her to stay safe
and not to come back.
She sends roses, joyous and yellow
plays him piano over the phone tell him he will be flying
“I shit, therefore I am”
His last wish, was to have a real bowel movement
And with a final push, he flew…
A photo arrived for her
her father, emaciated, in a coffin
a yellow rose in his stiff hands
a letter from her mother
“just in case you’d like to have your own funeral for him”
She visits a grave in a dust bowl of a one horse town
and sits with her Dad.
RETURN TO SENDER (first two verses)
Jack/Elvis turns and leaves the stage.
After a few moments Jack/Elvis returns
IF I CAN DREAM – ELVIS PRESLEY