To get into Memphis from the west the Buick had to cross the Mississippi on either the Memphis-Arkansas Memorial Bridge or the Hernando-Desoto Bridge. Mom meant to take the southern most of the two bridges, having to change from the I-40 to the I-55. As she drove toward the river where the traffic continued to thicken, Ellen continued to count off time: one hundred and forty-seven Elvis Presley, one hundred and forty-eight Elvis Presley, one hundred and forty-nine Elvis Presley. Road signs narrowed down to a handful of miles until West Memphis in Arkansas where she’d have to choose an Interstate to route them to a bridge. Either way would get them to where they were going, the AAA map open on the passenger seat showed a clear route to Elvis Presley Boulevard and Graceland. Less than ten miles from the Mississippi and Mom did not want to wake her sister. She was alone in the front, alone with the radio, able to stretch out a little, able to breath in spite of the overcast day and thick heat.
Various radios announcers urged drivers to turn on their headlights as a sign of public mourning, out of respect for Elvis. Over the Mississippi all flags flown at half-mast. Mom clicked her lights on. She did not take the interchange to the I-55 and exchanged a nod with a woman about her age in a Chrysler also with its lights on. She drove listening to Elvis sing, crooning or rocking.
Ellen started to count again. One Elvis Presley. Two Elvis Presley. Traffic felt strange after the openness of the nighttime highway. Three Elvis Presley. Heat already made ripples in the air between the tightly moving cars. She could see the bridge in the distance ahead. Sitting in traffic she caught sight of the chocolate milk colored water swirling along. Four Elvis Presley. Ellen thought about riverboats. Once Ellen and Arlene had dragged their husbands to see a dinner theater production of Showboat! where they were served a dry prime rib. Five Elvis Presley. There was a driver in the brown Ford in front of her whose break light indicated that he never took his foot entirely off the brake pedal. Six Elvis Presley. She thought about Gone with the Wind and how much she’d loved Huck Finn when she read it in school, and how little of the book she could remember now. Seven Elvis Presley. Wondered if she should wake Arlene before they crossed the river. Eight Elvis Presley.
Traffic continued to slouch toward the double-railed open bridge. There was than half-a-mile to go and the sisters would finally be in the city they’d talked about visiting for years. Ellen’s pounded. She could feel as well as hear it. Nine Elvis Presley. She blew a breath out her mouth, sat up straight and gripped the steering wheel anew and felt the change under the tires as the car rolled onto the Memphis-Arkansas Memorial Bridge. She was boxed in on the inside so she could see only other cars and parts of the Memphis skyline in the distance. On the radio Elvis sang weepingly about crying in the chapel. Ten Elvis Presley.
“Wake Up Arlene, we’re here.”