Alice Tarbuck ​(@atarbuck) ​is a PhD student in contemporary poetry, living in Edinburgh. Recent publications include a commission for Timespan Festival in Helmsdale, Scotland, and work is forthcoming from Zarf, 3elements Review and Plum Tree Tavern. Alice's work was shortlisted for the Jupiter Artland Poetry Prize 2015.

1 story by Alice Tarbuck

Elvis, Alfred and Barbara Gray*

You did not become a star: are you sore? 

The city sings in her blood, high buildings are all cathedrals and the hum of the strip-mall is a thought lit up in prayer.  The lipstick in her purse matches the colour she imagines the sunsets are in Vegas. That's what the girl behind the counter said. She has pepper spray in her patent handbag. She works two days a week at her dad's business, and three evenings goes to secretarial college. Her boyfriend cleans up pretty good. One of her ears sits higher than the other but you barely notice it when she doesn't wear her glasses and the softened outlines of the buildings and the coloured swathes of people who drift suddenly into and out of her peripherals give the city an exciting vagueness, as if viewed from the inside horse of a carousel. 

Back before your thighs touched, you didn't give him much. My long gaze down a short lens, whirr-click on the plastic button of all-new, all-fancy camera, all day long to chase rising stars like a new astrologer, grinding down the lens until you two looked - quite untruly -  in love. 

She rose remarkably early to eat egg whites and took the fast train all the way down, the street name scrawled on a scrap of paper.  An hour in, the thin straggle of suburban houses beefed up into erupting skyscrapers and sooty laundry. The stops picked up pace and the men getting on changed from door-to-door salesmen into office workers, suits sharper. Nobody offered her a cup of coffee from the car at the end, but on the other hand, she wasn’t asked to give up her seat. 

I'm the long shadow behind you, you the girl with the boyfriend out of town. You say -each finger dragging the round dial, rigid plastic like planetary rings - that he telephoned you. It doesn't matter if I don't believe that. We've been weaving in this taxi for an hour now, skipping out to buy cigarettes and beer, which he clumsily hides. You've moved in closer, anxious for him or wary of the camera. He's already drawling, although it will be years before he fully masters that infamous lip curl and by then I will be chasing sunsets in Europe and he won't talk to the flash bulb men who stalk his dreams and up-skirt his women.

She meets him at some dive hotel, paint peeling from the bar door, puncturing her fancy fantasies. He told her he was famous, is famous, will be famous. He is nervous and spills his drink, and when he grabs her hand to draw her closer, he rubs her arm in the liquor. She fishes around but doesn't find a handkerchief. 


I pace the floor as they linger down the long dark corridors, skipping out the fire escape for cigarettes and nothing more. Unclear where his attraction gives way to adolescent need he hasn't shaken, he keeps pushing and then of course, it happens. You've been scanning the narrative for this, this trembling, hastened, lizard-tongued kiss.  It isn't impressive: she's hiked up on a metal rail, not undone by his pre-show mania. He doesn't really want her either, but what's worse, in youth - false intimacy or a wasted afternoon? Not that I am one to talk, slipping up behind them in the dark and snipping their silhouette out of the fabric of the afternoon.

It was the sort of mistake that makes your mouth quiver into a smile all afternoon. The sort that you keep in your pocket for long afternoons, for little disappointments, for office jobs that pay too little. Bad kiss in the low afternoon light. Bad kiss then he’s gone, not even one glance behind, to play a show that you don’t stay to see. Better that way: you don’t buy his records, either, or read about him in the papers. Sometimes, though, they run that picture, and your heart kicks up underneath your dress, and you wonder if it looks like you in the picture, really. And does it really look like him?

*One of the most iconic photographs of Elvis Presley, ‘The Kiss’ taken in 1966 by Alfred Wertheimer, pictures him kissing an unknown woman. Several years ago, this woman was revealed to be Barbara Gray.