Grandfather’s Wake

Stephen Haynie

This story does not begin with Uncle George losing two of his fingers, though it does end with Grandmother telling us that we are all out of our minds. She will storm into the living room with a rush of wind that will knock the plastic cups (half-filled or half-empty with cardboard-boxed wine that my cousin Alex bought at the grocery store down the street) from the arms of the reading chair that Grandfather used to sit in (though never again) and recount stories of his trip to New York, his hands kneading the air like dough, forming skyscrapers, as we hear of the bright lights and taxi cabs that circuited through the city. Uncle George will already have lost his two fingers (the index and the middle) when Grandmother comes into the living room and tells us that we are all out of our minds.

Before her entrance into the living room and subsequent declaration of our insanity, my brother Jim will already have stretched out arm-length strips of Scotch tape for Uncle George’s absent fingers, and my sister Susan will have put the Debussy record on, hoping that it will calm everyone down a bit, and also temper the flow of blood, and do less damage to the carpet, she says. We will already have told Uncle George that he should hold his hand above his head, and he’ll stand there like a mutilated Statue of Liberty, the blood having trailed down his arm, resulting in an apparition of exposed veins, and we will have come to the consensus that he will never play the piano again. Half of us will have decided that perhaps Uncle George should be taken to a hospital where he can receive proper medical attention, and the other half of us (those who do not trust the health care system and have little confidence in the integrity of doctors) will have sided with my brother Jim and his roll of Scotch tape, and this dichotomy will have agitated all but Uncle George, who will already be sufficiently agitated and will have begun to not notice anything other than his fingers, or—more so—that his fingers are not where they once were. He will have begun to moan considerably, with only half of his mouth open, so that even his moans sound mumbled. My sister Susan will have turned up the notch on the record player so that Grandmother will not come down from her room upstairs (where she has been mourning, her sobs leaking down the steps like water from an overfilled bathtub) and be shocked by the whole state of things, and possibly tell us that we are all out of our minds.

Before Grandmother bursts through the door, causing my cousin Timothy to shriek, we will already have taken Uncle George (apart from the two missing fingers) back from the yard and into the living room, in a ceremonious fashion. Shock will still have superseded the pain and general discomfort (both physical and psychological) up until now, and Uncle George will have asked my brother Jim if he would like to be told which way is up now. Within a matter of minutes, though, the latent pain and general discomfort will have come out of the shadows and rushed into the two bloody stumps that Uncle George will have continued to raise at us and he will moan considerably.

My brother Jim will already have missed his intended mark (that intended mark being the cigar), despite his steady arm and impressive stance, and Uncle George will have yelled, Look at what you have done now. The rest of us (those who will have left the living room and the house and came into the yard) will have held our hands to our mouths and my brother Jim will have yelled to Uncle George, Oh yeah, well where’s the cigar? We will already have scoured, on our hands and knees, the lawn, parting delicate blades of grass and prodding soft, damp earth, for Uncle George’s two fingers. We will have asked Uncle George just which fingers we are looking for and he will have told us it doesn’t matter, just look for any fingers. Uncle George will then have raised his damaged hand and shaken it at us as though he wants us to notice the stumps and we will have realized that we better do something about those stumps quickly, because a person can bleed to death in a matter of hours, my sister Susan says. So we will have had my cousin Alex continue the search, and the rest of us will have quit looking for the fingers (though we will eventually find the cigar, intact, which will cause much embarrassment to my brother Jim).

Uncle George will already have volunteered to allow my brother Jim to shoot the cigar out of his fingers, and my brother Jim will already have received the High Country Hillside Country Club’s award for Excellent Marksmanship, a thin embroidered patch which he carries with him in his wallet like a picture of a cherubic child everywhere he goes (although he does not go much of anywhere, often). My brother Jim will already have gathered everyone in a circle to show us (once again) the award, and he will have told us that he can shoot an apple from an outstretched arm at twenty feet away with the pistol that he cleans every night before he goes to bed. He is that good, he will have said. Uncle George, in usual manner, will then already have scoffed at this postulation, which will have prompted my brother Jim to say, Oh yeah, watch me and I’ll shoot that cigar right out of your hand. Uncle George will already have tipped the last of the cardboard-boxed wine into his mouth, which will have made that his fifth cup, and will have tossed the empty plastic cup into the face of my brother Jim, saying, Boy, you couldn’t shoot the clouds even if I told you which way was up. My brother Jim’s face will have turned red and we will all have gone outside to the yard to watch my brother Jim shoot the cigar from Uncle George’s fingers, which will later be lost.

So after my brother Jim has wrapped Uncle George’s hand in Scotch tape, and my sister Susan has worried about the carpet and wondered aloud if we should reposition the furniture, and my cousin Alex has been out in the yard, raking the lawn for Uncle George’s lost fingers, Grandmother will rush into the living room, see my brother Jim as he assures Uncle George that the Scotch tape will do the job, see myself and my sister Susan each lifting an end of the couch, see my cousin Alex open the door waving a finger (the middle) in the air and saying, Well, at least we found one, and she will tell us that we are all out of our minds. Take a look at yourselves, she will sigh, take a look at yourselves.

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