After the burial, we’re taking what we want from your house. I pause to look around the living room, which smells of perfume and cat urine. The room appears even smaller now, but it’s still the interesting assortment of clutter I recall as a kid. Dying plants surround us, along with countless wood carvings. A Timex watch, strapped through the handle of a peace-sign mug, sits on a stained-glass coffee table. The same faded photograph hangs above the television. It’s you in 1969, wearing a miniskirt at Woodstock. And is that an eight-track tape player on the floor?
Your nephews and nieces ran through this room, the way we weren’t allowed in our own homes. You loved the chaos, despite how much it angered Uncle Travis. He’d yell at us to slow down or play outside. You’d scream at him to shut up.
I look at Zach and wonder if he’s reliving this too. “Remember how they argued all the time?” I say. “No surprise he left her for someone else.” It was a younger someone, and that really got to you. I’d never seen anyone so upset.
You told us Uncle Travis moved away with the woman, right after the accident. He lost a finger in the basement woodshop, and the family lost touch with him. Strange, how you preserved the finger in formaldehyde, and kept it high on a shelf, in a jar by the door to your bedroom. You must have seen the jar every night on the way to sleep. Why a nightly reminder of the man you detested?
We asked for a closer look during visits, but you never took the jar down.
Zach hasn’t said anything, but he’s looking up toward the shelf and smiling. I follow his gaze and laugh.
“Been waiting twenty years for this,” he says, walking over to the shelf. We can’t reach it, so I find a step ladder in a closet and hand it to him. He quickly climbs up and grabs the jar. “What the,” he says, his smile changing to surprise.
“What’s wrong?” I say.
He turns on his phone’s flashlight, examines the jar carefully, and laughs nervously. “I think I know why we never heard anything from Uncle Travis,” he says, handing it to me. “It’s not a finger.”
I look in the jar and stare back at Zach. “And it wasn’t an accident.”
Barry Yedvobnick is a retired biologist, recently reincarnated as a fiction writer. His stories have appeared in Brilliant Flash Fiction, Tales to Terrify, Penumbra No. 3, Flash Fiction Magazine, Dark Recesses, and several other places, including the upcoming July 2023 issue of Silver Blade Magazine. He was runner up at Flashpoint SF for their 2022 Halloween Contest, and short-listed at Flash Fiction Magazine’s Spring 2022 and 2023 contests. His previous “nonfiction life” can be found at: https://biology.emory.edu/home/people/bios/emeritus/yedvobnick-barry.html