At that precise moment - I realized that that was exactly why it had to be a part of the event. It was madness from a completely new angle. It was a depiction of the ultimate narcissist.In short - it was awesome.
Since then, I've read more by Mr. Sobieck, and found that he writes noir the same way he writes horror - with his own sensibility, and no apologies.
This year, his story caught me off guard again, by being unsettling from a completely different direction.
It's with great pleasure that I present today's story, The Finger in the Freezer.
~~ 9DOM ~~
After the grilled cheese but before the s'mores ice cream, Grandma asks if I want to see the finger.
"What finger?" I say.
"The one I keep in the freezer," she says. "It's time you saw it, seeing as how your parents are out of work."
Yeah, Mom and Dad fight all the time. It's always about money. They say they don't know how they'll survive "the Recession."
Which is why I'm happy to spend my summer vacation with Grandma. We take hours playing cribbage, reading the newspaper and talking about life. But she never mentioned a frozen finger before.
Now that I think about it, I never bother to go in the freezer anyway. That's where she keeps her cigarettes. And her leftovers. Mom says to steer clear from both.
"You keep a finger in the freezer?" I say.
"Come over and see," Grandma says.
She opens the freezer door. The inside belches a frozen fog that paints the hot air beige.
"I don't see it," I say.
"Really? It's right there," Grandma says. She points a mangled digit toward the back.
I squint to spot the finger. Is it there next to the pot roast? No, that's a carrot.
Could that be it inside that cake? Nope, that's another carrot.
Grandma takes my hand in hers. She guides it past the pot roast and the cake. My whole arm feels the crisp kiss of the freezer. It stings. I wonder if this is how the freezer-burnt pie from two Christmases ago feels.
Finally, my hand feels something like a wrinkly hotdog.
Grandma lets go of my hand. "That's it. Pick it up," she says.
I look at Grandma. She doesn't have the face like she gets with a good cribbage cut. She's serious.
I shake my head. "I don't want to. Grandma, this is really weird," I say.
"It's OK. A frozen finger can't hurt you," she says.
I don't know why, but I squeeze my eyes shut before I grab the finger. I expect it to start wriggling like a worm.
I pull my hand out of freezer and open my eyes little by little.
"See? Not too scary, is it?" Grandma says.
I examine the frozen tube of human flesh in my hand. It's the first time I've seen any part of a person dead. I roll it back and forth in my palm. Doesn't seem any different than lunch at school.
"Can I put it back now?" I say. I don't want it melting in my hand.
Grandma smiles. "Not before I can tell you why I have it," she says.
I toss it back into the freezer anyway. My eye catches a glimpse of that s’mores ice cream. Wiping my hand on my shirt, I say, "OK, why do you have it?"
"Back in the Depression, people would come to the house looking for work. They'd say, 'Can I rake your yard for dinner?' Or, 'What can I trade you for shoes?'" she says.
I've heard this story before, but no mention of a finger.
Grandma says, "One day, a man came by with nothing to trade. Not even a hat. And he couldn't work, neither. Had an awful limp. Open sores like hungry baby birds. Filth so greasy you couldn’t shake his hand.
But my mother, bless her heart, made him a nice chicken soup anyway.
"Gross. What happened to him?" I say.
Grandma says, "He got very sick that night and couldn't leave the next day. We built crutches for his limp, washed out his sores and scrubbed off the filth. Still, he died a week later.
"When we got the body ready for a public cemetery, my mother noticed a ring on his finger. We knew graverobbers raid public cemeteries. So we..."
I finish her sentence. "You cut off his finger?"
"That's how things were back then," she says.
I gnaw on this for a second. "There's one thing I don't get. Why didn't he trade the ring?"
Grandma's face lights up. "There wasn't a ring on his finger until he died," she says.
She let's that sink in for a minute. I know she's Catholic and little superstitious, but I never thought she believed in these things.
"You think he was a ghost?" I say.
Grandma folds her hands and looks at the ceiling. "No, I think God rewards people who do the right things. Like the good book says, what you do for the poor you do for Christ."
I reach back into the freezer and pull out the finger. I have to look twice to believe it.
There's a gold ring on the finger.
"Grandma, look," I say and hold it out to her.
She nods. "It's how we got through the Depression. Some of those hobos, they were worse off than corpses. But if you took care of them, the finger gave you a ring."
I try to pull the ring off. It's stuck. Grandma plucks it away from me.
"It won't come off yet. We can't just take. We have to give, too. It's a lesson your generation should learn," she says.
I hear three quick knocks at the door. The stench of sick, unwashed body bites at my nose. This has to be a joke, right?
Grandma’s expression doesn’t change. She motions to the bathroom. "Get a sponge. You can have ice cream when we’re done."
~~ 9DOM ~~
Benjamin Sobieck is the author of the crime thriller novel, "Cleansing Eden - The Celebrity Murders," the Maynard Soloman crime humor series and numerous short stories. His favorite authors are Elmore Leonard and Hunter S. Thompson. Visit his website at http://www.crimefictionbook.com.