Hot Tin Roof
By D. J. Moser
So I’m like eight, and my hair is slicked with Vitalis, and I’m riding in the back seat of our old Ford station wagon, surrounded by my brothers and my sister, my parents up front, my old man smoking Tareytons. He’s rolled the windows up tight to seal in the goodness like Tupperware, and we’re rolling down the Mass Pike to GG’s funeral.
GG was our great grandmother. (We really should have called our grandmother G, but never did.) It’s a two-hour drive and I don’t — or didn’t — know GG well enough to be crazy sad; instead, I’m shifting around my clip-on tie, feeling around the floor with my feet, bored as shit.
Underneath some jumper cables a sandy black sweatshirt has been pressed flat and stiff as a dead cat. A glass 7Up bottle moves with the car; I stop it with my toe. It’s small but heavy, the kind you’d get from a gas station soda machine with a wooden crate next to it for the empties.
I pick it up and position my middle finger inside. The bottle’s neck is satisfyingly snug and still a little sticky. I swing my hand around a bit, the bottle tipped up, the weight causing it to lurch around like a drunk puppet.
The puppet counts the trees, until another matter takes priority.
Almost as fast as ESP, the news that my finger is stuck spreads, first through the back seat and then the way back. It’s understood by all that transmitting this news to the cockpit would be unwise. My strongest brother tugs on the bottle, twisting and pulling as both our faces redden. Maybe a little spit’ll do it. Nope.
Uh … Dad?
He’s surprisingly calm at first, maybe even happy to have a distraction, and he tells me to reach over his shoulder. His cigarette at high noon in his driving hand, with his free hand he nearly tears my goddamned arm off.
Christ — that’s really stuck.
A minute later, we’ve pulled over, and Dad and I are standing at the side of the road, but no amount of pulling will set me free. In fact, the part of my finger inside the bottle seems to get fatter by the minute, so that when my old man turns the bottle, the finger turns, too. Well … we’ll just have to break it, he says.
I’m not sure which he means, but does it matter? I wrench myself away from him, losing my balance and falling on my ass in the wet snow with my ridiculous 7Up bottlefinger held up towards the sky, like: Yeah, fuck you, Universe!
Mom emerges from her grief. She wants to get there hours ahead of time to help Gladys with the flowers, but recognizes that now we have to go home and find a better way. Back we go — forty minutes of silence — equal parts Mom’s sadness, Dad’s exasperation, my increasing panic and my siblings’ swallowed laughter.
It’s a comfort being home, but still nothing works. Butter? Pam? Something called KY Jelly? Nope. Nope. Nope. Minutes pass. Mom’s on the kitchen phone explaining that something has come up. She looks skinny and sick, and I can tell from her end of the conversation that Gladys is freaking out.
It’s when the old man gives up and lights another smoke that the truly drastic solution comes to him. He puts our big spaghetti pot on the stove, half full of water, and heats it up. It steams and starts to bubble. Hey — get over here. Suddenly, smashing the bottle with a tire tool seems pretty smart. Stick the bottom of the bottle in there — just the bottle not your hand — not your hand — got it? I am starting to cry, but I do what he says, and almost instantly my finger is freed with a loud champagne pop. It’s a happy, festive sound followed by a family hurrah — not what you expect on funeral day.
Back in the car, we speed toward central Mass, finally getting there with fifteen minutes to spare. Plenty of time to rotate a couple flower vases, it turns out. During the service I try to feel sad about GG, but it’s been a hell of a morning, and I rub my sore finger, feeling lucky to still have it, lucky to be whole. It’s an immature and selfish gratitude, but I’ve felt it at every funeral since.
A native of Massachusetts, D. J. Moser has lived and worked in Iowa City since 1999. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 219.