He has a distinct memory of being told the story about Uncle Ringo’s missing index finger. More like he remembers that at one point it was a distinct memory. But that was years ago, when he was five or six, and nothing from way back then is distinct. Still, he is sure that his mother, standing in the kitchen, making fried chicken for dinner, told him and his brother that their Uncle Ringo lost his finger when he was sixteen in a meat grinder in the deli he worked at after school
Somewhere, sometime, he is sure that Uncle Ringo told him that a catfish had bitten off his index finger. Which sounds like something an uncle would tell a gullible nephew, but in that case the uncle would probably have said it was a shark or piranha that had eaten it, not just a catfish. His uncle was serious, he is sure of it, even if he can’t remember when he was told this, can’t picture the moment or any details beyond that his finger was eaten by a fish. Probably in a river or creek just outside
the small Missouri town that the family was from. A small town he had never been to. Never even been to Missouri. Probably never will be. Can’t even remember the name of the town. Still, he liked Uncle Ringo, the youngest of the three kids, the only boy. The only uncle he had. His father only having an older sister. The missing finger fascinated him. The absence of a finger and the remaining scar was the strangest thing ever, like it had been hastily erased by god. When he first saw his Uncle’s hand
|he was terrified of it. It was grotesque. That’s how he learned that word, grotesque, at such a young age. It meant monstrous, almost unholy. Uncle Ringo seemed to be a part of the family during his childhood, but he shied away from him and his scary missing finger. The mangled hand||he laughed. To a five-year-old, it was hilarious. He thought it was a gag, some sort of magic trick, and the missing finger would suddenly materialize. But it stayed missing the rare times, a holiday here and there, he saw Uncle Ringo, and he would stare fascinated at the missing finger|
that eventually he grew to think of as normal for Uncle Ringo, like it was normal for Grandma Vi to take all the pills she took. And then it was super cool to have an Uncle who had such a gruesome, unique hand. A whole missing finger; brutally ripped off. He told his classmates about it and the girls thought it gross, but the boys didn’t think it was awesome like he thought because they didn’t believe it at all and he got angry because he couldn’t prove it, so he
|dreamt about getting his own finger or hand deformed and mangled in some freak accident like the can opener going awry or getting it stuck in his bike chain, and then all the kids would think it was cool and gnarly and gross but of course that never happened. And became jealous of his uncle and his awesome||tried to find a picture of his Uncle Ringo’s hand but they had none, so better yet he’d bring him to school to tell the story about the fish that ate it, but that didn’t seem plausible so he was doomed to be teased about it at school. And it tore him up so much that he started to really resent his uncle and his stupid|
missing finger with the gnarly nub of a knuckle at the end, or would it be the beginning, which wiggled just a little bit, creepy and cool all at once and it really gave Uncle Ringo an envious distinction, so he was relieved that at some point, if he remembers correctly, Uncle Ringo
|drifted away from the family. He didn’t move far away, they just wouldn’t see him for a while, then they would, but not for long, then he realized he hadn’t seen Uncle Ringo for years. He was forgotten,||was banished from the family for reasons never disclosed, only that he was rarely mentioned, and even then only awkwardly and silently so as if he were listening, but he wasn’t because Uncle Ringo was gone,|
which he now knows is often what happens to extended families, even immediate families. The ties loosen throughout the years and things that were once important become just nostalgic details like Uncle Ringo’s missing finger that intrigued him so much and to this day is clear as day in his memory.
Brian Brunson is a writer living in Phoenix, Arizona. He studied history and philosophy at the University of Oregon. His short stories have been published in The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review, Otis Nebula, Belletrist, Fleas on the Dog, and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine among others.