Also first published on Magnificent Nose, on June 6, 2014.
The refrain of the birthday song was wobbly and askew; young and old crowded the table of Tommy Hinterforce, now aged nine, as he thought earnestly about his wish. He blew air and jots of spittle over the field of buttercream and extinguished ten candles (one for good luck). Janet Hinterforce, eager for the company to be gone, hurried to his side and began cutting slices. It was after she’d cut the fourth one and lifted it onto a plate that a severed finger rolled out of what was to be the next piece, intended for Jeremy Thussleman, a loud child with early onset body odor.
Janet jumped back and screamed, upsetting the small ficus tree behind her, and knocking it into her husband Foster, who–after the song–had resumed a heated conversation with Philip Swagel over the merits of legalized prostitution.
Foster Hinterforce grabbed the ficus and moved closer to his wife, in a protective stance. Assessing the situation did not take long. He summed up the whole business thusly:
“Jesus, is that a finger?”
–and he was just loud enough to get the attention of four 9-year-old boys, a bored 7-year-old girl, and the other two adults, including Filomena Richardson, whom no one really liked, but she had the best back yard.
“It just rolled out,” explained Janet, “It’s not mine.” And she showed everyone her hands, so they would believe her.
The children immediately ran over, and Philip had to smack away Alex’s hand, on its way to examining the digit for firmness and texture. Sabrina, Alex’s younger sister, asked, “Should we call the police, daddy?”
“How much’d you pay for that cake, Foster?” Philip ignored his daughter. “You know, you can probably sue. Emotional distress. Finger comes out of a cake like that. What if we’d already had some?” Philip’s eyes rested on the four slices of plated cake. “What kind of filling is that?”
Foster raised his eyebrows at Philip and began to nod when Janet asked, “I wonder if someone needs it back?” and then she specified, “The finger,” as though she might’ve meant another thing.
“Can’t do nothin’ with it now,” said Filomena, who had assumed it was ok to help herself to a third glass of the Hinterforce’s brandy. “Thing’s been baked. Can’t sew on a finger that’s been baked.”
“Are you sure?” asked Janet.
“Pretty sure,” said Filomena, who was watching her son, Jack, run his finger along the outside of the cake so he could gather the icing border and lick it from his finger, then repeat. “Got to keep it on ice. Oven’s just about as opposite of ice as you get. Prob’ly the capillaries are all shrunk and fried up, like tiny worms.”
Filomena had a way with words that no one really appreciated.
“Maybe someone on the Internet knows.” Janet pointed her phone at the finger to take a picture, but then considered her lighting. She moved about 30 degrees to her left and found an angle that properly showcased the finger’s meaty quality and brownness.
“Can… this… finger… still… be… used? Found… in… grocery… store… cake. Already… baked.” she recited as she typed. “OK. Posted. Someone will know. Someone always does.”
“Why don’t we move on to the gifts while we’re waiting?” said Foster.
“Good idea,” said Janet, and began to pile the gifts next to Tommy, who had lost interest in the finger, and had begun throwing things for his Russian Blue cat to chase down. He tossed a small velcro ball at Sabrina, who was idly peeling the paint off the deck’s surface, and it landed in her hair. So did the cat. Sabrina yelled the cat off her, and sullenly moved to the most unoccupied corner of the backyard deck she could find.
“You should call the bakery, at least,” Philip explained to Foster. “I mean, you wait too long and they’ll say you put that thing in there just to get a free cake.”
“It’s not like I have a finger laying around. I mean, they probably know whose finger it is. That’s not the type of thing that goes missing unnoticed.”
“Well, they might think it’s a fake finger,” said Philip, still staunchly on his own side of the argument.
“I wonder if it IS a fake finger,” Filomena thought aloud.
“Oh, someone answered,” yelled Janet, who hadn’t stopped looking at her phone since she’d first posted her picture. “It’s a friend who…oh, I forgot. I have a friend that works at Channel 4 News. They want to know if we’d like to be interviewed. He’s thinking of putting together a story about body parts found in confectionary items in our area, and that we might be eating someone’s organs and such. Oh my God, that sounds horrible.”
She eyed Tommy, who was now tossing shredded wrapping paper around the deck. Colorful, torn bits flew like kites with tape tails. “But still. An interview.” Janet always wondered if she should’ve been an actress. “I should clean up a bit.”
A siren, which had been in the distance, grew louder until it became apparent that a fire truck had parked in front of the house. Two men dismounted from the cab of the truck, and approached the house.
“Come ‘round the back!” Foster yelled through the open screen door. “We’re on the deck!” To the group he asked, “Do the firemen come for torn off fingers now?”
“Police are prob’ly busy,” Filomena answered. The words hung long enough without conversational supplement that she felt perhaps her expertise was being doubted. “I used to cook for Hose House Number 9,” she further offered as qualification. “So, you know.”
Calling from below, a ruddy man with greasy hair said, “Is this the place with the finger?”
“Yes, sir,” answered Janet, and she waved without knowing why.
He nodded to the other firefighter and mounted the steps. “Someone saw a post online? Called the police, but they were busy.”
“Oh,” said Janet. “That makes sense,” and glanced at Filomena.
“Did you call the bakery yet?” the firefighter asked. Then he said, “FIloMEna! What are YOU doing here?” Filomena hugged the firefighter, whose name was now known as “Johnny”, and everyone thought it odd that she seemed to be getting attention, even though it wasn’t her house and she was so strange.
“Wasn’t there a thing about a guy who was killed last week, lost all his fingers?” asked the younger firefighter. “They say drug crime is getting really bad.” And then he suddenly experienced a chill down his back, making everyone uncomfortable, a few believing that the back deck was now haunted by the owner of the finger.
“Weren’t those just the finger tips, last week?” Johnny answered.
“I can ask online, if you want,” explained the younger firefighter. “They always know the answer.”
“They really DO,” exclaimed Janet, “but you can just share my picture and put your question. That way, they know how much finger we’re talking about.”
Johnny’s phone rang, and when he was done talking, explained to the group, “Looks like I have to take it in to the lab myself. They’re short-staffed, what with all the killings on the North Side.”
“Wait. They might need the finger for the news interview,” said a concerned Janet.
“Just make sure you preserve it properly,” said Philip. “If they want to sue, we have to make sure all the evidence is just right.”
“We probably won’t sue, I don’t think,” said Foster.
“But you might,” answered Philip.
“There’s going to be a news interview here tonight?” asked Johnny. “I’m sure I can wait until that’s over. Does my hair look ok?”
“We better put that thing on ice if we’re going to keep it for a while,” said Filomena.
As they were talking, one of the velcro cat balls had missed its intended destination and landed directly on the cake. Foster yelled as Russian Blue–almost in slow-motion–jumped on the table, sniffed at the finger, took it, and disappeared down the steps and into the woods. They tried to get the cat, but it was too quick.
“Well,” said Philip after a moment, “You won’t get your money back now.”
Janet, poking at her cell phone screen, was suddenly crestfallen, “He says we need the finger before he’ll send a news crew.” She burst into tears and ran into the house.
“I’ll have to call this in,” said Johnny. “Hey Fil, what are you doing after?”
“Nothing,” replied Filomena. “Want to stop over? I have pie.”
Foster thanked his guests as they left, and turned on the news while he was cleaning up. Gang violence was the first story. Janet came down to join him.
“So,” Foster said to her, “We have a NINE year old.”
“I know,” she replied, as gunshots were heard from the news video in the background. “Nice party.”
“Everything was wonderful,” said Foster. “I’m so lucky.”