Ant Smith

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Uncle Fester's fidgety fingers

Uncle Fester spent his days sitting at the beaten up drop leave table in the corner of our kitchen constantly a tip tap tapping his fingers in a rhythm alien to the sensibilities of those around him. At first it had been menacing. Then maudlin. And finally maddening. The pastor who lived at number six stopped stopping by for his harvest festival donation demands and his inglorious attempts to save Ma's soul (ever since dad had walked over those furnace hot plates and burned his feet right off the pastor had taken an increased interest in Ma's soul). None of us missed the pastor very much, least of all Ma's ample soul. Less happily the constant drumming had driven Mitch, Lizzie's handsome young suitor, to self harming such that his face and arms looked somewhat akin to a bloodied scarecrow. The house was often filled with the horrified shrieks of the young 'uns, should they chance upon him blundering out of the lavvy or weeping in a corner. Uncle Fester had a profound effect on the house, and the village, when first he had arrived.

"Stick another fag in Uncle Fester's fingers would you love?" Ma asked.

We'd tried everything to still his beating fingertips. Soft cloths would get knotted round the knuckles until we were a feared he'd snap his fingers off and they'd go parading about the place causing eleven times the trouble. Weighty books on the back of his hands would routinely skitter off to drop open on the floor where the dog would worry, with a loud and long howling, that it couldn't read a word (we had a particularly stupid dog). Buckets of water and bowls of thick viscous soup would equally just splash about leaving a right royal mess. The only thing that would give a moment's reprieve was a Lambert & Butler Superking on each juddery in-draw. The cacophony of the pursuant coughing was an angelic chorus in comparison to the otherwise incessant drumming. We fed Uncle Fester's pleurisy to excess for the relief it bought.

In the momentary almost peace Ma sank wearily onto the high stool she kept in the corner for reaching up into the small pans cupboard and lit up a Superking of her own.

"It's time you sorted your Uncle Fester's little problem out Robbie" she said with the unquestionable authority of the matriarch.

"Aww Ma," I started.

"There's no 'Aw Ma' about it. It's been six months now and I don't want your Lizzie's fella looking like a surgeon's swab at the altar. It has to be sorted, and soon"

I looked over at the peculiarly blunted finger tips on Uncle Fester's quivering left hand as its clawed grip raised the cigarette, tatters of skin plastered to the butt.

"Whatchya want me to do Ma?"

I thought about the little holes I'd dug in the back garden over the years. Various outlived mice, hamsters and cats. And of course the remnants of dad's feet. The hospital hadn't wanted us to take them, but Ma was adamant that dad's feet, all be them stumpy and charred, were the feet of a champion tap dancer and not the feet to be left on a dusty shelf of some coroner or sheriff. So we'd brought them home. And I'd buried them in the garden. With decorum and ceremony. And a drop of fine ale. I'd chosen a spot by the outhouse, where dad could see from the window reflected in the mirrors of the fitted double wardrobe doors in his bedroom when he was sat up, taking his tea. I'd dug many a small hole. And I could readily imagine digging two more.

Just then one of the young 'uns let loose a piercing banshee squeal.

"Ah, it must be Lizzie's Mitch's mid-morning shite", Ma declared nipping her Superking for later and bustling off to tend the child's nerves; Uncle Fester wheezing on a toke.

Long before the affliction had set in, Uncle Fester had been justly famed for his digital dexterity, his six fingered picking perplexing folk across the land. He'd also been a significant hit with the ladies, although he didn't talk about that so very much.

Sex in fact was pretty much a taboo topic of conversation, despite that everyone was up to it all hours of the night and day. Hopping over fences and creeping around the out houses for illicit assignations everyone knew about but nobody mentioned. In the summer the streets would be awash with rivers of semen and tears of regret. Young 'uns were popping out all over the place, and yet sex was never discussed. It was perfectly acceptable to get your sister up the duff, providing everyone pretended she'd caught it off a toilet seat. The ladies of the village would all loiter in our street when they first heard that Uncle Fester was back with his additional finger, but the perpetual drumming and the creepy sight of Mitch soon scared them off. Except Mary.

Mary had always been a brave and tenacious girl. She would confront any fear when others would flee. She had single handedly twisted the heads off the bodies of 39 snakes the previous year, when we'd had that infestation. More even than Big Dumb Jimmy. But to be fair he'd died horribly, all bloated and twisted, halfway through the enterprise from a surprising bite to the buttocks. In fact, if it weren't for Mary we'd probably all still be throttling snakes instead of creeping around pretending not to have sex. We had sung her praises for three days and five nights that midsummer. It's only a shame she's as deaf as a doorpost and couldn't hear the hearty chants.

Just then Ma returned, arms laden with wet and bloodied towels.

"We should marry 'im off" I declared emphatically.

"Who dear?"

"Ole uncle Frank. We should marry ole uncle Frank off to poor deaf Mary."

And just like that, that's how it happened. Uncle Frank with his extra finger married poor deaf Mary with her exceptional snake throttling skills. And they really did live happily ever after. Or so we heard. The village made them live in the old oak tree tree-house on the top of the hill, on account of Uncle Frank's interminably fidgety fingers but they had two dozen or more young 'uns, dropping like acorns, on account of all the sex they didn't have to pretend to not be having.

Lizzie never married Mitch. He got to be kind of ugly, what with all the cutting and all, so we sent him over the water to live in London. I think he got a job as a tour guide on the open topped buses but only in the rain.

We never did find out what made Uncle Franks fingers so fidgety, but I'm wondering if Uncle Willy will know when he turns up next week. The ladies of the village are already queuing up on the street. Something to do with his wonderful wandering wang. I wonder if he'll get along with Wanda - she's kinda armless since we had to deal with all those wolves this last winter.

And me? Well I'm still a family man because, to be honest, I find the real world just a little bit weird.