Great Uncle Bertok and the Angel Ice Sculpture
How did this happen? After watching A Christmas Story twelve times (and that was just last year), how did I possibly get my tongue stuck to a block of ice, and more specifically, to the ass of a naked angel ice sculpture? I could see Barry convulsing with laughter in the corner. This was turning out to be the worst funeral I had ever been to.
Actually, it was the only funeral I’d ever been to. My Great Uncle Bertok (or was he my Great Great Uncle?) had died the week before and Mom, Dad, my older brother Barry, and I had driven the four hours up to Grandma’s house.
“Hi, guys,” Aunt Linda said, as we went inside the small house. She was Mom’s older sister. “How was the drive?”
Before anyone could answer, a man in a white coat zipped by carrying a huge mass of red flowers.
“Red flowers?” Mom asked, her right eyebrow rising slightly.
Linda groaned. “Don’t get me started. There was some kind of mix-up and we got everything for the Bergman-Stevenson wedding. I called that stupid florist but he said he wouldn’t be able to straighten it out for a while.”
“How’s Grandma?” Mom asked.
“Not good, you know how close she and Uncle Bertok were.”
“Where do you want this, lady?” another man in a white jacket asked. He was standing behind a cart carrying an ice sculpture of a naked boy with wings. A big plastic case covered the sculpture.
“Jesus,” Linda muttered. “I don’t know, just put it over there.” She gestured to the dining room and the man nodded and headed that way.
As Dad went to use the bathroom, Barry and I slowly went into the living room. Trays of food were scattered around and several people were standing and sitting, eating and talking quietly. Great Grandma Olga, wearing a long, black dress, her white hair tied up in a bun, was sitting on the couch. A man I was pretty sure was a cousin was next to her holding her hand. Tears were streaming down Olga’s wrinkled face and she sobbed loudly.
I expected to see a coffin or something but the only thing that looked different from the last time I had been there was a large round vase sitting on the coffee table.
“Look, Kevin,” Barry said, pointing to the vase. “It’s Uncle Bertok. He looks just like I remember him.” He chuckled.
I didn’t know what Barry was talking about until I suddenly remembered Mom and Dad saying something about cremation and Uncle Bertok’s ashes. Could he really be in there? I hesitated for a moment and then took the long way around the table to grab a cracker.
My Uncle Jeffrey spotted me and that began a series of similar awkward conversations with a number of familiar and not-so-familiar relatives: The drive was long but okay, I’ll be starting sixth grade in the fall, I’m Kevin, not Barry (I found that insulting; we did have the same reddish-brown hair and crooked nose, but I was much better looking).
After a while Barry walked over to me.
“Hey, Kevin,” he said with a mouthful of olives. “Let’s play a game.”
I frowned. Barry’s games usually ended with me getting in trouble, but I was bored and uncomfortable so I agreed. The first game involved tossing olives into a small bowl on a side table. Barry beat me three to two. Then we tried to see who could run from the basement back to the living room the fastest, but Dad, somehow sensing what we were up to, stopped us. Giving us his familiar “stern-Dad look,” he told us to show some respect, we were, after all, at a funeral.
“Look at that thing,” Barry said as we went into the dining room. He walked over to the ice sculpture. “I dare you to lick it.”
“What are you?” he asked, taking off the plastic cover. “Chicken shit?”
“No, I’m not,” I said a little defensively.
Barry started making clucking and farting noises. Why did I do it? I thought, walking over to the sculpture. Why did I always let Barry get to me?
I stared up at the ice angel; steam was rising from it. Just one lick, I thought. I’ll just take one little lick to shut him up. I looked around and then leaned down, pretending to reach for a napkin. I stuck out my tongue and pressed it against the ice. When I tried to put it back in my mouth, it wouldn’t move.
I heard Barry snicker. I jerked my head back but the only thing that did was hurt.
“Dude, maybe you two should get a room,” Barry said.
“Hut ut ath,” I muttered and he burst into laughter.
I tried putting my tongue in again but it still wouldn’t budge. Oh my God, what the hell do I do? That’s when I remembered A Christmas Story. The fire department had to come and rescue that kid. What if the fire department had to come here?
I tried using my fingers to pry it off but that hurt worse. Amazingly, with the living room only about ten feet away, so far no one had noticed me. But I was sure any second someone would and I’d get yelled at. I could feel the sweat forming on my forehead. Suddenly that gave me an idea. Maybe if I worked up a sweat that would help somehow. I started swinging my arms and stomping my legs.
I was so busy I didn’t notice Olga’s wailing had stopped. When I finally realized how quiet it was, I turned (as best I could) and glanced into the living room. Everyone was staring at me, a mix of confusion and annoyance on most of their faces. Suddenly Olga hunched over and started coughing violently.
“Grandma!” Aunt Linda cried and rushed over to her.
Everyone gathered around her; even Barry walked over, pretending to care. After a minute Olga’s coughing turned into what sounded like laughter, raspy dry laugher. She pointed at me and said something in what was probably Hungarian. My Great Uncle Victor, sitting at the other end of the couch smiled.
“When Olga and Bertok children in Kaposvar,” he began in his deep voice with the thick accent, “she says Bertok get tongue stuck to side of house.”
Between bursts of laughter, Grandma continued.
“Bertok look so funny,” Victor said. “Arms swinging, legs going up and down, just like the boy.”
When I was finally rescued by Dad (some warm water did the trick), I joined the rest of the family in the living room. Olga — with Victor translating — was excitedly telling stories about Bertok. She was no longer crying and actually looked quite happy. With my little ice-licking incident forgotten (hopefully forever), other people started telling stories and it wasn’t long before everyone was smiling and laughing.
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Portland Fiction Project
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