The theme of my sister-in-law’s twenty-sixth birthday was “Fried and Flaming.” Her birthday was the Thursday before my other brother’s wedding, and we decided that she would only eat fried foods and drink flaming drinks to celebrate the anniversary of her birth.
It all started a month before at my parents’ surprise party to celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary.
At the party, my dad had told us about a drink called “The Statue of Liberty” in which you pour some 151 into a shot glass, dip your fingers in the rum, light the liquor on your fingers on fire, hold them up like they were the torch from the Statue of Liberty, down the shot, then blow out the flame on your fingers. No one actually did “The Statue of Liberty” shot that night, but that’s when we hatched our plan—the theme for Eileen’s upcoming birthday. After all, the wedding was in England, and they’ll fry and eat just about anything over there.
About a month later, on a gray Thursday morning, Eileen’s birthday arrived and we were all disappointed that she didn’t have anything fried or flaming for breakfast. But we knew the day was going to be a long one, and we didn’t want to get too excited too early. And honestly, we didn’t want Eileen getting too sick or drunk too early either.
The night started out with all of the Americans who came for the wedding going to dinner at a tapas restaurant, where we drank them out of sangria.
After dinner, the under thirty-five crowd proceeded into town to a pub called The Elbow Room. Matt decided it was time for Eileen to enjoy a flaming cocktail in honor of her birthday, so he went to the bar. It went down like this:
Matt: I’d like six shots of whatever you have that can be lit on fire.
Bartender: Like what?
Matt: I don’t know, maybe some 151 or absinthe?
Bartender: I have absinthe. But you can’t light them on fire here in the bar.
Matt: Come on, man, really? It’s for my wife’s birthday.
Bartender: Do you want the shots, even if you can’t light them?
Matt: Yes please.
The bartender brought Matt six shots of absinthe on a triangular tray. He then slapped down a pack of matches on the bar next to the tray and said, “I know nothing about this.”
Matt tipped the bartender heavily and brought the shots over to our group, which had gathered by the pool table. He handed the tray to our sister Liz, who was standing on top of the barstool next to mine.
This was a terrible idea for several reasons, but mostly because Liz is petrified of all things hot, especially things on fire. She complained to Matt that the shot glasses were too full and that her hands were covered with sticky absinthe. We all “chose” to ignore this omen, but only because we were all really drunk.
The match didn’t even touch the tops of the shot glasses when the blue flames shot up about six inches higher than the tops of the glasses. All of the other women in our group–-except the bride, thank God—marveled at the pretty flames and grabbed the glasses.
Before anyone realized it, the overflowing glasses of flaming absinthe were spilling blue flames down all of our hands. When people who are not stunt doubles are on fire, they freak out. And that’s exactly what we did.
Eileen dropped her shot glass on the floor, extinguished her flaming fingers and tried to soothe the pain by wrapping her hand in her jacket.
I dropped my shot glass on the floor and leapt into the lap of my soon-to-be sister-in-law, Caroline. Luckily, I shook my hand free of the flames before fleeing into the safety of her arms. It’s almost impossible to be forgiven for lighting the bride’s hair on fire two days before her wedding.
Rachel, the new fiancée of one of the groomsmen, screamed and dropped her shot glass into the pocket of the pool table. Of course it spilled onto the pool table, so both the pocket and the felt caught fire. Fr. Jerry, a friend of the family and Catholic priest who had come over to co-celebrate the wedding, chivalrously sacrificed his full pint of beer to squelch the flames. He was truly a hero.
The grand finale of the whole spectacle was poor Liz. She watched the growing blue flames spill down her hands, down her arms, onto her skirt and feet. She dropped the tray in an attempt to extinguish the flames quickly engulfing her body, and the flames all but exploded on the floor in front of her.
She looked up at Matt with her big, blue, panic-stricken eyes and screamed, “What the fuck do I do?” Matt, choked between hysterical laughter and, incredulity, shouted, “Liz, you’re on fucking fire!” He then told her to jump down, but she couldn’t because the river of fire was flaring up around her stool. Joe, the groom who was returning to our area from the bar, dumped two full pints of beer onto her, extinguishing the flames on her hands and arms.
Then he grabbed her, pulled her off the stool, and handed her off to Matt. Matt then flung her to the ground just beyond the fire. Everyone harkened back to childhood fire safety lessons and shouted, “Stop, drop and roll!”
The fire still wasn’t going out, so Matt told her to take off her skirt. She protested, saying, “But I’m not wearing pants!” Matt retorted with, “But Liz, you’re ON. FUCKING. FIRE!” With that, he ripped her skirt off of her. Joe swooped in and wrapped his jacket around her and carried her out of the bar.
We reconvened outside of the bar, and groomsman Kevin stumbled out with his arms full of purses and jackets. A very drunk, burly British man lumbered out after Kevin, demanding he return his “bird’s purse.” Rather than appear in the wedding photos with a black eye, Kevin let the gentleman sort through the baggage he was holding to return the inadvertently stolen purse.
We spent the rest of the evening at the emergency room, where the skilled medical professionals drew pictures of the blisters on the victims’ hands as well as Liz’s legs and feet, gave us all ridiculous amounts of codeine, put Liz on laughing gas and sent us home with bandaged fingers protected by yellow plastic bags taped around our burned hands.
When we went back to the hospital on Friday afternoon to get our wounds inspected, we were greeted as the incorrect, but affectionate “Sambuca Girls.” A physician we nicknamed “Steve the Sleeve” re-wrapped our blisters, effectively turning our fingers into large, gauzy cocoons. That night, at the rehearsal dinner, we wrote letters on each of the bandages and spelled out, “Congrats Joe & Caz.”
The wedding went off without a hitch. Since Liz and I were bridesmaids, we switched to regular bandages so that our injuries would be less conspicuous. Although you can’t see the gauze in the pictures, we are all still afraid of flaming drinks and are known as The Blister Sisters.