Issue 2, Spring 2007


Uncle Wrinkles
By Peter Cunniffe


Cassie and me would always ask Uncle Wrinkles what he learned in the war. He would make his forehead all squiggly, cross his eyes and scream at us in a foreign language until me and Cassie and sometimes momma would have tears rolling down our cheeks. Eddie would pretend he was not amused, but I knew he was. He is always acting so much better than all of us.

Momma says we can’t ask Uncle Wrinkles about the war any more. She is crying. Eddie is in the garage drinking beer and yelling, “Shit! Shit! Shit!” Momma didn’t even try to stop him. Cassie - she’s Eddie’s kid - wants to help Eddie, but she is afraid. She looks like she might cry too. I’m eight and she’s six, so I know more about war than her. I would help her, but she doesn’t like me unless Momma makes her. Instead I’m watching SpongeBob. Cassie must be coloring in our bedroom. Cassie is always coloring, even though she isn’t very good at it. Momma’s in the kitchen talking to Mom-Mom Patterson on the phone, the white one that came with the apartment and actually needs a wire. I already said what Eddie is up to.

Uncle Wrinkles is really Uncle Roger, momma’s baby brother. Except he isn’t a baby. Eddie calls him ‘Rog’ because they were over there together the first time. He calls himself a leatherneck. That means Marine. And he had to go back a second time. I guess he didn’t do it right the first time, the time Eddie was there too. His face has lines all over it and when I was still a kid I called him Uncle Wrinkles. Even Eddie laughed at that. That was before Eddie married momma, when he still laughed at funny things. I hear a bottle smash into the wall of the garage, behind the TV. Momma shouts at Eddie to calm down. She is stretching the phone cord too far like she yells at me for doing. She looks back and forth from the phone to the garage door, like she’s in a cartoon and stuck. I know not to laugh. Again, Eddie is yelling. Now other things are hitting the wall.

“I gotta go, Ma. I’ll call you back. No. I’ve got to.” She glares at me, mad-like. “Hang this up, then go take care of Cassie.” She flips off the TV as she runs toward the garage. “Stop it, Eddie! Jesus Christ!”

I hang the phone on the silver hooks and check to see if the tiny blue and orange wires are coming loose where the cord reaches the phone. I’ll tell her it was her fault next time she’s angry with me. Then I get some more lemonade from the fridge. I’ve been thirsty today. Momma and Eddie are shouting. Again. I walk to the bedroom. Cassie has been crying, but this time it doesn’t make me happy.



“SpongeBob was a rerun.”


“Eddie’s mean.”

“Daddy’s not mean.”

“He is to me. And momma.”

“He is not.”

“Well, sometimes.”

She starts to cry and looks around like she might tattle.

“Okay. I’m sorry. Usually he isn’t.” It takes the smallest things to cheer her.

“What’s wrong with him?”



“He must have to go back. Uncle Wrinkles is coming home. So someone has to go. I think he’s next.”

“But he promised me.”

“That was before Uncle Wrinkles got in trouble.”

This makes Cassie’s face scrunch. “How do you know?”

“It’s why she’s been crying all afternoon. I heard her tell Eddie.”

“What he do?”

“Stole a doll.”

“Stole a doll?”

“In Baghdad.”

“They have dolls there?”

“Oh, sure. Everywhere practically. Katrina from school had an Indian at school one day. Long braided hair, like momma used to do to mine.”

“Why’d he take it?”

“Dunno. She didn’t say. Only he stole it.”

“What’s gonna happen?”

“We’re not allowed to ask him about the war anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Probably it’ll make him sad.”


“He’ll miss it, the war.”


“He must like it. That’s why he went back.”

“Whose was it?”


“The doll.”

“Oh. I dunno. Must have been someone important, like the general. Or maybe an Arab.”

“And Daddy’s gotta go back.”

“That why he’s dropping the S-bomb. He said, ‘shit’ like a million times.”

“You’re not supposed to say that.”

“Well Eddie said it like a billion times, so I don’t care. If he were crying like momma instead of cussing like that I wouldn’t be saying it. But he says it, so I do too.”

“He said not to.”

“But that isn’t fair when he can.”


I hear them walking down the hallway. And put out my hand to shush Cassie. When the door opens, they both are being quiet, like when the fights are over. Eddie has been crying too. His man face is all red and streaked. They are holding hands. I want to make the puke face, but I look at them trying not to laugh.

Cassie blurts it out before I can figure out the situation. “Daddy, are you going back?”

Momma’s head starts shaking sadly, and her lip quivers like Cassie’s when she getting scolded.

Eddie responds. “No, darling, no. I’m never going back there.” He walks toward her with his arms out. “Why would you think that?”

“Brittany told me.”

Momma is angry. She moans in disgust and grabs me by the ear. “Get out here young lady.” She is pulling hard like she means it. I am running to keep up. Momma usually won’t hit me, but she smacks at the back of my head as she shoves me into a chair at the kitchen table.

“I told you to take care of Cassie. Not to scare her.”

“It’s not my fault.”

“It is your fault! Why the hell would you tell her that Eddie’s going back?” She must be really mad ‘cause she doesn’t even tell me not to say ‘hell.’

“I only told her what I knew.”

“And what do you know?”

“About Uncle Wrinkles.”

“If you knew about Uncle Wrinkles,” she sobs before she says his name “why would you tell her Daddy is going back? Can’t you see how wrong that is? You‘ve traumatized your sister.”

“She’s not my…”

Momma slaps me hard before I can finish.

“Well, she’s not.”

Another slap.


“What did you say? How dare you!”

“I told her what I know is all!” I jump from the chair and around the table as I shout this.

“And what is that?”

“Uncle Wrinkles stole a doll and they’re sending him home from the war.”

She is shaking her head in a confused way. “Where did you possibly…”

“He took a Bouncing Betty and he’s being shipped home. I heard you say so.”

“I did, but…I…you…it…”

“And Eddie is mad. Throwing things at the wall and crying like a little baby. He must have to go back.”

“No, Brit. That’s not it.”

“Then why did he cry like a baby?”

“‘Cause, baby, ‘cause…” But she is crying too hard to continue. She lunges at me and hugs me like she’s afraid I’ll run away otherwise. She is rocking and moaning and I want her to let me go, but I just pat her back hoping she’ll tire of this. She strokes my face where she had slapped me and she is crying hard into my shoulder. I look over her shoulder toward the phone to see if I can catch a glimpse of the tiny blue and orange wires of the telephone cord. I want to ask Uncle Wrinkles about the war. Right now. ‘Cause I know he’d make me laugh. Uncle Wrinkles always knows how to make me laugh.