Spring 2024


By Rich Glinnen

Kenny Cradle didn’t know his father, and his mother didn’t seem to mind keeping things on a friendly basis. “I like you, Kenny. Not many mothers my age can claim that,” she said one evening, which is to say she said while drunk. “But love—real love—it doesn’t exist.” She lit a cigarette and sent a cloud under the lampshade. “It was an endangered species. It was rare. But then people got a hold of it and threw it into their labs. They sank their machine into it and made copies. Now it’s everywhere.” A fresh cloud replaced the withered one under the lampshade. “People tell you they love you if you hold the door for them. But it’s not the real thing.”

As a child, Cradle took this without offense. Real love didn’t exist. He knew this because his mother told him so. So if she didn’t love him, it wasn’t a bad thing, because there wasn’t any love to give. It was only until his adolescence that he learned what it really meant, and so he grew to resent his mother, though they stayed close. As a young man, Cradle sought out a therapist, and then learned about compassion—for himself, foremost, and also for his mother, who, considering her parents, didn’t do such a bad job raising him. It was around this time, when Cradle felt closest to his mother, that she pulled away. She got another boyfriend, moved to Florida, and didn’t leave an address.

When Cradle had a child of his own with his wife, Sasha, he was determined to end the cycle and love it, even if it killed him.

All babies are born with blue eyes, but Cole’s were especially blue. Cradle and Sasha knew that he would keep his blue eyes the moment they saw him. That is, until Sasha’s mom told them in the recovery room that he wasn’t going to. “They’re too dark. They’re for sure going to turn brown. Still, they’re beautiful eyes though.”

Cole’s eyes did turn brown, and his curly blonde hair straightened and also turned brown. But his parents didn’t mind at all, because he was healthy and happy, and so were they. Healthy and happy.

“Brown boy, my little brown boy. Brown as a bear with brown hair. You’re my little brown boy.” This was Cradle’s song that he would sing to his son, whether he was feeding him or changing his diaper or else just watching him play. Even when he started driving him to school, he would serenate his son from the rearview mirror and cause Cole to sink into his seat. Cradle refrained from doing it when his son’s friends were in the car though, and for that he was grateful.

As Cole was gaining friends and celebrity—it turned out he could throw a baseball surprisingly fast for a little guy—Cradle was pulling away from his own friends. Not intentionally; he just didn’t have the time he used to have. And any time he did have he was going to spend with his son. Suddenly fishing was waiting around, staring at your reflection. Video games were living somebody else’s life. And getting drunk at the bar was a waste of money. Not to mention the next day he wouldn’t be himself at all, but a hungover photocopy of himself. No, anytime away from Cole was a waste of time.

“Cole, my little soul. You’re my little angel face.”

“Dad, stop it.”

“I want to squish your squishy little face all over the place.”

Sasha died in her sleep at the blessed age of 96. This, more or less, was the opening line of Cradle’s eulogy, which got sidetracked when he locked eyes with his son in the first pew. Since then, the funeral became a doting ceremony for Cole, whose face, now that of a 60-year-old man, was anything but cherubic. But Cradle didn’t see it that way. He took the roundness that age tends to fill a man’s face with as baby fat, and the gray whiskers as peach fuzz. Cradle’s grandchildren slouched beside their father in the pew, silently explaining this display away to dementia.

Cradle smiled at the congregation proudly, as if to say, Get a load of my son. Ain’t he the best? Then he turned towards the coffin in which Sasha was lain, and towards the flowers surrounding it that were brought from the funeral parlor. Collecting himself, Cradle leaned into the microphone and said, “Cole, what color flowers do you see? I see purple ones. Can you show me which ones are the purple ones?”

Clara, Cole’s wife, wasn’t happy that her father-in-law was going to be living with them. But she knew there was no choice. He was 101 and, much to her chagrin, not even close to dying. Except for the fact that now Cradle had to use a wheelchair.

“It just makes sense, Clara. He’s an old man and we have the space with the kids out of the house.” 

She just stared at him. 

“I don’t like it either, but it’s my duty. I don’t have any sisters.”

It got to be that Cradle exclusively spoke in babytalk. His words, phrases, they all ballooned with positivity and looped from his lips in a sing-songy way. And they usually rhymed. Conversations with his father proved impossible, and it was for this reason that Cole felt a distance form from his father, as if he wasn’t a man of flesh and blood, but a loud toy at the bottom of a toy chest that goes off every so often.

“Try as I must, I cannot stop. This is peculiar. Very singular. Should we call our good friends, the cops?” Cradle grinned as he suggested this, very much pleased with the idea of his local law enforcement, which, in his mind, he had over as a special guest many a time.

After five years of living with Cradle, Clara decided to leave Cole. Not so much because of her father-in-law’s inane babytalking, but because of the changes she had been observing in her husband. No longer did he detest his ramblings like he used to. No longer was he visibly annoyed when his father would ask him in front of his 30-year-old grandchildren if he had to poop. Cole, now in his late-70’s, started to appreciate his father’s verses like that of a child. Cole was getting old quickly, Clara knew, and he needed his father’s doting. But Clara didn’t have much time left either, and she wasn’t sacrificing her happiness any longer.

“Goodbye, Cole,” she said, and went into the bedroom. Cole and Cradle heard luggage zipping, which caused Cradle to imitate the sound.

Zip, zip, zip. That’s how the zipper goes. Can you go zip, Cole?”

“Zip!” responded Cole proudly from the confines of his easy chair.

“Socks and sundries, toothbrush and undies. Don’t forget what you don’t need yet!” Cradle called out joyfully. Cole clapped and laughed. 

Now Cole was standing and pointing at the floor to ceiling mirror in the living room. “Look, Daddy. A caterpillar!”  And although he mispronounced “caterpillar” in such a way that Cradle hoped his son would pronounce it the rest of his life, he knew what he meant. In the mirror was Cradle, but instead of his head of European descent upon his body, was an amiable green caterpillar head, complete with two robust antennas. And from his now comparatively scrawny neck hung a short yellow tie with blue dots. 

It didn’t seem real to Cradle. Not that he didn’t believe it. He certainly did. He was even pleased with it, for Cole seemed to enjoy this form of him better (he was now sitting on the floor and hugging his leg). To Cradle, his head seemed unreal in that it looked like a cartoon. As if Eric Carle himself blotted out his humanness with his signature creation: The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

It was around this time Clara appeared with a modestly sized piece of luggage and her arms full of bedding. “What in God’s name have you become?” she said to them. Cole stopped hugging his father’s leg and opened the door open for his wife. Cradle was incredibly impressed with his son’s thoughtful gesture. “I love you, Cole,” she said as she neared the doorway, and kissed his cheek.

Cradle was about to embark on a song about how life is full of changes, and that those changes can be scary, even hairy, and can make you weary, but she was already gone.

Best of the Net nominee, Rich Glinnen, has had his poetry featured on Rich Vos’s and Bonnie McFarlane’s podcast My Wife Hates Me, and is a mainstay at the Nuyorican Poets Café. His work can be read in various print and online journals, as well as on his Tumblr and Instagram pages. He currently has two cats, two kids, and one wife. Find more @richglinnen on IG/richglinnen.tumblr.com

Spring 2024