The Monkey Tree
Patricia Parkinson

It’s late July and Susan is peddling her bike through the subdivision with her kids. Joe, her husband, is home nursing a hangover, what he calls “the flu.” He slept till two in the afternoon. What he calls “watching the children.” Susan worked till six at night. The kids fixed themselves Corn Pops and dry Asian noodles for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, in a bowl—no milk.

“It tastes good together,” they said.

When Susan came home, the dirty dishes and beer cans she’d woken up to were still there. They own a dishwasher. Susan is not filled with the joy of Jesus. Susan is fucked in the head.

“You have to leave,” she told Joe, again. “By eight,” she said, pointing to her watch, enhancing the meaning, the toughness—the strength of her resolve. “Be gone before the kids and I get back from our ride,” she told him.

They cycle past neighbors’ houses, looking at their gardens and what nice flowers they have. The kids race and Susan yells to watch for driveways. She admires the purple clematis. Susan’s garden doesn’t have clematis. She would like one very much. Susan envisions the clematis climbing the south wall of the house. They’d have to stay in the house for another year to see it bloom. Susan is not prepared to invest the $39.95.

Joe is a binge drinker. Susan’s father was a binge drinker. It’s all too Adult Child for Susan to bear.

It’s not that Susan didn't know about Joe’s proclivities, a word she learned when she shared her concerns with her mother.

“All men have their proclivities,” her mother said. “Just be thankful he’s not running around on you.”

Halleluiah! Susan wanted to shout, but didn’t.

Susan has a short fuse between forgiveness and anger. She fantasizes about killing Joe. After plotting to mix Miracle-Gro in his yogurt, the next day Susan is filled with remorse and loves him again, so desperately, so achingly bitter and horny and thick as paint at the bottom of a can.

“Let’s go see the monkey tree,” Emma says, her eyes triumphant with a good idea.

The monkey tree is on the next cul-de-sac over. It stands forty feet tall with a twenty-foot circumference at the base. Its branches bow and are formed symmetrically with long, thick stalks that are succulent in their greenery. The leaves resemble the tip of a sword, a weapon—reptilian. It’s the only tree a monkey cannot climb.

They turn right at the end of the street and start up the next block in the same direction they came.

Emma leads the way and Dylan takes the middle. Susan follows and tells them, Don’t go so far ahead, not so fast, and stay closer to the curb. Emma stops and points as she does every time they ride this way. Dylan and Susan pull up beside her. They can see through the neighbor’s yard into their own back yard.

“It’s our house,” Emma says, as if she’s surprised once again that it’s there.

Susan stops and leans her bike against her thigh. She strains to catch a flash of Joe’s red shirt through the hedge, stretches on her tiptoes to see if he’s still sitting on the lawn chair.

She imagines pulling up to the house and his truck not being there. She wonders how she’ll know if he’s left for a while, their argument an excuse to go to the pub, or if he’s left for good. She doesn’t want to check his drawers or leave messages on his cell phone until the voice mail is full. She doesn’t want to scrub vomit from the toilet anymore.

“There it is!” Dylan cries, pointing to the monkey tree, holding on to his bike with one hand, wavering for a moment. He rides across the street and parks on the grass next to the tree. Emma stops beside him and they wait for their mother.

The tree dwarfs the house it’s in front of, casting its shadow across the roof, darkening the yard. Susan parks ahead of her children and approaches the tree.

She reaches her hand toward a branch, toward the prick of a leaf. She feels a sting, a quick barb, and pulls away. If she clasps her hand around the end, it will slice into her and she will bleed. She cannot stop herself from touching it.

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