Monkey Shines

Trees at the subway. Washington DC

The boy dropped his dad’s hand at the top of the escalator. He was barely a boy, really, more like just-past baby. It was the end of the day and the rush hour throng was thinning. They, the boy and his dad, had just walked the half-mile from school.

School was what they called where he spent his day. The curriculum was directed by the kids. It included many games that they made up, some reading of stories, much playing outside and eating. The boy liked the eating. He liked the other parts, but he liked the eating.

They would cut through the subway on the way home, coming down the escalator on the west side, walking underneath the tracks and out the other side up the escalator. The boy liked to run through the in between tunnel with his dad.

It was early spring so the shadows were long. The boy wore his green zip up fleece. It wasn’t a bright green, more like a pine green. The cap that he wore over his titian hair was a contrasting blue. This blue was between light blue and aqua blue. More blue than green and more bright and vibrant than light. His cap was also fleecy, but baseball style. It sat on his head with the bill a bit to the left, not centered over his nose.

His nose had the mark of a run-in with a tree. A few days before, he was running–he ran a lot–and forgot to look where he was going. A tree reminded him of where he was. You could still see where the tree stopped him, but the wound was covered with a brown scab on his otherwise smooth, porcelain skin.

He took off down the sidewalk. He ran past the double metal fence that created an unnecessary walkway that only kids used. He didn’t use it today. He ran around it. He didn’t see that the cherry trees lining the walkway were starting to bud. He buzzed past the low evergreen shrubs. They weren’t low to him, though. He couldn’t see above them. Maybe that’s why he missed the cherries behind them.

He ran toward the street, but there was no worry that he would run out into it. He was going to his tree. His dad lengthened his step and reached the tree just as the boy was climbing one of the low branches. The old tree trunk was almost split, so the boy didn’t have to struggle to find his place in it’s arms. This was an apple tree–maybe crabapple–so it was behind the cherry trees in blooming. He perched himself in the tree, about four and a half feet above the ground.

“Daddy, I’m Hans the monkey. And this is my Hans tree.”

Nobody knew where the name Hans came from. There were no monkeys named Hans in his books or in his songs or in his movies. None of his friends or relatives had the name Hans. But there he was, Hans the Monkey, nesting in the tree.

He was close to face level with his dad, as his dad sidled up under the tree and placed his face near his. They shared some nonsense and then his dad started to walk up the rise to the street.

“Come on, Hans.”

The little monkey scampered down the tree and grabbed his dad’s hand. They walked the rest of the way home.

Nobody ever asked who Hans was. That would break the spell.

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