Beside the monkey puzzle
There was the hand to hold and he held it. Beau’s hand, big, bold, Beau’s hand and he felt happy and proud and self-conscious and amazed all at once. They walked into the gardens with people all around and he knew some would be looking at them, two thirty-year-old men holding hands and in his gut and his heart he felt this was the man he wanted to marry.
They were off to see the roses. Beau had taken his hay fever spray and he, the potential fiancé, anticipated selfies in front of favourite blooms. To their left the Peacock Fountain babbled as they walked through the museum wall’s shade into sunshine. There at a
fork in the path was that tallish tree with a distinctive grey trunk and evergreen phallic branches.
“It’s the monkey puzzle tree! Monkey,” he said, drawing out the last syllable and then, “puzzle.” Perhaps the gelato he’d had earlier was messing with his blood sugar but it had, like, natural fruit, so nah? Whatever. He liked saying monkey and puzzle and he liked
“Why’s it called that?” Beau asked.
He pulled out his phone and looked it up. “Native to central and southern Chile and western Argentina, blah, blah, blah.”
“We should have barbecue for tea, at the market,” Beau said.
“A dude in England had a specimen and he showed it to a group of friends and one of them said ‘it would puzzle a monkey to climb that’.” He thought for a moment and said, “Which I guess means it would be hard for a monkey to climb, and so it became monkey
puzzler and then monkey puzzle.”
Beau looked the tree over.
He admired Beau’s noble profile. “A monkey couldn’t climb that?” Beau asked and turned to him with his sceptic’s face on.
“It looks super prickly,” he said.
“It looks more like monkey tails,” Beau said. “A monkey tail tree. And that,” he pointed at the base of the trunk, “looks like an elephant’s foot.”
“It can live for a thousand years,” he, the potential fiancé said, scrolling on his phone. How many generations of people is that, he wondered. He knew a generation is twenty-five years on average, not the random number marketers and algorithms split us into, with their Boomers and Generation X and Millennials and Z and whatever they’ll invent next. He used his calculator. “It can live for forty generations,” he said and then, gelato sugar rush or not, he went over and wrapped his arms around the trunk.
“Never knew you were a tree hugger,” Beau said.
“You do now,” he said. Cheekily he lifted one foot and kissed the trunk, like a woman kissing her barrel-chested hero in those old-time movies when the world was black and white and shades of grey.
“You’re spethal,” Beau said.
He had a thing where he imagined the tree he felt affection for at any particular moment was the navel of the world, or the pin keeping it all together. Pull the tree out and the globe would deflate.
Two children approached, a boy and a girl, curious, it seemed to him, at the sight of a grown man hugging a tree. They stood at a distance probably in case he made a swoop for them or started muttering like dirty dudes on stolen bicycles.
When he walked back to him, Beau asked, “Got that out of your system, weirdo?”
“Aren’t they cute?” the potential fiancé said and nodded at the children, who, like monkeys-see-monkeys-do, hugged a side of the trunk each, and their mother or caregiver or whatever took photos.
“I don’t want kids,” Beau said.
“I don’t want kids.”
His world went fuzzy, like when streaming goes slow, a glitch in the matrix, then snapped into focus. Beau was looking away from him.
“You don’t want kids? Why?”
Beau sighed like he’d held what he was about to say for a long, long, time, and said, “Because the planet’s getting munted and there’s too many of us doing the munting. It’s not fair for the planet and it’s not fair for kids born into it.”
One of the children at the tree, the girl, had lifted her foot and kissed it as he had done and her mother or caregiver or whatever took some photos and was it his imagination or did the girl dissolve into the air? Something didn’t feel right either with him or the world. Had the children pulled the monkey puzzle out?
Beau still didn’t look at him and said stuff about mass species extinction and climate refugees and that not having a kid is twenty times more important than any other environmental choice you could make and he stood there thinking is this the same man who, like, just called me spethal for hugging a tree?
Every birth is a metamorphosis, he had read. An Italian academic, Coccia, translated. Every one of us, every child, is life trying a fresh experiment, trying to survive. We’re a metamorphosis of parents, and they’re a metamorphosis of parents, forty generations of
metamorphoses and back to when life began, plant life, animal life, all life from stardust and cosmic fireworks. How could you not want to see your metamorphosis, Beau’s seed or his seed?
He’s an optimist. Technology will save the world and the kids will live into the next century to hug this monkey puzzle as flying cars whizz overhead and robots carry picnic baskets.
Beau turned, doesn’t-want-kids Beau, with his impatient face on and hand out and,
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