“Monkeyshines”

It’s hard to say when we realized our son had monkeyshines. My wife always claims she was the first to notice, and I guess that’s true, since she was the one who called me over to his bedroom door one afternoon when he was supposed to be taking a nap. “Look,” she whispered, and opened the door slightly. There was our son, clearly awake, clearly not napping, his baby hands reaching defiantly for the mobile that orbited above his pillow. His face wore a toothless smile.“My god,” I whispered.

My wife brought a hand to her mouth. “You don’t think it’s—“

“I don’t think it’s anything,” I said. But I knew. In a way, I think both of us knew: monkeyshines. But we didn’t want to say it.

And then, a few months later, there was the incident at the high chair. My wife was feeding our son from a jar of Gerber’s, when our son pointed to the picture of the Gerber baby and said, “Abee!” My wife pretended not to hear, but it was no use; he said it again, “Abee!” My wife dropped the spoon and turned to me, but I didn’t know what to say. She began to cry.

“What are we supposed to do?” she said. Her shoulders trembled. “Oh, what are we supposed to do?”

And then, a few months later, there was the incident at the high chair. My wife was feeding our son from a jar of Gerber’s, when our son pointed to the picture of the Gerber baby and said, “Abee!” My wife pretended not to hear, but it was no use; he said it again, “Abee!” My wife dropped the spoon and turned to me, but I didn’t know what to say. She began to cry. “What are we supposed to do?” she said. Her shoulders trembled. “Oh, what are we supposed to do?”

Weeks passed. We both talked about it without really talking about it somehow. My wife borrowed books from the library, staying up late into the night, two pillows propped behind her worried head. I tried to reassure her, even when our son chewed on his stuffed animals, or balanced himself against our coffee table, or cried for what seemed no justifiable reason. My wife visited websites, blogs, and chat rooms. She bought our son a special set of building blocks, but he only stacked them into towers, then knocked them to the ground and laughed. His laughter was chillingly out of proportion to the event.
“I’ve about had it with these monkeyshines,” my wife said.

“Honey,” I said, “don’t jump to conclusions.”

“I’ll jump to wherever I want to,” she said.

I didn’t know what to say to that.

One afternoon our son liberated himself from the coffee table and took three wobbly steps toward us. He raised both arms, as if for balance. “Abee!” he said. He was missing one sock, the other dangling loosely from his pale toes. His smile was limned with drool.

“Oh!” my wife said.

“Easy now,” I said.

In the moment before he fell, our son gave us a look I can only describe as monkeyshineful. But I scooped him off the ground nonetheless and handed him to my wife, who was fighting back tears. “That’s it,” she said. “That’s really it.”

So we took our son to the doctor. The doctor placed him upon an examination table fitted out with crinkly white paper, peered into his ears with a flashlight, tapped his knees with a rubber tomahawk, and placed a stethoscope about his chest and back, all while our son screamed and cried and tore the crinkly white paper with his chubby fingers. Afterwards, the doctor scribbled something onto a clipboard, while my wife dressed our son back into his clothes.

“I’m afraid it’s a rather bad case of—“ our doctor began.

But my wife burst into tears.

“Monkeyshines?” I said.

The doctor nodded and capped his pen. “Monkeyshines,” he confirmed.

My wife collapsed into my arms. I held her close. “We can get through this,” I said. “Okay?”

After a moment, she wiped her eyes and whispered, “Okay.”

And that’s what it was: okay. It was okay when our son began walking about the house, twice nearly falling down the basement stairs; and it was okay when he mastered climbing from his crib, for we knew the source of these developments and we understood, as we understood when our son started to repeat phrases from the books we read to him or smiled when we made faces that weren’t actually all that humorous, or when he enjoined us to play round after round of peekaboo long after the game had become tiresome and dull. Monkeyshines. We’d grown accustomed to them, in a way, although we couldn’t admit it.

“It’s funny what you can get used to,” I mused one night at the dinner table as our son used a fork to bring solid food to his lips.

“Yeah,” my wife said, and handed him a glass of milk. “Funny.”

One day a few months later, my wife called me upstairs to the master bathroom. Her eyes were wide, her face a mystery I wasn’t able to solve. “What is it?” I asked, but she raised a finger to her lips. She was standing outside the bathroom door, which she opened just enough so that I could see our son sitting on the potty, his pull-up diaper lumped around his ankles. He was playfully kicking his legs and singing a song about fruit salad. A moment passed, albeit a significant one. Then he stood from the potty, pulled his diaper back into place, turned on the faucet and performed all the necessary ablutions. My wife began to cry. Some imp tightened a wrench around my throat.

“What will we do?” my wife said.

I didn’t know what to say. For as much as we had suffered and endured our son’s monkeyshines, nothing had prepared us for what was next: shenanigans.

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About Anthony Varallo

Anthony Varallo is the author of This Day in History, winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award; Out Loud, winner of the Drue Heinz Literature Prize; and Think of Me and I’ll Know (Northwestern University Press/TriQuarterly Books). Currently he is an associate professor of English at the College of Charleston, where he is the fiction editor of Crazyhorse.