Monkey and the Helium by Josh Lefkowitz



Monkey was one of the most beloved members of the jungle community. If you needed someone to hang out with by the walla-walla trees, Monkey was your guy. If you were going through some personal issue, Monkey was there for you. He probably drank a little too much, and was often too loud at museums, and sometimes made inappropriate comments when children were around, but overall, Monkey was good stock, and everyone in the jungle liked him a lot.

However, Monkey had one problem: whenever Monkey would meet a Monkette, he would gulp helium and soar into the sky.

I’m not saying every Monkette elicited helium-gulping. Plenty of Monkettes served as Monkey’s friends – he liked swinging on vines with them, or, talking about how their parents’ mistakes had informed their own journeys accordingly. But every once in a while, a certain sort of Monkette would come along – usually artistic, intelligent, pretty, witty – and Monkey would gulp that helium like a stoned teenager gulps a 7-11 Big Gulp.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with gulping helium, per se. It’s just that, eventually, like the coconut from the tree or the stock market, everything that goes up must eventually come crashing down. And so eventually, Monkey would crash, and he would crash hard. And it hurt.

The first time Monkey gulped helium the jungle community was ecstatic.

“Go for it, Monkey!” cried the giraffe.

“Yeah, go Monkey go!” echoed the zebra.

“I’m so happy for you, Monkey!” shouted the hippo. “I was starting to think you were asexual!”

And Monkey soared up into the sky, where the clouds lived alongside the sun and the moon.

“I feel so happy,” Monkey thought to himself, “I’m definitely going to stay up here forever.”

But lo, it was not the case. And eventually, Monkey crashed down, and bruised the spot on the left side of his body, right above the ribs.

Soon after, Monkey met another certain sort of Monkette, and again was gulping that helium like the frog gulps the fly. And again, he was off and soaring.

“Alright, Monkey!” cried the giraffe.

“Good to see you flying again!” echoed the zebra.

“I’m so happy for you, Monkey!” shouted the hippo, “even if this is a rebound gulp!”

Up, up in to the sky Monkey soared, this time all the way up to where the planets and stars stayed.

“This is the best feeling in the world,” Monkey thought to himself, “I really feel like everything is perfect and will remain that way.”

But again, Monkey could not have been more erroneous in his prediction. And he crashed back down, and the spot on the left side of his body, up above the ribs, was like, ouch. Monkey. That hurt.

Monkey began to ask himself difficult questions. He wondered about his jungle journey. He even began to write poetry. The other animals expressed their care for Monkey, as he had done for them before.

“We love you Monkey,” said the other animals.

“Thank you all,” said Monkey, “would you like to hear a poem I wrote?”

“Um, we have a thing to get to,” said the other animals, “but we love you, Monkey.”

The seasons changed. Some of the animals got tattoos. In time, once again, Monkey met a Monkette, and wouldn’t you know, he started gulping that helium like the sea gulps itself. And off he went again.

“Monkey, be careful!” cried the giraffe.

“We don’t want to see you get hurt!” echoed the zebra.

“She’s 20 years old!” shouted the hippo. “And she lives several jungles away! You’re not thinking rationally, Monkey!”

But Monkey soared, up, up, way up into the sky, where the One Who Watches Over It All lives.

“I feel like I’ve finally figured it out,” said Monkey.

“No,” said the One Who Watches Over It All, “you really haven’t.” And the One Who Watches Over It All shoved Monkey out of the sky.

As it turns out, the One Who Watches Over It All could be benevolent in one moment, and then a real dick in another.

Down onto the ground crashed Monkey, to the point where the spot on the left side of his body, above the ribs, said, Monkey, that’s enough – I’m not doing this again.

So Monkey focused on other tasks for a while. He hung out by the walla-walla trees. He swung from the vines with the other Monkeys, and those Monkettes who were friends and with whom all helium-gulping-tension had long been assessed and discarded.

And that’s how it was. And that’s how it was going to be.

Until Monkey met another Monkette.

“This one is different,” said Monkey, “this one is really legit.”

“How long have you known her?” asked the giraffe.

“Couple of weeks,” said Monkey.

“Be careful, Monkey,” said the giraffe.

“Does she want to get married? Does she want kids?” queried the zebra.
“I don’t know,” said Monkey, “but I really like her.”
“Easy, Monkey,” said the zebra, “we just don’t want to see you get hurt.”

“Are you sure you don’t just want to be with another Monkey?” wondered the hippo aloud, “because I have to tell you, as your friend, whenever I see you I think to myself, ‘that Monkey wants to be with another Monkey’.”

“No,” said Monkey, “I know I give off that impression, but no, I think this Monkette is really unique and special.”

The hippo stared at Monkey.

“Monkey” said the hippo at last, “you know I love you, but when it comes to these matters, you’re a real fucking idiot. And I say that as your friend. A real. Fucking. Idiot.”

Monkey wanted to be better this time. But he also wanted to gulp helium.

“Are we not here to gulp helium?” he asked himself. “Is that not why The One Who Watches Over It All made us, and placed us here in the jungle? To gulp helium? To soar, and crash, and soar, and crash, ad infinitum?”

The One Who Watches Over It All said nothing and made no gesture to indicate he was listening…or was even there in the first place.

So Monkey went to the Monkette.

“You make me want to gulp helium,” he confessed.

“Okay,” the Monkette replied, “um, I like you too.”

“No, no, you don’t get it – I am INTO you, and I wanna gulp so much goddamn helium that I burst into a million pieces.”

“Oh,” said the Monkette, “um, well, that’s not, uh, necessary, I think.”

“Do you wanna gulp helium with me?” asked Monkey point-blank.

The Monkette thought for a moment. She took Monkey’s hand.

“I like you,” she said, “and I like helium. But what about if we just…sip it? Slowly?”

Monkey was confused.

“I don’t even know how to do that,” he said.

“That’s alright,” said the Monkette, “but, y’know – try.”

So Monkey steadied himself. He felt his feet firmly latched upon the ground. And then, he took a little sip of helium. He started to soar…but just a little bit.

“That was nice,” said Monkey. “It wasn’t crazy, but, it was nice.”

“I think so too,” said the Monkette, who had also taken a sip of helium as well.

They looked at each other for a good long time.

“I want to sip more,” said Monkey.

“And we will,” said the Monkette. “Tomorrow.”


Josh Lefkowitz won the 2013 Wergle Flomp Humor Poetry Prize, an Avery Hopwood Award for Poetry at the University of Michigan, and was a finalist for the 2014 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize. His poems and essays have been published at Court Green, The Rumpus, The Huffington Post, The Offing, and many other places. He has also recorded humorous essays for NPR’s All Things Considered and BBC’s Americana.