by Guy Anthony De Marco
Something moves close by when you think you’re alone. Looking up from a tattered copy of Writers Digest from 1989, you see an owl. Normally this would be a minor thrill if you were out camping or watching a drive-in movie, but the owl is in your bathroom while you’re going number two.
The owl sits there and watches you, its giant eyeballs lit up all orangey-yellow with tiny pinpricks for the pupils. The light fixture has a couple of L.E.D. hundred-watt equivalent daylight bulbs when it should have a pair of forties, far too much for a small room covered in whitish tile and mildew-colored grout.
“Hello,” says the owl in a weird accent, like a teakettle with a lisp trying to talk in Gaelic. At least that’s what you think it sounds like, even though you don’t know anyone with a lisp, hate tea, and have never heard a word of Gaelic since you were born in Hoboken, New Jersey in the eighties. The words rattle around the bathroom, bouncing off the walls until it blends with the sound of the bathtub faucet’s steady dripping.
That’s when you fully comprehend that you understood what the owl spoke. You’ve heard from a lot of folks that animals can communicate if you listen properly. Maybe listen properly means you have to be concentrating on something else and the words slip through your brain filters that change the sounds to owl-noises. Sometimes you’re slow like that when it comes to maintaining situational awareness. It’s fine, mom loved you more than your older brother despite your slowness on the uptake.
“Who are you?” you finally manage to blurt at the talking owl.
The owl cocks one feathery eyebrow at you. “Goodness gracious, I hate that joke. I’m an owl. I don’t say ‘who’ unless I’m trying to lure a feathery seductress to my nest or if it’s part of an interrogative.”
You look confused.
“An interrogative is a grammatical form for standard questions.”
You no longer look confused. “Why is an owl in my bathroom? Can all owls speak English clearly? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie pop?”
Owl puffs out its feathers and flutters from the towel rack by the door to the chipped porcelain sink filled with warm water. Stretching its neck so it can get a clear view in the mirror, it replies, “Most owls are polyglots, and it takes three licks.”
The look returns.
“We speak multiple languages fluently if you bother to listen.”
The look vanishes.
Owl picks up your Gillette razor and scrapes it under its wing where armpit hair would be on a human. “I hate molting feathers, they make me itch. Humans make such useful gadgets.”
You politely refrain from continuing your planned bodily functions until the owl is fluff-free.
“I’m here to ask you to stop doing something,” the owl says as it rinses off the razor and sets it back next to the pressed-together slivers of soaps you use to wash your hands. “You have a mouse problem, in case you haven’t noticed.”
You’re embarrassed and are about to deny the rude owl’s statement when three fat mice hop on top of the toilet paper roll and begin arguing whether the roll should unroll next to or away from the wall. Squeaky voices, you hate them. Hate, hate, hate them.
“The owl population of your apartment has elected me to request that you stop putting mouse poison out in your kitchen. The squirrels under your bed get sick, the raccoons in your attic get stoned and act like idiots, and it can kill owls.”
You’re not sure what to say, so as you release some of the pressure from your bottom end, the commode tunes the gas into a B-flatulent monotone tuba solo.
Owl gives you a disgusted look. “You like owls, right?”
You do, you think to yourself, even though you never got your letter from Hogwarts. “Yeah.”
“We’ll take care of your mice from our new home in your spare bedroom closet. Deal?”
You realize you’re actually really pissed that the stupid owls lost your Hogwarts letter, and would say no if your hatred of mice in your underwear drawer and eating all of your toilet paper were even slightly less than it was. “Okay, but can you find out where my Hogwarts letter went?”
The owl flaps once and snags all three mice, splattering you with warm soapy water and bits of down and feather ends. You listen as Owl crams the last one into its beak whole and realize the mouse is squeaking curse words in French. When the mouse shuts up and slides down the gullet, Owl turns just its head to you and replies “What are you, an idiot? That’s fiction. Like Uncle Vernon said in the first book of the series, there’s no such thing as magic.”
From the author:
I wrote this story when I was finishing up my Master of Fine Arts degree. Someone said you couldn’t write a second-person flash fiction in a discussion forum, so I wrote this in an hour for a Magic Realism class. It was published in Raven Cage Magazine. I hope you enjoy it.