“Have you seen my golden owl?” Olive asked the boy sitting on the edge of the fountain. He was fully engrossed in drawing on a sketchpad and didn’t look up at her. She folded her arms and stared at him long and hard, willing him to lift his eyes. He had black and wavy hair that fell across his forehead in one thick clump. The boy’s eyebrows were bushy, like her grandfather’s. She cleared her throat and asked again.
The boy raised his head and blinked twice. Bright blue eyes outlined by long eyelashes squinted up at her. “What?” he said in a less than friendly tone. Did he not feel the electricity shoot between them like a thunderbolt?
He scratched his head with his pencil while he waited for her to answer.
She took a deep breath and pressed on. “I’ve lost my golden owl. I last had him here. I was sitting right where you are. I remember because of this.” She tapped a scratch in the stone next to him: wisdom is … near, or here, she couldn’t tell because he was sitting on the last word. She noticed her finger close to his rear. She pulled it away and hastily said, “I put the owl on the word wisdom. Because you know, an owl represents …”
“Wisdom,” he interrupted. “I get it. But I haven’t seen any golden owl. Sorry.” He returned his pencil to the paper.
Olive slumped down next to him, her body half turned to the Grecian statue in the middle of the fountain. “You don’t understand. I need to find that owl. My mom gave that to me on the day she died, she was hit by a car on 72nd and Third, but you know, she died quickly, probably didn’t feel a thing. I was only ten and I remember when the lady came to get me from class, it was history actually and we were studying Greek myths and I had the owl in my pocket, and you know it has great sentimental value, and all. I mean, I can’t even make a decision without it …” She was rambling, and he was pretending like he couldn’t hear, but she knew he could. “Haven’t you ever lost something super valuable, well, super sentimentally valuable, not actually valuable, and you’ve felt like your whole world was over?”
“Why are you talking to me? I am just trying to draw.” Then he added, “I’m sorry about your owl.” It was an afterthought. But she’d take it.
“Well, that’s kind of you to say. And I guess I’m talking to you because you are sitting on the last place I saw the owl so I think you are part of the story of how it went missing.”
“I don’t have your owl.”
“I’m not accusing you!”
“I didn’t say you were accusing me.”
“You inferred it.”
“I did not.”
Something at the bottom of the fountain caught her eye. She looked closer. “Say, there it is!”
“There what is?”
“The owl? Where?”
“In the water, don’t you see it glimmering there?”
“Where?” His eyes scanned the bottom of the fountain. “There are just a whole lot of pennies, I don’t see anything else,” he said. “Hold on, I do see it. There it is.”
“I know. There it is. I told you so.” A quiet calm filled her insides.
The boy tilted his chin slightly, in an almost nod. He was trying to look disinterested, she thought. Then he spoke solemnly. “A golden owl among copper heads.”
“I have to get it.” Olive decided. It felt good to make a decision again. She took off her sneakers—they were new, red and white Adidas. She didn’t want to ruin them.
“You can’t go in there.”
“Well, you see the sign don’t you?”
She looked. NO WADING IN THE FOUNTAIN.
“I’m not going to wade. I’m going on a retrieval mission.”
“That water is gross. Do you know the amount of bacteria growing in fountain water?”
“Are you a scientist?”
“Then how do you know?”
“The owl told me before he jumped.”
“He didn’t jump. You pushed him.”
“Are you going to help me or what?”
“I have nothing to do with your owl.”
“You are a suspect.”
“I didn’t realize there was a crime.”
She had removed her shoes and socks and was now strategizing on how to enter the water. Her hands rested on her hips.
“Intentional drowning of an innocent golden owl–that’s what I’m charging you with.”
“That’s ridiculous.” The boy was now leaning over the fountain looking at the glistening owl.
“Do you deny it?”
“Do you have an alibi?”
“An alibi. You know, proof you were somewhere else. Because the way I see it is that I left the fountain approximately …” She looked at her watch. It was five of three. Scout would be waiting at the bus stop for her. She should have texted her, but she couldn’t decide what to say, not without her owl. “…approximately 34 minutes ago. From the look of your drawing—wait, what is that, a drawing of an owl? Wow, that’s fine–Anyhow, you have been here at least that long, maybe more. Unless you can prove that you were somewhere else during the time of the crime, I think you are the only suspect.”
“Do you always talk so much and so fast?”
“Well, actually I do. I talk fast so I don’t forget what I have to say and I talk to myself because as an only child, I have no one else to talk to.”
“You have the owl to talk to.”
“I had the owl. Now I need to get him back.”
“If I help you get the owl will you leave me alone?”
She paused. She thought they were having a nice time together. Now he wanted her to leave him alone?
“Now you’re the impatient one. See we are very similar. You want something—to be left alone. And I want something–my owl back. I am standing in the way of your happiness and you, you are the cause of my unhappiness.”
“Hey listen, I didn’t make you unhappy. You left your owl here. I merely sat down to draw one.”
“Ah ha! So you admit it.”
“I admit nothing.” He was now in the water, his khaki shorts rolled up revealing a pale upper thigh in contrast to his tanned legs. He had strong, athletic legs. “Just point to where it is again.”
“There,” she instructed.
He waded to the left.
“A little more to the left.” She was standing on the fountain edge, pointing to the owl. Her heart beat faster. He was so close.
“There! There!” She jumped up and down. It was a good thing he had such long arms. His were almost twice the length of hers. He had giraffe arms and lion legs. She giggled because he didn’t look anything like either of those animals. He was far too proportionate and much too attractive.
He pulled his arm out of the water, stood tall and held the golden owl in the air. Sunlight sparkled against the belly of the golden owl. It was such a beautiful sight—him displaying it like a Greek soldier holding up a victory trophy with Athena looking on approvingly. She rushed into the water and hugged him.
“You found my owl.”
“Er, uh,” he stuttered.
“Oh sorry,” she said. But she wasn’t.
She reached for his hand, took the owl, and grasped it in her closed fist.
Out of the fountain, she fished a water bottle and a towel from her bulging bag.
“It’s good to be prepared.” She rinsed off her hands and legs then handed the bottle to him. Then she dried off and passed him her towel.
“Thanks,” he said.
“Well then. With the search and rescue complete, I think you’re off the hook.”
“Off the hook?”
“Yes, I won’t press charges.”
“Well, that’s a relief. And very wise.”
She smiled. “All it takes is a little wisdom to do the right thing.”
He laughed. “Can I get back to my drawing now?”
He sat down. She kept standing. Her brain raced to make a decision. She still had time to make it back to the bus station, back to her best friend. She felt the ridges of the golden owl in her hand, saw the ripples of the water glide towards her. She looked at her packed bag. A vendor rolled his cart past them, a whiff of freshly baked nuts wafted by, a seductive aroma that encouraged her to blurt out, “Can I sit and watch you draw for a while?”
The boy looked at her, then glanced at the owl in her hand.
“Why not?” he replied and patted the space next to him. “Just try and be quiet, ok.”
“Quiet as a mouse,” she whispered. “But first what’s your name?”
“My name is Leo.”
“Hi Leo. I’m Olive.”
“Hi Olive. Now be quiet.” He lifted his index finger to his mouth.
A minute later, she began, “Well, Leo, speaking of lions, did I ever tell you about the time a lion came to my birthday party?”
Editor’s note: This story was inspired by a metal owl that I found at a vintage store in Asbury Park. I keep it on my desk as a reminder to think before speaking. Anyhow, I felt like writing, but didn’t have a story in mind. After staring at this edited picture of the owl on my Iphone for a while, I had a spark of an idea. A story wasn’t what I had in mind for this blog, but I wanted to share the process of creation–sometimes it’s a picture, sometimes it’s a conversation. Doesn’t matter where the spark comes from, just matters what you do with it when it arises. I hope the owl inspires you today too.