March 14, 2017

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A Reminder in the Darkness

They first started showing up a month after her husband left. She would find them everywhere. In her mailbox. On the hood of her car. Buried in her flower bed. She would be absorbed in some menial task, like washing the dishes or doing her laundry, and she would find one tucked away somewhere. She began to find them in public places too. In public restrooms. Tossed in with the produce at the grocery store. Sitting on the bench in the park. Always the same design, their little beaks carved to precision, their wings whittled and shaped just so. Always the same color, the same dull wooden brown, no stain, no paint, nothing to change its color.

Always meant specifically for her. Each little owl had her name engraved on the bottom in a shaky print.

She didn’t even know how to respond. At first, she found it charming, collecting them and setting them around her home. Then it started getting creepy; she would find them tucked away in her purse. At that point, she threw them all out. She ignored them when she came across them. She started shopping in different stores, eating at different restaurants, going out of her way to get coffee or see a movie, just to avoid running across one of them. Every time she even heard the sound of an owl, saw a picture of an owl, heard mention of an owl, she cringed. Hearing them fly by outside, she would hide her face. Disgusted.

And then he showed up, too.

It was almost a full year after the divorce. She had long since started avoiding the owls and her old haunts, when a sheepish little man, hands wringing in constant anxiety, clothing always slightly askew despite his constant adjustments, eyes big with fear and longing, longing to be loved, to be wanted, to be seen, appeared before her while she sat, sipping her coffee and reading her magazine. She felt his eyes on her before she saw him, heard his hitched breathing. Without looking up from the glossy pages, she asked, “Can I help you?”

“Yes.” His voice sounded shaky, nervous, like a little boy talking to his first crush, like a shy child hiding from the strangers his mother introduced. He didn’t go on. Rather, she felt his eyes boring into her skull.

With a sigh, she put down her magazine, folded her hands in front of her, and looked up at the man. There was not much to look up to, as he was short in stature and slight in build. She  almost felt sorry for him. “What can I do for you?”

As she saw his eyes light up—someone was paying attention to him!—his hands shakily pulled something from his coat pocket. When he set it down before her, her breath caught in her chest. It was an owl, exactly like the hundreds of others she had tried so hard to avoid all these months. Her eyes flickered from the owl to his face, a rising sense of panic clenching in her chest. He pushed it towards her when she made no move to pick it up. “For you.”

So he was the one who seemed to be stalking her, who followed her, who placed these little statues, with her name on them, around town for her to see. Was he really that desperate for attention that he would stop his stalking and find her, talk to her in person? She felt her skin prickle underneath her blazer. Forcing a smile onto her face, she looked up at him and said, “They’re lovely, sir, but—“

“No, no, no!” he interrupted her. “No buts!” Taking her hands in his, he gently forced her hands around the little owl figurine and smiled. His eyes scanned her face, searching for appreciation and acceptance, but finding only fear and confusion. His smile fell, quickly disappearing, replaced by an overwhelming sadness. “You don’t like them.”

“No, I do,” she insisted, a fake sincerity painting her every word, her every feature, from the crinkle of her eyes to the tips of her smile to the caress of the figurine in her hands. He could sense her inauthenticity, her hesitation, so she continued on, “I’m just…” Her mind scrambled to find the right word with the right connotation. She wished with all her heart that she could tell him how it was: he was creepy. But she knew she couldn’t. He seemed like a sweet guy with sweet intentions. Instead, she said, “Confused.”

It was his turn to be confused. His brow furrowed. His eyes darkened. His hands shook as he gestured politely to the owl in her hands. “Why? It’s a gift.”

His innocence started to irk her. How could he, a fully grown man, act like this wasn’t at least out of place? No one in his right mind would act the way he did. Her blood started to boil, her cheeks turning slightly red with her rising anger. “If it’s a gift, why did you only just now start to hand them to me? Why have you spent the last year placing them around town? In my home? In my purse? Do you know how creepy and stalker-ish that is?” Seeing his still confused look, she groaned, “Are you really that thick that you don’t understand?”

He cupped her hands in his, the owl still between her fingers. “Hope.” She searched him, his eyes, his body language, everything, looking for answers. Hope? He repeated the word again, pointing to the owl. “Hope.” When she didn’t seem to understand yet again, he gently, almost sweetly, pried her fingers open and took the bird in his hands, flourishing it before her face, gesturing and pointing. “Hope.”

Finally, it started to dawn on her. She pointed to the owl. “Hope?” He nodded, a bright smile stretching across his face and lighting up his not unattractive features. “They’re symbols of hope?” Another nod. Lightheaded and lighthearted, she blinked back tears. “You weren’t stalking me.” She paused. “Well, you still were technically stalking me, but you saw how depressed I was and decided to leave me a present, a reminder really, that my husband leaving me isn’t the end of the world. That there’s still hope.”

“Yes. Hope!”

“That’s…” She raised her eyes to meet his, tears glistening behind both sets of eyes, her brown ones, his green. “That’s beautiful.”

And it was that one simple word that motivated her to start doing the same. Every weekend, she spent all her free time crafting tiny owls, from yarn, from paper, from fabric, from anything she had lying around the house. Everywhere she went, she had two or three tucked into her purse, and every time she saw someone who looked like they could use a reminder, she slipped one into their hands, each little owl brandishing on its chest the one reminder that saved her world.

Hope.

***

Prompt: A recent divorcee starts finding owls symbols and images everywhere she goes. Who appears in her life to tell her what they mean, and why does she start making tiny owls and setting them around town?

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