Oct 17: OWL


The old barn doesn’t smell like much when it’s cold, but in the summertime when the sun slices through the cracks in the boards it smells sweet, like straw and old manure.  The wood creaks in the wind, it creaks underfoot.  Up in the lofts it smells sour, because there are still old hay bales up there.  They’re packed with mice.  You can hear them squeak if you sit still long enough, scuffling with each other just out of sight.

From the rafters, the owls watch and wait.  There’s no food in a hay bale, just nesting material.

Owls are patient, and the mice have to come out sometime.

I climb up to the loft and sketch the light and shadows falling on the stalls below.

Sometimes I find owl pellets on the ground under the rafters.  The pellets are dark gray and about two inches long, mostly made of mouse fur so tightly packed together that it’s become felted.  The pellets always look like cocoons of death to me, like a tiny bony figure with a scythe will uncurl itself and start attacking my hand as I hold it.  To me, the color of death isn’t black.  It’s dark gray.  The color of undigestible mouse fur.

Today I find a big one.  I tease it open with my pencil and sketch the bones inside.  One partially broken skull, six shattered jawbone pieces, a dozen short pieces that could be arms or legs, and a scattering of little fragments.  Definitely a vertibra.  I should study mouse anatomy at some point, so I know what I’m drawing.

That done, I pull a strand of hair from my hairline and twist it between my fingers.  Don’t eat it this time, I tell myself.  You know it’s bad for you…

But I roll it up into a pill and eat it anyway.

In my stomach is a hard lump of hair, a lump that feels like cancer.  I want…I know that I won’t be able to cough it up.  I’m no owl.  The doctors say that the only answer is to get surgery.  They beg me to stop eating my hair—just shave it off.  If all I have is my body hair to eat, then it’ll pass through.  It’ll be too short to tangle.  It’ll pass right through my system.

Or you could just stop, they say.

Up here, though.  The doctors never seem real.

I reach into my knapsack and pull out a frozen, tinfoil-covered lump.  It’s always risky, hiding things in the freezer, but I don’t like to eat them exactly raw.  But nobody looks under the old freezerburned turkey at the bottom.  Mom just sighs every Thanksgiving and says, “Not this year.”

I unwrap it, pull off a leg, and start chewing.  Honestly, even frozen it’s still a little rubbery.

I know it’s a bad idea, but I swallow carefully, and pull off another leg.  I know it’s not rational.  I know it’s stupid and dangerous.  But I’ve always believe that if I eat enough of them, I’ll turn into an owl.  Or something that isn’t me, anyway.  And then I’ll be safe.

Safe from what, I don’t know.  The doctors say I have anxiety.

I always eat the little heads last, using my teeth to scrape off the skin and hair, then suck out the brains.  Not my favorite part, but I like to sketch the skulls first.

This one looks like squid bones, if squids had bones, with a beak that looks strong enough to snap a steel wire.

I don’t know where they come from, originally.  There’s a mousehole in my room.  They come out of that, when they think I’m asleep.

But I’m patient, and they have to come out sometime.


This one’s a bit personal; my daughter ate most of her hair when she was in the sixth grade, which was about the same time that the mice took over our former house.  Our cat Fafnir, the inspiration for Ferntail from October 15: BLACK CAT, was getting too old to chase them off, and they dug through old holes in the wall that had been filled up by the previous owners.

Me?  I chew my nails.