Saturday, May 24, 2008

A Bit Flash: Owl

Here's a piece that was originally published and performed here. If you haven't checked out the 1001 Night's Cast site you should, there's some excellent flash fiction here - including a few pieces by the wonderful M. John Harrison. I thought the idea of Barbara Campbell's performance piece was wonderful, and was so pleased to have a small(miniscule) part in it.

Here is one of my stories, well, a version of it. I'm very fond of it, and think that it may be the best piece of flash fiction that I have written (like writers can ever judge their own work).


The room was like all the other rooms that Tara had stayed in, in that particular hotel, down to the painting on the wall above the bed: a sort of nocturne of an owl, perched on a tree branch in front of a brown expanse of river. The owl stared gloomily out at the room. It was definitely an owl, but there was no way of telling what sort of owl, and that bothered her because; she liked birds; considered herself a bit of an amateur ornithologist; and she really thought that that was something the artist should have considered when painting the bird, at least in the name of verisimilitude. The artist may as well have substituted the picture with the word Owl, in fact if they had, Tara would have been happier because then she would have imagined a Grass Owl, Tyto longimembris, a truly timid, beautiful predator, and one that would have suited the location depicted, and the gloomy expression that the artist had painted upon the face of the non-specific owl: grass Owls were racing towards extinction. Perhaps that was what pained her most about the picture, because within it, Grass owls didn't exist, only something that looked like an owl.

But was that too much to ask of a picture?

Tara followed this train of thought while he entered her, as she had, while he had, in every other room that they used within the hotel. Her orgasm when it came, if it came, would be non-specific. They made love, like the owl in the picture, non-specifically, and gloomily. Which made her wonder, as he gasped and moved above her, why she kept having the affair?

Oh, she knew why. Because it made her feel something. But in truth her deepest feelings came from regarding that owl, from considering it from all angles.

And she had had ample opportunity in this room, and in all the others.

She loved her husband.

But this, coming here, fulfilled something else.

A non-specific something, she supposed. It allowed her to explore the part of her that hated her husband, because he was all too her husband, because there was always an equal measure of love and hate in every relationship and a certain will to self destruction. Not that she wanted their relationship to end, but ten years, with no big shift, nor even more than a handful of little ones, this affair had been an inevitable.

She knew that, just like the owl, their love could be replaced with a small piece of paper on which was written the word love. She could even imagine the sort of paper it would be: soft and cream coloured and ragged around the edges. She would hold it in her hand, and pass it to him, warm with the heat of her hand, and then he would hold it, delicately, regarding the plain font with his brown eyes, perhaps breathing on it, then he would pass it back, her poor cuckolded husband would pass it back.

But then this affair was little different. It too, could be summed up with mere words, written on fragments of paper. Though the handwriting would be messier, less precise. And the paper lined, perhaps torn out of an exercise book.




She put a hand against her lover's chest. Brought him to halt. He looked at her, dismayed, nearly as gloomy as the owl in the picture, though with an edge of anger. She shook her head.

Sullen, he stalked from the room. He was a good man, in his way. And she felt genuine affection for him, but she had grown tired. He was some time in the bathroom.

Enough for her to dress and to write a single word on the back of a piece of yellow envelope paper, that she did not even bother to warm with her hands.


She wrote, underlining it, and tracing the words, so that they appeared stark, and thick, and definite.

The single word as real as any goodbye that she could have said, and just as final, even if it was only written in blue biro, and stood in for the words that she should have said but couldn't. And then she fled the room.

The owl watched her from the painting, but could not judge, because it was merely an owl, but not any particular type of owl, and lacked the certainty required that a better artist might have given it.

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