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Lily's Ledge

by The Nerd Habit 14 days ago in Short Story · updated 8 days ago

Return Of The Night Owl Challenge 2022

Lily sat up in her bed, rubbed her heavy eyes, and took in her surroundings. Her studio apartment was filled with light from curtainless windows, which showered the space in the sun’s rays.

Lily was obsessed with barn owls and had filled her apartment with owl knick-knacks. Little owl figurines rested upon the windowsill near her bed, each holding a heart with a positive message written on them. Lily’s favorite read, “Everything will be owl-right.” It always made her smile.

Other owl-themed items were scattered about: A bronze paperweight resided on Lily’s desk, a pair of slippers sat beside her bed, a broken coo-coo clock hung from a wall in the kitchen. Even her bed was covered in an owl-printed blanket.

She loved all her owls, but her favorite was the painting that sat alone on the wall in front of her bed. The painting’s style had a way of soothing her heart. It was a gift from her mother, and she always started her morning staring at it for a few minutes. Those precious minutes gave Lily peace. However, that peace rarely lasted past that moment, and today was no different. Lily’s heart filled with sadness once she realized she was still part of a world that depressed her more than it ever brought her happiness.

Lily moved her legs off to the side of the bed, sat upright on its edge with her pajama-covered legs barely reaching the floor, and took in the rest of her home. She could see a spattering of dirty dishes occupying the sink counter, unsorted mail piled onto her dining table, a couch that could not be sat on due to piles of unfolded laundry covering it, and a rogue cluster of dirty dishes sitting on her coffee table.

Lily was a loner. She had lived in the studio apartment since she graduated college two years ago. Located in the middle of the city, Lily hoped living there would be a bridge to making more friends; instead, it became an area to store her stuff and hide her tears from the world. The apartment became her sad zone, a hideaway to cover all her shame and failed dreams.

The place was quite a mess, but Lily couldn’t bother to even think about cleaning. “Not today, world, not today,” Lily muttered to herself as she stood up and stumbled toward her favorite spot, the balcony.

Lily recently started a habit of sitting outside on the balcony every morning. She was in between jobs and watching people from the balcony helped her feel in touch with society without entering it. No one noticed her as she watched people live their lives: jumping into cabs, eating at the local café, shopping the boutiques, and couples holding hands walking down the sidewalk. All the things ordinary people do.

But this did not help Lily feel ordinary; she still felt unnoticed, alone. If she could only have someone to talk to that would listen to her problems without judgment, things would be better. Still, despite her trips to the balcony ending with self-doubt and loneliness, Lily found herself going anyway.

As Lily approached the balcony door, she noticed something different through the door window. A barn owl was perched on the ledge on the far right side, sitting still as if it were a statue. Lily paused and took in the glorious sight.

“Oh my god,” Lily whispered to herself, “what is an owl doing out during the day and on my ledge?”

Lily stared at the majestic bird, looking for it to fly off at any moment. After several minutes, the owl had not moved an inch. Seeing that the owl was calm, Lily summoned the courage to pet the wild animal.

“It’s now or never. My chance to actually pet an owl, on my balcony, during the day won’t ever come again. Let’s do this, Lily.”

Lily gripped the doorknob with her left hand, placed her right hand onto the side of the door, and eased the door open. Lily was doing her best to not disturb the owl as she stepped out onto the balcony. The owl did not move or acknowledge Lily’s presence.

Lily continued past the patio table, careful not to bump the chairs sitting underneath. Then, as she was about to reach out to touch the owl, a terrible scraping sound filled her ears. Her foot had snagged one of the chairs, causing it to slide across the concrete on the patio.

Expecting the owl to fly off, Lily yelled out in frustration. But, to her surprise, the owl turned its neck in her direction and walked down the ledge toward her. Lily was stunned as the owl walked past her and hopped from the rail onto the patio table.

Lily watched as the owl settled in on the opposite side of the table from her, directly in front of the chair she would usually sit. Lily pulled up the chair she had tripped on and sat down facing the owl. Being face to face with the creature, Lily felt a comfort she had never felt with a person, let alone a wild animal. Lily was drawn to speak to the owl.

“It’s good to see you this morning, Mr. Owl. It looks like you started the people-watching without me. I’m glad you have decided to stay for a while.”

The owl tilted its head down to the left, all the while never taking his eyes off Lily. As he stared, Lily felt her mind stirring with thoughts of her troubles. The troubles she came out onto the balcony to forget. Now, it appeared she could not push them away. Then, suddenly, the owl cocked its head back straight and let out a scream.

“Screeeeeeeeeeeeeeech!!”

The scream echoed inside Lily’s mind but did not bother her. It put her mind at ease, and she felt like sharing the things that were bottled up inside of her. The owl continued to stare as Lily began to share.

“I come out here every day trying to live vicariously through the people who I see down there. I imagine I’m the one sitting with my friend down at the café, enjoying a nice cup of coffee and a lovely conversation. I imagine I’m the guy who is in a hurry to get to work and angrily yells for a cab. I imagine I’m walking down the street holding hands with my soulmate, without a care in the world.

“I imagine myself as those people because I have never had the courage to be those people. Sure, I went to college, got my degree, but what did I accomplish? I sit around this apartment day after day, wishing I was someone else, crying myself to sleep, living in filth. To what end? I only have moments of happiness now, brief experiences of a feeling that seems so unobtainable, so out of reach…

“Most days, I just want to stay under the covers and not exist. I want to hide from the world forever. I know I will be successful because no one in my life cares. I could literally hide under the covers of my bed, and no one would ever find me because they aren’t looking.”

Lily felt tears fall down her face, crying silently as the owl continued to stare. After several minutes, a sense of relief filled her heart. It was a feeling of comfort and safety she had not felt in years. The owl turned its head to the right and continued to stare at Lily. Lily was thankful that the owl seemed to care. Through her crying sniffles, Lily thanked the owl.

“It is such a blessing that you arrived on my ledge today, Mr. Owl. Telling you my feelings of despair has been such a help. I feel a weight lifted off me that is hard to explain. You don’t seem like an ordinary owl. Are you some kind of emotional support owl? I mean, look at you, you’re hanging out on a 23-year-old girl’s balcony at nine o’clock in the morning. This is not a normal situation.

“Your presence here today has probably saved my life. There is a bottle of pills on my nightstand that I’ve been staring at every night for the past two weeks. I think one more lonely day on this earth would have pushed me over the edge. But here you are.

“Think about it. My favorite animal happens to be waiting for me at my favorite spot in the world. Then it sits across from me and wants to listen to my problems and comfort my heart. This must be a sign from God. It has to be…”

Before Lily could finish praising the owl, the owl stepped toward her and let out a longer even louder scream.

“SCREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEECCCCHHHHHHHH!!!”

The scream caused Lily to bend her head down and cover her ears in pain. As she lifted her head back up, the owl’s wings erupted in a flurry. The owl launched itself off the table and disappeared into the blue sky.

“No, don’t go, Mr. Owl! Please stay!”

Lily’s desperate pleas failed. The owl was gone.

A feeling of disappointment and failure filled Lily’s mind.

“Why do people, and now animals, always run away? What is so bad about talking to me? I try to be friendly, thoughtful, caring. But, to them, I’m invisible. I might as well not exist.”

As high as she felt speaking to the owl, she crashed to an equal low after its abrupt departure. Lily stood up from her seat and pushed it down behind her in anger. Then, she stormed back to her bed. After flinging her owl blanket over her entire body, Lily peeked out and stared at the bottle of pills on her nightstand. Tears fell down her face.

“I can’t even get an owl to stay around for more than five minutes. I don’t want to exist. I don’t want to feel this pain anymore. I want to end this.”

Lily reached out to grab the pill bottle. Just as her fingertips touched it, she withdrew and pulled the blanket back over her face. She cried herself to sleep.

The following day started off similarly to the previous one. Lily stared at her owl painting and stumbled out of bed, surrounded by the same mess.

“I see that the house didn’t magically clean itself while I slept my sadness away. Maybe one day something magical like that will happen,” Lily thought to herself as she made her way to her usual spot on the balcony.

As she began to open the balcony door, she looked out the window, and to her delight, she spotted the same owl sitting in the very same spot on the ledge as the day before. A rush of joy entered her body, and she burst out onto the balcony.

“Mr. Owl! You came back! Oh, I thought you grew tired of me. I thought you didn’t want to be my friend!”

The owl turned and reacted the same as before. It made its way across the ledge, hopped onto the table, and took the same position facing Lily. Lily went over to the chair she had pushed away, picked it up, and sat close to the table. Facing the owl once more, a feeling of regret overcame Lily, and she felt a strong desire to open up more to the owl.

“Thank you for coming back! I have so much more to tell you, and I really need someone to talk to. I feel like every relationship I have has fallen apart.

“For example, my mother. She just doesn’t understand me. She called me every day. I was so sick of it. I’m an adult living on my own. Why couldn’t she just give me space? It’s not enough that I still let her pay for my apartment. It’s not enough that I answer every call. I’m not enough for her. When I told her that I just needed some space, some time to grow on my own, she got upset. Now, she hasn’t called me for several days. That’s not what I wanted. She didn’t understand...”

The owl turned its head to the left, keeping eye contact with Lily as she continued.

“Then, my best friend Suzy cut me out of her life. A few weeks after her wedding, I invited her out for lunch. She said she was too busy. I accepted that and waited a few more weeks to invite her again. Still, she said she was too busy. Then, I decided to show up at her work to surprise her with lunch from her favorite café but guess what. Yep, you guessed it. Suzy said she was in an important meeting and was too busy. So, I let my frustration out and told her that she should have just told me if she didn’t want to be my friend anymore. I stormed out, and I haven’t heard from her since.”

The owl slowly moved its head to the right, keeping eye contact with Lily as she continued.

“Oh, and this last one takes the cake. Jake. The love of my life. I met him in college, and we had every class together for four years! Think about it. If that isn’t a sign from God that he should be mine, I don’t know what is! We even partnered on several projects our senior year. You know what, though. He never once asked me out in four years together! Not once. As far as I knew, he wasn’t dating anyone. I batted my eyes at him every chance I got, yet he was unaffected. After graduation, we both applied to the same firm. He got the job. I did not. I messaged him on social media and asked him to put in a word for me. He didn’t even look at it. The message is still unread to this day. He completely forgot about me after four years of friendship.”

Lily let all her frustration out and began to cry. Tears streamed down her face as she relived all the saddest memories of her life.

“Now, look at me. Stuck in this apartment, with no friends, no love interest, no job, and no life! I can barely motivate myself to change clothes every day. As a matter of fact, I’ve had these same pajamas on for the past four days. I wake up to the same pile of dirty dishes in the kitchen, the same pile of unsorted mail on my table, and the same pile of unfolded laundry on my couch. Whenever I think about cleaning any of that up, I find myself crying underneath the blanket on my bed. It’s like I’m stuck in a…”

The owl straightened its neck and stepped toward Lily as she made a dark realization.

“I’m stuck because...I remember now. I was fed up after the fight with my mother and staring at the unread message to Jake for the umpteenth day in a row. It was the last straw. I didn’t want to be part of the world anymore. I climbed under my blanket, peeked at the bottle as I had done every day for the past few weeks. Except, this time, I grabbed the bottle and...”

Lily leaned over and put her face up against the owl. Her tears kept falling as she questioned it.

“I’m dead. Aren’t I…So, what are you? Why are you here? Why can I see you and interact with you?”

The owl screamed, flapped its wings, and hovered above the table. Lily backed away in a panic.

“Tell me, Mr. Owl! Tell me what you want with me!”

The owl flew towards Lily and began to circle her head. Lily closed her eyes and covered her head with her arms to avoid the owl’s claws. The owl was not deterred by Lily’s defenses. Instead, it grabbed Lily’s pajama collar and lifted her into the sky. Lily felt the rush of being pulled into flight and began to shout in fear.

“Put me down, Mr. Owl! Put me down. I don’t want to leave. I just want to stay in my apartment forever! Please, I’m sorry I questioned you!”

Lily’s pleas were ignored as the owl soared across the city. After several minutes of flight, the owl began its descent towards a group of people in a cemetery attending a graveside service. The owl flew down beside the fresh dug-out grave, placing Lily gently in front of it facing the crowd. A coffin was sitting above the hole with a picture of Lily on a stand just behind it. Dozens of flower arrangements circled her picture, and sobs from the attendees were loud and ominous. A familiar face was standing at a podium, about to speak.

Lily stood in silence and watched her best friend Suzy begin her eulogy.

“Lily was my best friend…and she was such a beautiful person. We had so many good times growing up, and I will miss her dearly. Standing here in front of all of you today, I can’t help but feel responsible for what happened to her.”

Suzy began to cry. A young man standing behind her handed her a tissue. After drying her eyes and blowing her nose, she continued her eulogy.

“After my wedding, my life got so busy. After the honeymoon, I had to make up for lost time at work. I was working sixteen-hour days to catch up. Then, I was trying to spend any free time I had with my husband. I didn’t mean to neglect Lily…She always caught me when I couldn’t get away from my work. I regret that…I wish I had just stopped and gone to lunch with her. The last time I saw her, she was so hurt. She showed up at work to surprise me for lunch, it was so sweet. But we had an important client meeting, and I had to attend. She was so angry, so hurt. She ran out of the building before I could even explain…

“I tried to reach out, but she ignored all of my calls. I sent her texts, but they all went unread. Lily, if you can hear me, I’m so very sorry…I love you, and you will always be my best friend.”

Suzy walked into the crowd, straight toward Lily. Lily reached out to embrace her, but Suzy walked straight through Lily into her husband’s arms. Lily cried, feeling heartbroken after Suzy’s speech.

Lily turned back toward the podium as the young man who handed Suzy a tissue walked up.

“Hello, my name is Jake. I was a close friend to Lily through our college years. Funny thing, we had every class together the entire four years. I always accused Lily of stalking me, haha.”

The crowd chuckled as Jake continued.

“Lily was a special person. She was so brilliant. I don’t think I would have made it through my senior year if not for her organization and support. I haven’t seen Lily since right after college, but, Suzy, I can’t let you take on the burden of the blame all by yourself. I feel responsible for what happened to Lily as well.”

Jake pulled out a handkerchief from his jacket pocket and dried his eyes before continuing.

“After we graduated, Lily and I put in applications to work at the same firm. I was sure both of us would land a spot as we performed well in college. Sadly, Lily was not offered a position, but I was. I accepted the job. I avoided speaking to Lily afterward, not only because I knew she would be upset about the job but because of another new thing in my life. Something I knew would upset Lily even more than knowing I got a job, and she didn’t.

“The thing is, I knew Lily had a crush on me for some time. She was so cute when she would bat her eyes at me when we were working on a project. Which was very flattering, and if things were different, I would have jumped at the chance to be with such an incredible person. So, while landing the job was exciting, another amazing thing happened in my life. I came out to my family and revealed that my boyfriend, Sam and I, would be married.

“I never wanted to hurt Lily. I knew if I told her that I was gay, she would be crushed. I didn’t know how to tell her, or anyone for that matter. After the job situation, Lily messaged me on social media. But I was such a coward that I didn’t open the messages. So today, I decided to read them, and they broke my heart. Lily only wanted my help…to put in a good word for her at the firm. If I had just answered her, she might still be with us today.

“Lily, if you can hear me, I’m so sorry I made you feel unwanted…I’m sorry for my selfishness.”

Jake walked away from the podium toward the crowd. Lily tried to embrace him, but he walked right through her into his husband’s arms.

Lily turned back to the podium as she heard her mother's voice.

“Thank you, Suzy and Jake, for your kind words. I want you both to take comfort in knowing that you shouldn’t feel guilty about what happened. Lily was a tortured soul. She was so lovely, so intelligent. She had so much to offer the world, but her depression never let her believe in herself. I tried to make her life easier, as burden-free as I possibly could. I paid for her apartment, I made sure she went to her therapy sessions, I called her every day to keep her motivated, I even painted her an owl to hang in her room. She loved owls, and they seemed to cheer her up. None of it worked. She only pushed me away…

“It’s my fault Lily harmed herself in this way. During our last conversation, she revealed she felt I was too overbearing. She wanted me out of her life. We ended that call in anger. Sadly, it was the last time anyone would ever talk to her…I went to her apartment the next day and found her lying on her bed. Cold and alone, she died thinking she wasn’t enough for this world, enough for me. Truth is, she was more than enough. I failed her as a mother because I could never get her to see that in herself.”

Lily’s mother was overcome with grief, and she sobbed uncontrollably. A priest moved over to comfort her and took her away from the podium.

Lily could not take it anymore. She ran from the memorial service. It was all she could bear to see her mother so heartbroken. Lily stopped a hundred yards away, fell to her knees, and begged the owl to take her away.

“Mr. Owl! Please take me away! I don’t want to be here anymore!”

Lily searched the sky, trying to find the owl. The owl was nowhere to be seen. Lily gave up, covered her face with her hands, and cried.

After several minutes of crying, Lily felt a tap on her shoulder.

“Mr. Owl, is that you?”

She turned, expecting to see the owl hovering behind her. Instead, a beautiful, winged angel stood in its place. The beauty of the angel stunned Lily into silence. The angel spoke.

“Lily, I am sorry to have deceived you. I am the owl you have spoken to these last two days. I knew you would feel at ease talking to me if I came to you as a creature of comfort.”

Lily shook off her amazement and answered the angel.

“Mr. Owl, I mean Mr. Angel, why did you bring me here?”

The angel reached out and touched Lily on the shoulder.

“Lily, you released your soul before it was meant to leave your body. On the fourth day of your soul’s stay here in purgatory, I found you. My job is to seek out souls like you and help you find peace with your time on earth. I came to you yesterday because you weren’t ready to face the troubles that sent you spiraling to your self-removal. What sounded to you like an owl scream was really a comforting prayer to ease your mind so you could focus on your life. Once I knew you were in the right frame of mind to confront what led to your demise, I left you. I went in such a way that would leave you emotional so that you could find the deeper reasons for your early departure.

“When I returned today, you opened up so much more, and I knew your soul healing had begun. Once you spoke about your feelings for the people who pushed you to your self-removal, I saw that you were ready to find out the other half of the truth. And, as you saw today, the people who you felt abandoned you and hurt you the most actually loved you the most.”

Lily, heartbroken again thinking about the eulogies she just witnessed, interrupted the angel and pounded her fists against his chest.

“How do you call this healing?! Learning that my best friend was only overwhelmed, not pushing me away, hurts me! Understanding that the love of my life is gay and didn’t know how to tell me hurts me! Realizing that my mother was only trying to help me out of my depression hurts me! This whole exercise has left me feeling worse than I did before!”

The angel grabbed Lily lovingly by the shoulders and looked upon her with an understanding smile on his face.

“Yes, Lily, only knowing half of the truth is easier. Living in self-loathing, blaming others for your misfortune, is much easier to do. However, doing so only stunts your growth. You never heal, and you never move past that pain.

“Lily, living in purgatory your whole afterlife is not a healthy option and, frankly, not allowed. That is what I do here. By showing you the entire truth, you can forgive your friends and family that you left behind. Also, you can learn to forgive yourself and love yourself for the mistakes you made.

“Basically, my message to you is…be kind to Lily, she deserves it.”

Tears flowed down Lily’s face as the angel’s words brought her peace. At that moment, her soul dissipated out of purgatory’s grasp.

The angel, pleased with Lily’s fate, said aloud, “My job is done here…”

In the U.S., the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s # is 1-800-273-8255. Crisis Text Line can be reached by texting HOME to 741741 (US), 686868 (Canada), or 85258 (UK).

Short Story

The Nerd Habit

The Nerd Habit is a collaborative group of writers who love all things nerd. We write about the latest happenings in nerd/geek culture as well as short fiction.

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