The Owl in my Grandparents' House
Can a photograph be a friend or a foe?
When I was a little girl, my mom and I temporarily moved into my grandparents' downstairs mother-in-law suite. My parents had recently divorced, and my mom was saving up to buy a house.
My grandparents had my mom when they were very young, so they were still young as far as grandparents go when we lived with them, but they were very strict. They were fastidious, quiet, and particular.
My grandpa liked to take nature walks and had a particular affinity for owls. One walk resulted in a photograph that hung as a centerpiece in the home. The Owl was perched on the tree with its head turned all the way around, its small, symmetrical face staring directly into the camera as if challenging whoever was on the other side to a sparring match. Its feathers were a spectrum of glowing bronzes and browns flush against its thin body.
I had always found the picture creepy, and now it was in my home.
Everyone had their own story about the Owl in the photograph. My grandpa loved that it was a conversation piece and beamed with pride whenever a guest mused about its peculiar position. To him, the Owl was curious, wise, and peaceful. He recounted the tale of their chance meeting along the trail as though he was passing along a great story from his ancestors. He had caught the Owl by surprise in this twisted position, and the two had shared a moment that was forever immortalized in this photograph. Not quite friends, but more than acquaintances.
My grandma thought the Owl was a she--calm, protective, and fierce. A true beauty. A magnificent creature perched high above, surveying her kingdom, ensuring her little ones' safety. Now, there was no evidence that this Owl was a mother, but my grandma, of course, knew.
My mother would encourage her dad to tell the story and always chuckled happily at the retelling as though she hadn't heard the story a thousand times and always agreed with everything everyone said about the Owl. He was inquisitive and cautious but also up to no good. He was at once a stoic, protective mother and hunter, and a rowdy bird ready to take your hat just for fun.
I just didn't like it. Plain and simple. I didn't care about it beyond how it made me feel. It felt like its black eyes could somehow see into my soul.
I'd be greeted by the creature every time I got to the top of the stairs. During the day, the Owl was bathed in sunlight, and at night, it was formidably lit by the blinking red light of the smoke detector above.
While I was close with my grandparents, I never felt quite at home living with them and always found myself a little bit on edge, afraid I would break a rule I didn't know about. I was already an anxious kid, but now I had all of these extra protocols to follow: No feet on the furniture, keep all noise to a minimum, absolutely no toys left out, be in bed by nine.
But it's not like I was the only one living under these rules. Everyone was bound by the house rules, and it seemed to set the whole family constantly on edge.
Since moving in, the Owl in the photograph had become more than just a creepy picture. He had somehow become the master of the house, a guardian ruling us all from his throne in the tree, watching our every move.
I'd sneak upstairs late at night for milk as the Owl looked judgingly down at me from its perch.
"A little late to be roaming the house, don't you think?" It seemed to say, stopping me in my tracks. On nights when I felt brave, or even just especially thirsty, I'd scoff under my breath trying to ignore it, feeling ever so tough as I gave it the cold shoulder, only very slightly glancing over my shoulder to see if I'd angered it. I hurried back down to my room, victorious with my milk. Other nights I'd lose my nerve and decide to drink the tap water from the bathroom sink to avoid the confrontation.
One night, a terrible nightmare rattled me from my sleep. I'd been having a lot of those lately, but this night had been dreadful. I woke up to sweat-drenched jammies, and I had tears running down my cheeks. When I had nightmares like this, I could usually calm myself back to sleep by reading or writing the dreams down in a journal. I'd tried all my usual rituals, but nothing helped. I'd even cuddled up with my mom in her bed, but that didn't lull me off to dreamland either.
I finally decided to head upstairs to watch tv. This somehow felt like the ultimate sin. It had the potential to be loud and bright, and it was long past my bedtime. Left unsupervised, maybe I would even put my feet up on the couch tucked up under me. Insomnia had made me so brazen and careless!
I tiptoed up the stairs, ready to face the night watchman. As I reached the top step, I looked up into the Owl's eyes only to find them closed. The bird's usually black stare was covered by peaceful, resting eyelids. I couldn't believe what I was seeing. I waited for the next red blink of the smoke detector to inspect the picture further. Still, even upon further inspection, its little eyes were closed. I stood in continued disbelief and confusion for a few moments before deciding to make my way to the kitchen for a snack. I opened the fridge and peeked cautiously around the door, but the Owl's eyes were still shut tight.
I made myself a cheese sandwich, poured myself a glass of juice, and made my way to the den. I found the remote and turned the tv on with my thumb hovering readily over the volume button. I turned the tv way down and nestled into the couch. I surfed through infomercials and crime shows and finally found an old rerun of a sketch comedy show that I had loved to watch with my dad.
I had to cover my mouth to silence my chuckles as a man in a chef's hat with a bowl full of cake batter snuck up behind an unsuspecting waiter in tails.
I stretched, and a big yawn overtook my whole body. I craned my neck to the clock on the stove to see that it was 3 a.m. I must have watched three episodes. I washed my dishes quietly in the sink, put them back into their designated cabinet spots, and headed for the stairs.
I had almost forgotten about the incident with the Owl. I turned to look at him, and he opened his eyes. I stared into his face, afraid he was somehow going to vocalize a loud call to wake the whole house and tell them of my recklessness, but instead, he just stared at me for a moment before closing one eye in a wink. He cocked his head gently to its side and winked again. Finally, he moved his head back into its usual position and closed his eyes once again.
I walked back to my bedroom and fell asleep as my head hit the pillow.
The next morning as we all ate our cereal under the Owl's watchful gaze, my grandma asked how I slept. I turned to look at the Owl and smiled. "I slept great," and I finished the rest of my breakfast.
About the Creator
Writing for fun and as an escape from the everyday. After all, what is life for if not to create?
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