“You know an owl is a meant to be a messenger of death?” I said. “Even six-foot anthropomorphized owls.”
He pulled a face. “You think you’re funny, don’t you?”
“Not remotely,” I said. “I just don’t think whoever’s organized this ceremony has really thought it through. After all the bad press with the log flume incident. Why would you get a symbol of death to re-open your ride?”
“Yeah, I really think all the five-year-olds who watch my show are thinking that.” He coughed and said, “I need a cigarette.”
“So have one,” I shrugged.
He was handsome close up. You didn’t notice when he was on TV, when you were distracted by the strangeness of his eyes.
“It’s not that easy.” He smiled at the crowd that stood thirty feet away. “Not when you have to be Barney fucking Owl,” he hissed. “Why’s it taking so long? I cut the ribbon, they take a few photos, bam off I go. Back to the hotel.”
“Everything takes a long time here,” I said.
“Here? This theme park, or this shithole town?”
“It’s not a shithole,” I said, more to myself.
Most nights, sleepless, I opened Google Street Views and swiped through the streets of my home town. I left because I was twenty-five and I hadn’t worked out what I was good at yet, and I stupidly thought I’d find out here. I left because I shriveled each time I remembered how in the last three weeks of my mum’s life, I hadn’t picked up the phone. And I remembered it all the time.
“Ironic things could be so slow at a theme park, don’t you think?” he smirked.
“We cater to the under-twelves,” I reminded him. “That’s why you’re here.”
I swiped through the new estates built over the fields, where flies once clotted around the foxes’ exit wounds, where we once tarred our lungs and burned our throats.
I said, “It was horrific how they died, those people on the log flume,” but he wasn’t listening. I tapped my toes to circulate my blood. “That’s what you have to live with, isn’t it? Every day you wake up and think, I might die today and it might be sudden, or it might be terrifying and drawn-out.“
Sometimes you knew it was coming, you knew it for weeks and weeks, and still when it happened it felt like a theft.
He said, “I don’t think about that.”
My swiping always began and ended outside my mum’s house. The text said: Image captured April 2017.
At night I thought if I willed myself hard enough, I could be in that image. Her bedroom lights were on.
My manager handed the scissors to Barney, blades first.
“Ready, Barney?” a photographer called. “The girl needs to get out of the shot.”
I stepped away and Barney Owl spread his felt wings like he would take flight. His face was paled by camera flashes.
I could stand outside my mum’s house and bite my tongue until I felt blood. I could be there in time.
Rhiannon Jones is a writer currently based in London, UK and her work has previously been published in Hobart, Maudlin House, Lunate, and elsewhere.
One thought on “A Theft by Rhiannon Jones”
I found in this piece the infuriating inevitability of mortality coupled with the fact that we find death so unacceptable as to be absurd. Barney fucking Owl smokes cigarettes, deadly amusement park rides for children reopen, communication with dying loved ones is avoided. We think we can refuse death until it is far too late. Meanwhile, life can seem like shit-hole until we realize we’ll have to give it up. Thanks for the elegant warning and for Barney fucking Owl.