An Owl with Hands
First there was the bank manager with his sneer and condescensionand then, cowering on the salon doorstep, an owl with hands.
Christ, said Claudine, the pedicurist, thats one ugly little cunt.
Oh, youre one to talk, said Janet, the boss, with yer big goggley forehead.
But the owl wasnt pretty. Its orange eyes wept puss like cracked soft-boiled eggs and the talons had the merciless hook of fish-gutting tools. There were no wings. The hands, toddler-sized, waggled and snatched, like theyd dropped their final cigarette.
Them feathers are manky, said Claudine. I think Im allergic. Im gone all dizzy.
Yer hungover, said Janet. Now shut it. Have we a cage?
She didnt need one. The owl swung, like a monkey, up onto the middle shelf of the storage unit, and squatted there amongst Janets varnishes and emery boards, hooting anxiously whenever Claudine sniffed. When it shat, it dumped its business in a slithering heap next to her shoes.
She said, I swear to God, Janetonce more and Im gone. Its like the fuckin bat-house in the zoo in here.
Its not a bat, said Janet. I keep tellin yeh.
Well, its not a fuckin duckling either.
* * *
Janet reckoned the owl could save her business. It was their Unique Selling Point. She got a new book on Business Makeovers out from the library and ordered a replacement sign for over the door. Nails 4 U became Birds of Prey.
See, she said, were birdsan the birds a birdan the customers are our preywith the nails an the feet. Get it?
No, said Claudine, Im just a fuckin bird, amnt I?
She locked herself in the toilet with the classified ads.
There werent any customers. Janet tried to paint the owls nails, but it wouldnt stay stillthe fingers kept twitching and she spilled a bottle of Goodtime Green all over Claudines suede jacket. The owl shrieked.
Hold still, yeh feathery bitch, Janet snapped, yer supposed to be a mascot
The owl screamed and shat on her other hand.
Oh, God, she said, Im sorry, pet, Im sorry.
Claudine came back from the toilet.
Janet whispered, Claud, look! I swear shes giving us a little cuddle.
The owls head was sort of nestled in the palm of Janets hand. Its wet eyes dribbled.
Claudine shrieked. Me coat! Thats ityeh can keep yer menagerie an yer poxy salon. Wha do I get out a this? Dead mice in me handbag an filth on me clothes.
The owl hooted as the door slammed. Its left hand gripped Janets wrist.
Thats right, said Janet, you know where yer breads buttered.
* * *
Without the pedicures, the bank repossessed the salon. Fat men in suits took Janets solvents. Claudine got a job next door with Fishy Feet, but she came out to watch the removals. There was a smell off of her like a chip shop. She said,
Youre lookin happy. Have they got yeh on uppers?
No, said Janet, you wouldnt understand. Ive a fucking brilliant new business plan.
Oh, here we go.
Janet said, Theres more to life, Claud, than perfect hands an feet.
Claudine frowned. Give us yer head.
Claudine yanked down the hood of Janets raincoat. The owl was in thereperched on top of the head. Its two handsundersized, yellowish, unmanicuredrubbed Janets scalp. Little flakes of dandruff were dislodged. The owl was giving out little hoots of contentment, like a suckling baby. So was Janet. Claudine watched themin the rain, hooting, happy.
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