Though not nearly as wise as most owls, Owl was no fool, especially when it came to the art of wooing. In fact, he had grown relatively famous among his buds for his ability to woo even the beauties generally considered by most to be the most unwooable. Which was why it was inevitable, of course, that he came to pursue Pussycat. What a whisker in his cap she would make, he thought one evening while enjoying a Tootsie Pop. The most beautiful feline this side of the mountains!
For their first date, Owl rented a boat for them to sail out onto the sea. It was in Pussycat’s favorite color, too (pea-green), because, like any worthwhile Casanova, he had done his research. Once past the breakers, he plucked his Martin acoustic from beneath the seat and began to strum and sing the same tune that he had strummed and sang to every previous sweetheart. As he expected, Pussycat melted like butter on the warm skillet of his voice, but he played it cool, as if he were completely unaware of the heat of his song’s fire, because he knew that playing it cool always brought the best results. Soon enough, since she knew there were few options for her in this world, she purred, Oh, marry me, Owl. She held out her left paw and spread its claws to show how empty of rings they were. He smiled (at least as much as one with an inflexible beak can), because he knew what this meant: she didn’t trust her strength much longer, and so he sailed off in search of a band of gold.
After a year passed with no sign of land, Owl wondered if all this trouble would be worth it, but he set all doubt aside upon watching Pussycat’s flickering pink tongue as she cleaned herself. The next day, he spotted land. It was peppered with dozens of oddly bong-shaped trees, and under one of those trees stood a pig, and from that pig’s nose hung a ring of shiny gold. Thank God, Owl thought, and so he called out: Pig, would you sell me your beautiful ring? Pig said, no, he wouldn’t sell it, but he’d be happy to exchange it for a ride on Owl’s pea-green boat. I’m so tired of living all by myself here on Bong Island, he said. It’s so terribly lonely. Owl agreed to the deal, and so he plucked the ring from Pig’s nose, but then he hurriedly set sail again before Pig could climb aboard. Understandably enough, Pig squealed in anger, which made Pussycat say, But Owl, you told Pig we would give him a ride! Owl closed his big eyes and nodded. I know I did, Pussycat, but I was afraid that his substantial girth would sink us to the bottom of the sea, and I couldn’t have that. As long as I’m beside you, not one drop of water will ever touch your silken fur. She smiled and said no more about Pig, who shrank away to nothing behind them.
So Owl sailed on until they came to an island with one hill, and on that hill lived a turkey who married them the next day. Owl, after a year and two days of waiting, was so very eager to sail on to Honeymoon Island, but Turkey refused to let them leave without a celebration first. You must have mince with me, he said. Impatiently, Owl told Turkey that mince was nothing but a fancy word for hamburger meat, so, no, they’d skip the mince and be sailing away immediately. You must have quince with me, then, Turkey then said. That’s not even a real thing, Owl replied. Turkey told him that, in truth, quince was a yellow fruit that tasted like a really tart apple. Owl chuckled, and with Pussycat’s hand clasped in his wing, he proceeded to hurry her toward the sailboat, but Turkey stepped in front of them, blocking their way. Stop, Turkey said. Don’t make me use this. Owl laughed at what he saw Turkey holding. Why, that’s nothing but a spoon! It was now Turkey’s turn to chuckle. This is no ordinary spoon, my friend. This is, in fact, a runcible spoon.
Had Owl known his pursuit of Pussycat would end on a one-hilled island with a turkey armed with a runcible spoon, he would have probably done things differently—namely, he would have pursued either Lamb or Goose instead of Pussycat. But he’d known none of this, so here he was. After scuttling the pea-green boat, trapping them on this island forever, Turkey bowed and extended his wing to Pussycat, and Pussycat took it, but not before dropping the gold ring. Since I’m allowed no autonomy in this tale, she said, I do believe I’d rather be with you. Later that night, from his roost on the highest limb in the island’s only tree (not a bong-shaped one), Owl watched Turkey and Pussycat dance on the edge of the sand by the light of the moon. When the tide slipped up the beach toward them, glittering and flashing like a thin sheet of stippled silver, Turkey would steer Pussycat away just in time, careful to keep her dainty paws dry. She laughed. Just before dawn, Turkey absconded with her to somewhere secret, leaving Owl all alone on a one-hilled, one-treed island in the middle of a vast blue sea.
Kevin Grauke is the author of Shadows of Men (Queen’s Ferry Press), winner of the Steven Turner Award from the Texas Institute of Letters. His fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in such journals as The Threepenny Review, Bayou, The Southern Review, Quarterly West, and Columbia Journal. He’s a Contributing Editor at Story, and he teaches at La Salle University in Philadelphia. Twitter: @kevingrauke
Image: “Catskill2” by Anthony Burt