Literary Upstart Winner: Owl Stretching Time 


Photo Bobby Doherty

Our eighth annual Literary Upstart: The Search for Pocket Fiction competition and reading series moved to Williamsburg's new Wythe Hotel, where from April through June we presented 15 previously unpublished short stories, selected from more than 350 submissions, to the best-looking crowds in the history of the event. This winning story was selected by our distinguished judging panel of literary insiders: Cal Morgan, Vice President & Editorial Director of Harper Perennial; Luis Jaramillo, Associate Chair of the New School’s creative writing program and author of the forthcoming collection The Doctor’s Wife; literary agent Katherine Fausset; and our Distinguished Spokesjudge, the author, humorist, Twitterer, lyricist and New Yorker editor Ben Greenman. (Other finalists can be read here.)

So, you two also here for the time-share? It’s nice in a way, “time-share.” Have to share it; can’t own time. Living on borrowed... my boyfriend is over at the—I mean husband—you have to be married they said. We’re not. Actually we don’t really care about the whole time-share, but if you listen to them they give you tickets to that magic show with the Little Guy that doesn’t talk and the Big Guy who talks too much and hits the Little Guy and then they cut the audience in half or. I don’t really know, my boyfriend—Mitchell—Mitchell’s into it. He’s wanted to see them since he was like. So, time-share.

“Time... keeps on slipping, slipping into the furniture...”

I’m a bit nervous about lying, about being married. Not that. Mitchell and I have been together for six years. But I think if we were married we’d have gotten divorced. Oops that’s a secret. Too much sharing, right? Time sharing. Sharing this room with you, and that couple with the matching—oh that’s a nice magazine. But. Right...

Owls. That’s what. We raise owls. For fun and profit. Just kidding there’s no profit in it. There was supposed to be. Owls, the eagles of the night. Not really. No one says that. No one should own the website because was taken, that’d be crazy... .biz was also–

I had a small mail order business where I’d glue seashells to things. Like mirrors or boxes or other seashells. You have to get up early to find all the good ones. I always sourced my own shells. Some people buy them but that’s. Cheating? I met Mitchell at a Turn Your Hobby Into Your Career Expo in Secaucus; I was there to learn about new types of glue for shells, like ones that will really hold onto the ridges of the clam, or won’t discolor the ruddy hues of a scallop—anyway, he was there with the owls and I had this shell and the owl was on Mitchell’s shoulder just looking all–

Angry? No. Owls can’t show anger, they only have six emotions, I forget which. Happiness, ennui, and some others. Rage, maybe? Dyspepsia? Is that an emotion? Well Mitchell came up to me, and for some reason I held out my shell to the owl and it just clamped onto it with its... like it was the most obvious choice in the world, and I was like—wow, that owl knows what it wants, confidence—it had passion, this true passion, this shell gripped in the owl’s claws like it was the most right thing in the world. And for once I understood the Mexican Flag and why they never surrendered at the Alamo. Because bird feet! Talons. And I moved to Mitchell’s owl ranch.

Calling Mrs. Gallagher | Fall | Literary Upstart Finalists

He thought he could sell owls as “the new pet.” Because they are twice as smart as a rat and three times more tenacious than a weasel, but turns out people don’t know how smart rats are and people hate weasels. And there’s laws! Apparently! Against selling owls. So, ha on us. Ha on that, but we still raise them because Mitchell is like those anti-government militia guys and believes all Americans should be able to raise owls and other night birds. Why does that big magician have to hit the little quiet one? What the hell did the little one do? Nothing, just because he wants to be...

So Mitchell decides financially it’s in our best interest to: cash in our life savings, go to Vegas, and make our fortune, but his idea of fortune is more like a gambling problem and—he actually bet the farm. Like the saying, only for real and sadder. There should be a word for that, when you live out a saying. There’s probably a word in German. Einbitzen. Glockensaying. They have so many words. And beer. And past mistakes. Nazis.

Where are all those owls going to live? Know what? I don’t give a Hoot! Exactly. Hoot! Hoot! Fucking Hoot! You know they say they’re smart, like they have toy owls with graduation caps, but owls are dumb and they try to peck you and bite you when you are giving them their nightly mouse. “I’M JUST TRYING TO HELP YOU! I’M TRYING TO CHANGE YOUR WATER SO YOU WON’T DIE! STOP ATTACKING ME!” These are scars, all up and down. You know what I hope that Big Magician hits the little one so hard he starts spitting out coins or playing cards or rabbits or apologies for breaking the big one’s wand or fucking his sister while he was out on a shell collecting trip to Myrtle Beach. All those broken bivalvia mollusca and shark teeth like a bread crumb trail of broken...

Maybe a time-share would be nice. I don’t think Mitchell is coming, he told me he’d meet me at... they say it’s like owning your dream home for one or two weeks a year. And you can even trade with other people. So you get this cheap one week time-share in Munson, Illinois, then trade it for Puerto Rico, or Hawaii, or Greenland or Newfoundland or New Zealand, because who doesn’t want to trade for Munson Illinois, who doesn’t want to see the Cokahaga Boulder Museum or the world’s largest industrial hydrating pump? Or sit in a bird blind trying to see rare owls for 29 hours straight. The worst vacations create the best–

I wanted to see Circus Ole or whatever it’s called. That French Canadian circus, I saw a brochure and they have the commercial on a loop in our hotel. They don’t talk during that, no one does, and it’s a different kind of magic with jumping and trapeze, and they even have this one where the girl is all covered in seashells and she rises up like Aphrodite on a big clam and these French Canadians are all jumping around her like dolphins. And then a pearl falls and breaks into a sad eastern European Clown who sweeps himself up and throws himself into a garbage can where he finds true love with a balloon. No one smashes or gets sawed in half, they just jump and tumble and fly past each other. Never touching, never. Connecting. It must be nice to be rewarded for always missing, to always get out of the way in time. It must be nice. To be that. To be French Canadian. •

Jonathan A. Goldberg has had work seen at the Public Theater, Ars Nova, The Flea, Woolly Mammoth, and many other theaters. His play Font of Knowledge will premiere this summer at the Minnesota Fringe Festival. He's won the Rita and Burton Prize, the Israel Baran Award and was a finalist for the Jerome Fellowship. He co-writes the monthly comedy show Ephemerama at the Magnet Theater in Midtown Manhattan.

Calling Mrs. Gallagher | Fall | Literary Upstart Finalists


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