The Overflowing Suitcase on a Bus Stop Bench

Yesterday I passed the sidewalk sale for a second-hand shop, and saw
an old-fashioned suitcase, latches, not zippers, handles, no wheels,
a plaid suitcase filled with owls, ceramic owls, plastic owls, realistic

and cartoonishly whimsical owls, screech owls, snowy owls, a great
horned owl carved from burnished wood, owls holding pencils
and wearing glasses, owl figurines in graduation caps.

At some estate sale the shop owner must have said, “Hey,
I’ll give you five dollars for all these owls,”
and the dealer said, “Make it six bucks and I’ll throw in

that old suitcase to carry them.” And that was the end
of Tilly’s collection. Once they’d been the saints
of the china cabinet chapel, and claimed place of pride

on kitchen windowsills that faced the sun, and Tilly could tell you
where each owl was purchased: Niagara Falls, Door County,
the rest stop with clean bathrooms off of highway 31—maybe

Tilly didn’t even really like owls, it just became an easy present
for nephews and cousins to buy: “Tilly I know how
you like your owls so we got you this pink one

on our trip to Decatur.” Now they’re sun-bleached and stranded,
heaped like leftover coal on a sidewalk on Clark Street.
I touch my wallet in my front pocket, I could do it, purchase

them all, leave the overflowing suitcase on a bus stop bench
for you, oh stranger, you oh person or persons unknown
to find and keep, or, I could scrub them in a dish pan, pretty

them up, transform my house and thus my life, my dining room
a banquet hall for owls, my bookcases a knickknack
rehabilitation center. But it’s August. The midday sun just loves

to beat down, and Tilly is dead. I touch one bird, a winking owl
holding a placard in its beak: “Whooo the hell died and made
yooou boss?” I take a step away, look back.

Step away. All those owls on silent wings. All those owls who
can see in the dark. As for me, I maintain a modest elephant
herd, lined up like model cars in a row in my office.

The green glass one, missing a chip from its right foot?
My father won that in his first-grade spelling bee.
Bury it with me when I go.

I want to clutch it
in my linen-wrapped
hand, like a pharaoh.

About the author

Robert McDonald lives in Chicago and works at an independent bookstore. His work has appeared recently in Bending Genres, Cloudbank, and Elsewhere, among others.

Read the full bio

Issue 24 · Autumn 2021

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