Jessica loved owls. When she was very small, much smaller than she was when this story happened, her mommy bought her a stuffed owl, with white fur, a shiny, black beak, and gleaming, yellow eyes. Mommy also got her a book with lots of pictures of owls. Each picture had parts of the owl that were fluffy or smooth or shiny. One thing she enjoyed, even before she could walk, was to climb in her daddy's big lap, look at the pictures in the book, feel all the different textures, while cuddling her fluffy owl.
Jessica loved her Mommy and Daddy too but loved her Uncle Jimmy in a different sort of way. Whenever he came to visit, he took her on walks to the playground or took her to an ice cream shop. Almost every time he came to the house to visit, he brought her a little toy. Once it was a little blue truck. Another time it was a rubber dog that squeaked. He also brought her blocks and magnets, and little cat ears she could wear on her head.
On her first birthday, Mommy and Daddy and Uncle Jimmy got lots more toys and books for her. Even with all the new things, she loved the original owl best. It was just the right size for her to tuck under her arm as she toddled around the house. It was fluffy and cuddly and perfect to snuggle at night as she drifted off to sleep. After so long being her favorite play toy, it was filthy. The fur was matted and one of its eyes was missing. She loved that toy owl and slept with it every night.
Some nights, she imagined, while she lay sleeping, the little owl would sit up in bed, and observe the murky room with twitching, bright eyes. It would hoot quietly in her ear, and flutter around the room on whisper-silent wings. Often when she woke, she would find it on the floor, or perched on her bookshelf. On those mornings, if Mommy found it, she would scold Jessica gently, saying, "Now, Jessica, you really shouldn't be up at night playing with toys. You need to get your sleep."
Her second birthday brought more owls. There were lots of little stuffed ones, blue plastic ones, and squeaky rubber ones. There were books about owls, drawings of owls in nice frames for her walls, and even a blanket with cozy, cute owls.
That same day, she also got a kitten. It had grey and black stripes, little white paws, and a pink dot on its nose. She had seen cats in the neighborhood and on television, but never one so tiny. She squealed and clapped her chubby little hands and promptly picked it up by its neck.
"Now, now," Mommy said, "be gentle," and delicately rescued the kitten.
Jessica and the kitten played together a lot. Mommy and Daddy decided the cat should be named Mister Finnigan. He was a very welcome part of the family. Jessica practiced and got better at petting him gently and letting him sit quietly in her lap while she watched cartoons or pretended to read him a story.
On one rainy, boring, normal Saturday afternoon, Mommy, Daddy, and Jessica went to buy boring things at a boring store. Jessica was sad most of the trip because she had left her little owl at home. In her young mind, she knew it was in her bed, under her rumpled blankets, right where she'd left it after her nap. She wondered a few times if it was actually flying around the house, or gazing out the window.
When they got home, Jessica ran to her room to get her owl. But it wasn't there. Instead, she found small piles of stuffing scattered around her room, and Mister Finnigan trotting down the hallway with the torn husk of her owl. Mommy tried to fix it, but could not, and had to put it in the trash.
Mommy and Daddy struggled for several days trying to comfort Jessica. They offered her several of her other stuffed owls, but nothing comforted her. One of them helped a little, but Jessica could never like it as much. It was smaller than her old, white owl, and gray, and had smaller eyes.
One day, a little after her third birthday, Uncle Jimmy came to visit. He said to Jessica, "Would you like to come with me to Toys and Things? I'll let you pick out your own toy." Jessica loved the idea. She was old enough by then to walk around the store on her own without having to hold a grown-up's hand all the time, even though they still kept a close watch over her. She didn't even need to be in a stroller anymore because she walked more like a little girl and less like a toddler each day.