This story will not be a long one, in fact, it’ll be over before you’ve truly understood, but promise me this at least; whatever follows, it is not the fault of my dog; my dog is completely blameless.
It began at sea, when the storm that blew up did not build steadily, it came like baseball delivered to a baseball bat, with venom, rollicking fast.
Three days later, the storm packed up its rage and moved on leaving me beaten, broken, unshaved, and suffering sea sickness. I slept peacefully all that fourth day and didn’t die. On the fifth day I carried out repairs, occasionally interrupted by a visit of dolphins.
It was the sixth day a different kind of storm arrived, it was an albatross. The bloody big bird was perched on the yardarm.
He didn’t look too confident, in fact, he looked more beaten, more battered, and more lost than a lumberjack in the desert. On the seventh day, he fell to the deck. It was a hefty thud and he appeared dead, but no, he lay there, stone-cold unconscious. I can admit to have felt a new terror; what sailor wants such a bird on his boat? I could have tossed him overboard, as any responsible sailor might, but hear me out, okay.
This bird had weathered the same damned baseball bat of a storm that blasted my yacht off its course for a home run, sent it sailing and diving, ripped right and left, pushed into swells and jettisoned over crests. I should be dead, something that I felt bonded us. The bloody big bird had survived and simply collapsed from the yardarm, hungry, too weak to know anything, falling like a stone to the deck. One wing sprawled over the port-side, the other covering his eyes, and his enormous beak protruding from its feathers. Gently, I moved it’s wing away from his head. His eyes flickered. I remember asking this damned bird if he was okay! (Look, Tom Hanks spent years talking to a deflated basketball, remember?)
I’d been three weeks at sea, and several days fighting the yacht through thirty-foot swells. I’d begun to consider anything that wouldn’t beat me as being friendly.
“Com’on, pal, you can make it. Open your eyes, talk to me. Say something,” I said.
( I know, I know, you’re thinking I’m delirious. So you don’t talk to your damned car, eh? )
The bloody big bird opened one eye. I knew he was asking himself what the hell had happened.
“It’s okay,” I said, “I think you just fainted. You probably haven’t eaten in a week. Here, let me help you up.”
I pulled his out-flung wing gently back inside the confines of the boat. He screeched and I wondered if I’d hurt him.
He scrambled a bit, turned onto his webbed feet, which was a precarious maneuver considering his lightheadedness.
“Maybe I could get you something to eat. I’ve got some corned beef… ah, true, maybe not. How about some bread?”
That question brought about an uninterested response. “Wait, I think I have tuna in the cold storage.”
I left him, still dazed, on the foredeck, and went aft to search for feed. Yes, one small can of tuna left.
“I got tuna here, pal.”
I forked it into a dish. He wasn’t enthusiastic. True, the tuna didn’t wriggle, didn’t put up a fight, but it’s tuna for Christ’s sake.
He made a feeble attempt, but it was wretchedly pitiful. I went aft to make good some repairs. When I came back, he was fluffing up a few feathers. The size of those wings flapping on a small yacht was concerning, but I was relieved, there’s no way I wanted this bloody big bird to die on my boat.
We were together two days before I thought about a name for him; Albie. (look, it was the first name that came to mind. Get over it.)
Albatrosses stop flying for two reasons, rest and mating. I was in no mood for the latter. By lunchtime Albie was looking pretty good, his eyes were bright, with his huge white body and dark wings he was beginning to look like the flight machine he was supposed to be. I was still two-days out from Newfoundland, and having an albatross for a companion remained perturbing.
The oceans are full of tankers, cargo ships, and cruise liners, any one of which he might have chosen to recover from his ordeal. I hate to imagine this bird actually selected me. I’m not your ordinary everyday kind of guy, I get that. Actually, my fate is such that I haven’t yet found one person with whom I can truly relate to experientially. My entire life, I’ve felt like an alien on this planet, never on the same plane of experiences as others.
But enough moaning. If I’m to have an albatross as a soul mate, so be it.
Albie stayed around the wheelhouse all that day, and then, quite suddenly, with a storm of beating of wings, he entered into flight. But only to the mast top. I had saved his life. No bird, recognizing that he owed his life to someone, would ever bring bad luck to that person and so I slept peacefully that night; that is until a migrating whale hit my yacht broadside.
If I was superstitious I might have believed that rare occurrence could only happen to a yacht with an albatross perched in the rigging, but I’m not superstitious, okay, so this whale was simply passing by, on its way to the feeding grounds. It could have bumped into anything. It just happened to bump into me. Look, a whale is a bloody big thing, right. If it’s in the ocean there’s every chance you’re going to bump into it. Don’t blame Albie.
The hull and keel were damaged, not so severely that I was in any great trouble, but the balance of the yacht had been affected, and getting home would take an extra day or two…or three. I looked up at Albie.
“Hey, it could have happened to anyone, don’t blame yourself. It happens all the time.”
Later that day the wind dropped.
It’s now eight days since Albie arrived. A week is a good rest in anybody’s year. In the year of an Albatros it’s almost unheard of. There’s a gross lack of information contemporarily available on the subject of bad luck. But, face it, who, except those who suffer it, are really interested in chronic non-sensational bad luck? Only enduring victims truly recognize how uncanny and debilitating their consistently maneuvered lives are. And so, since I’m a major victim, I decided to break the ice, and make best friends with Albie. He was busy sunning himself, and seemed quite uninterested in hearing about blame, or not so much blame, and I was concerned we were going to have a disagreeable conversation, when, with one boom of wing-power, and the kind of draught an airplane propeller might make, Albie was up in the air. How my heart sang.
Albie is leaving.
Suddenly, there’s a gust of wind and the bloody big bird soars skyward. What a magnificent sight. Who could ever believe he is the saddest creature that inhabits the earth, living, sleeping on the wing, traveling with the winds. The great bird is magnificent, and I had saved his life. I felt a tinge of sadness as the black tipped wings grew fainter in the sky. A minute or two, I could see him no more.
“Bye, Albie, thanks for stopping by.” I raised my hand in salute.
Within the next hour a stiffened breeze, enough to hoist sail, enabled me to slip west. Three days later I was chugging down a pint of ale, taking a bite of sharp cheddar and feeling pretty content with myself.
One’s first night back on land is always a treat. A few drinks, good company, some silly tales and a good night’s kip. I didn’t tell anyone about Albie. Not that I’m superstitious, as I say, it’s more tradition. Like people throwing salt over their shoulder. For a long time I’d been trying to figure out the meaning of my abnormal life. But it was only much later that I concluded: ‘Why bother? It’s obviously mischief. So I now view my life as a tedious, irrelevant saga, wherein, at various points along the way, I’ve even managed to accomplish a few good deeds.
I was still feeling pretty good about everything when I managed to inexplicably drive my car into a ditch. Looking at the wheel I could see there was no hope of extricating the car that evening. Fortunately, home was within walking distance.
After a few hundred yards, walking in the brilliant moonlight, a great shadow crossed the moon. A shudder went through me. Yes, it was Albie.
I staggered the mile and a half home, reached into my pocket for the door key. It wasn’t there. I remembered putting it in the glove box!
Either, I walked back to the car in the ditch, or I climbed the ladder.
Albie made a low pass.
There’s no way I was going to accept my fate. I struggled across the garden with the ladder, finally managing to put it up against the half open bedroom window.
Albie passed again…this time low, and slow.
“Albie, clear off.”
He didn’t. He swung in one more time, a very low pass indeed, which sent a cool draught across my neck.
Next I recall the distance covered from my bedroom window to the lawn was covered in less than a blink of Albie’s eye.
My left arm was broke. My dog, Reckless, barked, raising the awareness of neighbors.
The nurse tucked me in for the night, and asked me to explain how it all happened.
“My dog jumped up at me,” I said.
“I know,” she replied, “dogs will do it to you every time.”
Okay, so that was spectacularly unfair on my dog, but look, would you be happy trying to explain who or what was responsible for my predicament?
Did you know you can’t actually sell an albatross? Seriously, have you even seen one in a zoo? You cannot even give the bloody thing away on Craigslist! Albie lives in the wardrobe now.
Friends seldom visit.