The Albatross

The albatross from The Rime of the Ancient Mar...

The albatross from The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, depicted by Gustave Doré. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Cheshire Cat’s grin hangs just above the ship and makes the waves glitter as if there were jewels in the water. My little Molly loved the Cheshire Cat. When we had read Alice in wonderland she would talk about cats for days. Now she can only beg Ann for a cat, and Ann hates cats. I should never have married a dog-person.

Except for Molly. My little Molly makes it all worth it, but will I even get to see her? I want to share the ocean at night with her. The splash of the waves and the stars. I want to share all the best books I’ve read on the long trips when everything settled down and there was nothing better to do but read. When will she be old enough for the Ancient Mariner?

The light from the watchman’s lamp disturbs my reverie and I curse him under my breath, but I know he is necessary. There are pirates in these waters. The theme of Pirates of the Caribbean begins to play in my pocket. I fumble with my phone.

‘Hello?’ I say.



‘Hi dad!’ she almost shouts and I hold the phone a bit further away from my ear.

‘Molly, hello love, what time is it over there?’

‘It’s umm … Eight … And some more.’

‘Shouldn’t you be in school?’

‘No, it’s Saturday, silly.’

‘Of course, love. How are you?’

‘I got a puppy!’

I lick my lips.


‘A really fluffy puppy.’

‘But, what … what about the little kitty you talked about?’

‘Cats are boring compared to dogs.’

There is a slight pain behind my eyes.

‘You can’t keep it, Molly,’ I say.


‘You can’t keep the dog.’

‘Why? Mum said-’

‘It’s evil,’ I say, ‘I’ll bite you and hurt you. You have to get rid of it.’

‘No, it wouldn’t.’ There is a sob from the other end. It tears at my heart.

‘Remember the Cheshire Cat?’ I say, ‘he wasn’t boring, was he?’

‘No, The Cheshire Cat was fun. He had a big, big smile, but mum says cats don’t really smile.’

‘Cheshire Cats smile,’ I say, ‘but dogs eat them.’


‘Yes, they eat them all up, so there is almost none left.’

There are more sobs.

‘And you know what?’ I say, ‘Mum is on their side.’

There is a bump from the other end, she must have dropped the phone, and I hear crying. Crying and wailing. I hang up.

I look at the moon.

I think of the albatross.

And I feel its weight around my neck.

Moving Forwards part 6

As the sun rose the trees turned yellow and a mist rolled in from the sea. At first the mist only swallowed the farthest islands, but it crept closer by the minute. Soon Rodger could see no further than five metres in front of him. As he crossed another island he could hear the waves from the other side of the white blanket, but the water was hidden. The trees were shadows in the mist. How could he be sure they were only trees?

No, that kind of thinking would bring him nowhere. He steeled himself and placed three white stones in the middle of the island. He paused. What would find them? Would the dark slimy thing know what they meant? He picked up the stones and turned to leave.

Then again, if there was any kind of help to find in this world, any at all, he would need them to know he was here. He placed the stones in a pile again and strode on. Trying not to turn his head at every crash of the waves. If something was following him, and it was an animal, he did not want to seem like prey and if it was something intelligent, he did not want it to think he was scared.

The endless crashing of the waves worked like sandpaper on his nerves, even when he was on the narrow strip of stones and could see them. It was as if someone had wiped out the whole world and all that existed was him, the stones and the waves in this small bubble of reality.

He shook himself. He had to find some way to calm himself. A song? No, he could not sing in key to save his life. And he could not whistle. But he did know some poetry.

‘It is an ancient mariner,’ he began, ‘and he stoppeth one of three.’ Remembering the words as he walked, he almost forgot the shadows in the mist.

‘At length did cross an albatross,’ he said as he was crossing the next island, ‘Thorough the fog it came.’ Something stirred at the edge of his vision. He froze. Staring into the fog. There was a shadow there. But now it was completely still. He swallowed a couple of times. It had moved just a little, but it had moved. His jaw clenched, he crept towards the shadow. It was large. Much taller than him. It was a tree. Its branches spiralling innocently on opposite sides of the trunk.

He sighed. Rubbed his forehead. He really was losing it. He turned his back.

‘As if it had been a Christian soul,’ he continued, ‘we hailed’ Something stirred. He spun around. There was only the tree. And the mist. And the shadows. He took a deep breath. Turned slowly and continued on his way, forcing himself to look straight ahead and continue his recitation, no matter how his instincts screamed for him to turn. To run. To fight. To stop the moving at the edge of his vision or at least find out what it was.

The moving did not seem to follow him onto the stones and his heart slowed a little.

‘Water, water, everywhere, and all the boards did shrink,’ he gazed at the water and where it disappeared in the fog, ‘water, water, everywhere, nor any drop to drink.’ At least he had plenty of provisions with him. Frederick had made sure of that. ‘The very deep did rot, oh Christ!’ He stopped, studying the crashing waves. ‘That ever this should be. Yea slimy things did crawl with legs,’ his voice turned into a whisper, ‘upon the slimy sea.’ Perhaps the Ancient Mariner had not been the best choice.



This is part 6, read part 1 here:

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