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February 14, 2024

Baby Albatross

Kevin Maloney

My wife wanted to see Barbie but didn’t think she could do it sober, so we gobbled up some psychedelic mushrooms during the opening credits. The movie was about a famous doll named Barbie and her boyfriend Ken who lived in a pink, materialistic world that had something to do with feminism. Her house was like a toy with one whole wall missing so kids could play with it, but there weren’t any kids. The dolls were alive. That was the joke.

In a shrewd move, I’d decided to buy Junior Mints from the concession stand, but I forgot to get anything to drink. I was extremely dehydrated. Luckily, Anne had the foresight to buy an enormous Diet Coke with a straw sticking out the top. It was the size and shape of a Sherwin Williams paint can, but she didn’t want to share. As a child, she’d had to share drinks with a thirsty older brother, who drank all the Mountain Dew and never left any for her. His name was Jimmy. I was paying for his sins.

I explained to Anne that I’d forgotten to drink anything besides coffee or beer for the last few days and that I was definitely going to have a bad trip if I died of thirst. She caved.

“But just one sip,” she said. “It’s mine.”

She was being cute, but also, she was totally serious.

The Diet Coke tasted wrong and metallic, like I was licking a dirty battery, but it was so good I almost started crying. I drank it down until I could feel my stomach pushing against the wall of my liver.

The mushrooms hadn’t kicked in yet, I was just really thirsty.

I sat there enjoying the movie, not thinking about whether I was high or not, but Anne was pissed. The drugs weren’t working for her. The medication she was on nullified their effect. That was our theory anyway.

“Are you feeling anything?” she asked.

“I don’t know. Maybe?” I said. “This movie is kind of weird. It’s hard to tell.”

She handed me four more mushroom capsules. I gobbled them up with a handful of Junior Mints.

Ten minutes later, Anne said, “I’m taking more. You should take more too.”

She handed me six capsules.

I said, “Okay, but I get another sip of Diet Coke.”

She said, “Fine.”

I didn’t know what was happening. The movie was either stupid or good. I couldn’t tell the difference.

“Let’s just finish these,” said Anne, dumping six more capsules in my hand.

An hour later the movie ended. I drove us home. Anne was sleepy. She went straight to bed. I got in bed next to her and lay there for twenty minutes, staring at the ceiling, but I couldn’t fall asleep. I decided to go into the living room to watch television, but when I got there, the idea of watching TV made me feel like throwing up, so I pulled a blanket over my head and tried to fall asleep on the couch.

That’s when I saw them. Miniature ghosts in the distance with silver piano hammers gently playing silent music that had something to do with the meaning of the universe. They kept chanting the word “Soft” in a different language, one I didn’t speak but could somehow understand.

That was just one thing that was happening.

I was also having negative thoughts and positive thoughts on a variety of subjects. The negative thoughts were winning.

One negative thought was: “My stomach hurts.”

Another negative thought was: “I drink too much alcohol.”

Both those things were true, but I didn’t understand what they had to do with the silver piano hammers.

I lifted my head out from the blanket. I was definitely in a video game.

It occurred to me that I wasn’t on the same medication as Anne and that the drugs were just now taking hold.

I looked at my phone. It was one o’clock in the morning.

The only way I knew how to experience psychedelics was to go outside. “Inside bad, outside good!” was the primary lesson I’d learned from doing drugs in my twenties.

But I lived in the city. Outside, it was just a bunch of skunks and catalytic converter thieves.

I felt my mind getting pulled toward the dark wobblies. Every few seconds, a clacking skeleton walked past, urging me to join them in the land of Terminal Illness and All My Teeth Falling Out.

Luckily, I’d been to hell before. I knew from my buddy Dante that the only way to survive it was to have a guide.

I thought about hopping on a plane and flying to South America so I could befriend a shaman, but there weren’t any flights to Peru until tomorrow.

I did the next best thing and summoned a shaman on my computer. He was the only man I knew who could look death in the face and make it all feel perfectly normal, an inevitable stage in the endless cycle of life.

His name was David Attenborough.

I ran a bath and lit a bunch of candles and set my laptop on a bath caddy and turned off the light and lowered my naked tripping body into the hot water. I opened Netflix and pressed play.

It was a nature documentary called Our Planet II.

Fucking Jesus shit balls. Why did people watch movies featuring actors pretending to be dolls when you could watch tadpoles wriggling through the root systems of lily pads while a British man with the voice of God described their migration with the lucid wonder of a dimwitted child?

In the first ten minutes, I saw cape buffalo marching across the Kalahari Desert to reach a remote watering hole, only to find it staked out by a pride of hungry lions. A fight ensued. Despite getting kicked in the mouth repeatedly, the lions dragged a buffalo to the ground and took turns ripping its muscle tissue from bone.

I went, Herp! and threw up a little bit of mushroom and Junior Mint. It looked like an owl pellet.

I didn’t care. Two hundred billion locusts were marching across the forested hills of Sudan, devouring everything in their path.

“You’re all my children,” I told them.

A few minutes later, murrelet chicks in British Columbia ran through the forest at night, bashing into twigs and tree stumps, to join their mothers in the ocean, only to have to swim for 600 miles to the coast of Alaska where they could finally eat a proper meal.

I hiccupped and spit out another owl pellet.

At some point I lost my mind a little and thought one of the candles had set a towel on fire. Then I realized the towel was on fire. I got out of the tub and stomped it out and burned my foot and looked at the black spot on my foot for about 15 minutes until a blister appeared.

Eventually I got back in the tub, where I had a religious experience. I’m going to tell you about it, but you can’t laugh. This was a very real thing for me.

My brain was almost completely scooped out from the drugs. I had no defense mechanisms. I had the mind of a baby or a person on their deathbed.

It was in this fragile state that I was introduced to a six-week-old albatross. He looked like an animal a kid would invent, then get an F on their report card.

Like my mind, the albatross was supremely innocent. He didn’t have any skills other than standing there in the sun and rain and wind, waiting for his parents to return with food, even though his parents were probably dead.

Almost immediately I burst into tears.

My shaman Dave decided to press the big button that said “really heavy dark shit,” and showed how the beach was covered with cigarette lighters and plastic bottle caps. The albatross babies walked around eating them instead of food, then died because nothing else would fit in their stomachs.

I wished I’d let my towel burn, taking me and Anne and our house with it.

At some point all the other kid albatrosses decided that it was time to flap their wings and soar out over the ocean, only they didn’t know how to fly yet. They got tired and landed on the surface of the water, where they were immediately eaten by tiger sharks.

One by one, all my little albatross’s friends were getting devoured in front of him.

I thought of the time in the fifth grade I watched my buddy Dale cut his finger off with his dad’s Sawzall. It ruined me for years. I still dream about it sometimes. I couldn’t imagine what this baby albatross was going through, watching those gray heads pop up out of Jesus knows where, ripping everyone he knew to bits.

Eventually it was our baby bird’s turn. Did I tell you I was sobbing before? Now I was in hysterics. I yelled at the computer. I called out Latin prayers I remembered from first communion class forty years earlier.

Our little albatross beat his wings and lifted into the sky. I jumped out of the bath, generating a wave that crashed over my laptop. I’d have to put it in rice later, but for now, the documentary continued.

Little buddy flew a few feet and landed on a wave. Oh god no. Hell no. Buddy!

A tiger shark came out of nowhere and snapped, but just missed him.

I grabbed the shower liner for balance and called out Anne’s name like we were passionately making love.

The albatross startled and lifted into the sky again, just dodging a second tiger shark attack.

Go buddy go! Fucking fly!

Then–I swear on the life of my wife and three cats–the baby albatross started running. He ran along the surface of the water exactly like Jesus Christ. His body lifted up into the air, and then he was flying. He wouldn’t touch land again, according to David Attenborough, for five years.

I lowered myself back into the tub. My thousand-dollar laptop frizzled out. The screen turned a weird shade of purple and a bunch of lines appeared on the right side.

Who fucking cared? I’d seen things I didn’t know existed on this earth. I’d been to church and received the holy wafer.

I promised myself to quit drinking and to be a better person from now on. I decided that in the morning I’d adopt a needy child.

I got out of the tub and walked around the house stark naked and dripping, blessing things. I blessed all three cats. I blessed Anne, who somehow was still asleep, despite my whooping and sobbing and setting a towel on fire. I blessed the refrigerator and the stove. I had to pee, so I went to the toilet and blessed the water in the basin and the pee coming out of me. I blessed my penis.

At some point I felt slightly less insane, so I returned to the couch and covered myself in a blanket again. There were only positive thoughts now. I tried to remember Barbie, but all I could picture was pink stupidity. I was living in a different world than the one I’d inhabited only four hours earlier.

What would David Attenborough say if he saw me now? “This homo sapiens, having consumed the enchanted fungus and barely escaped the clutches of the dark wobblies, finishes his bathing ritual and retires to his Afghan shroud.”

Who could bear the sadness of this life without David’s singsong voice reminding us that the other animals are just like us—victims of the cruel indifference of nature?

I lay in a blanket cocoon rubbing my naked feet together, staring at the ceiling, waiting—like a motherless child—for dawn.