Reginald Phillips had an albatross. Its name was Rory. Reginald and Rory lived on the upper west side of Manhattan in an apartment. The apartment was near a park. The park had a pond in it. The pond had trees around it. The trees became bright orange and brown in the fall. Reginald loved to look at them during the fall.
Reginald and Rory never left the apartment. Rory had white feathers and long wings. Rory never left Reginald's shoulder. Reginald was miserable. He hated Rory. They fought all the time. Sometimes they wouldn't talk. But Rory was Reginald's friend (sorta).
Reginald was neurotic. He was also 40. Unmarried. He was a philosophy professor at Columbia. He only worked part-time. He always wore a sweater because he was always cold.
At first, everyone loved Reginald. How bizarre, they would say. How bizzare to have an albatross on his shoulder, they would squeal. What does it mean, they would ask each other. They were sure it meant something. How weird.
What does it mean, they asked Reginald.
Where did you get him, they kept on.
Coney Island, Reginald said. But neither remembered how they had met. And they didn't care.
Rory's left wing was shorter than his right wing. He had broken a bone in his left wing and the bone had set improperly. Rory could only fly in circles now. So Rory never flew. At all. He never left Reginald's shoulder. Except for the one time when he broke his wing. Reginald had been reading something by William Saroyan. When Rory was flying Reginald became excited. He stood up. He headed to the door. Rory saw Reginald leaving. He smashed into a bookcase. Reginald threw the book down and went to help. The book slid under the couch.
One afternoon it was wet. Reginald was reading aloud to Rory. He was reading Thus Spake Zarathustra
. Something fell from the pages. A scrap of paper. He stopped reading. Rory squawked. He was not happy. The paper was the address of a lost love: Ramona Peters. He held the paper between two fingers while pictures and colors went off behind his eyes.
I've been alive for 50 years, Reginald thought. He was looking at the brown trees in the park. And in those 50 years I've never been in three things: a coffin, a fistfight, and love. He studied the paper again for a little while longer. Then he tucked it behind the Phi Kappa Gamma crest insignia on his breast pocket and left.
Reginald and Rory took a taxi. They took a bus. They came to a building. It was still raining. They walked into the building. They walked up six flights of stairs. Then they knocked on a door. Reginald stood waiting at the door. He watched his and Rory's reflection in the doorknob. The door opened and brown light came into the hallway. A man wearing sweatpants and a wolf shirt looked at Reginald and Rory.
You're not Ramona Peters, Reginald said. The man looked at Reginald. Blinked. Looked at Rory. Blinked again and then pointed to the door across the hall. The hallway became dark when the man shut his door. Reginald turned around.
When the door opened this time there was not a man in sweatpants and a wolf shirt. There was a slender young lady. She had pale milk skin. She wore a bright yellow dress. Reginald stood for a moment. There was bright light everywhere.
Reginald smiled too.
They stood there and nobody spoke. Then Ramona laughed. Reginald laughed too (but he didn't know why).
That evening it wasn't raining anymore. Ramona, Reginald, and Rory went on the roof for fresh air.
I found a paper of yours in my book today, Reginald said. I think that I'm in love with you.
I found a paper of yours in my book today, too. I think that I may be in love with you. Reginald smiled and thought about writing a song for her.
Why do you have an albatross on your shoulder, she asked later.
I don't know. But I'm really tired of keep him there, Reginald sighed looking at Rory. Rory began pecking at his head.
Albatrosses don't belong on shoulders or anywhere around there.
Where do they belong then?
They belong at sea, or at least in Los Angeles. But not in New York and not with you or me.
Reginald looked over the city and thought about how happy all the children living in it were. He thought about his mother and the garden they used to have on their roof. He thought about the beginning of life. He thought about grass and water. He thought about infinity. He thought about reading and about language and about everything impermeable, everything radiant and true, and everything clear and clean.
And so Reginald smiled at Ramon, looked at Rory, and set him free.