“When do I get to meet your parents?” Emma asks after we finish having sex.
And there it is; the dreaded question. I don’t like questions, period, because they all seem to lead back to this one, but at least it’s easier to talk about how much money I make or what I do for a living than where I’m from. But none of my typical excuses placate Emma, and so a few weeks later, we take a trip out to the Oregon coast.
My moms live on a cliff by the ocean. Their house is modest, two bedrooms and one bath. A small village is situated at the bottom of the cliff, but the villagers keep to themselves mostly. I don’t blame them. It isn’t that they have a problem with my moms because they’re lesbians. It would be so simple if my moms were only lesbians.
Emma, to her credit, remains calm when she sees my moms for the first time. All she asks is, “Are those bird feathers?”
We are still in the car. My moms, through much trial and error, have learned to come out of the house and greet me in the driveway so that the woman I am dating can get her first gut reaction out of the way in the security of the car. I’ve tried warning my girlfriends in the past, tried telling them that my moms aren’t exactly normal, but they always told me not to worry, that parents love them.
“Remember when you asked me where I’m from?” I ask Emma. The words come automatically. I don’t remember how many women I’ve said them to. “Well, I was hatched. Out of an egg. My moms are sirens.”
Emma studies my moms, their long sleek manes of feathers, the blue-black of hot-burning smoke. She takes in their narrow faces, their small neat teeth, and their wide-set eyes. She examines their delicate hands and the little feathers poking through their skin on their upper arms.
“Hatched?” repeats Emma. She sounds fascinated by it, and I suppose, considering her undergrad degree in Biology, it makes sense.
“Who laid the egg?”
“Samara. She’s the one on the left with the silver streak in her hair, but they’re both my mothers. They both took turns keeping my egg warm.” I don’t feel the need to tell Emma about how both of my moms cut up raw fish with their tiny sharp teeth and regurgitated it to me when I was newly hatched.
“But you’re not a siren,” asks Emma. “Right?”
“It’s hereditary, but you need two X chromosomes,” I explain. “I’m just a carrier.”
Once we get out of the car, my moms welcome us warmly, enfolding each of us in their feathered arms. At first Emma is unsure of where to place her hands, but my moms wrap their arms all the way around Emma’s back, until the distance between their bodies vanishes completely.
Maybe I shouldn’t have waited so long. Emma is very socially progressive. She always votes Green and has a doctorate in Sociobiology in the works.
Samara checks on dinner while Raquel, my other mom, shows Emma around their home.
“We’re homebodies,” she tells Emma. “We read a lot and like to puzzle. Sometimes we watch Jeopardy in the evening.”
Emma runs her hands over the spines of the books that line the walls of the living room, dining room, and hallways. I feel the phantom trace of her hand on my own spine.
“What’s this?” asks Emma. She picks up a framed photograph, one I recognize. It’s a picture of me, right before my second birthday; instead of hair, I have a scattering of feathers as fine as down on my head.
“You don’t want to know,” I tell Emma, but my mom interrupts me.
“We took the picture right before his first molting.”
“You, you molted?” Emma is incredulous. Raquel smiles.
During dinner, my moms ask Emma all sorts of questions. “Where did you go to school?” “What did you study?” “What do you do for a living?” “How do you like it?” “Where do you see yourself in five years?” They tell her they were reading a magazine just the other day about the mating behavior of captive bears and ask her what she thinks about zoos.
She drinks up these questions eagerly and tells them, “It’s cruel. But what are we going to do? We’ve destroyed these animals’ natural environment. A lot of them will die if we don’t intervene.”
My moms lean in as Emma speaks, captivated by her words.
“What about domestic pets?” one of my moms asks. “Do you have a cat or a dog?”
Emma smiles, acknowledging the hypercriticalness of her stance, and says, “It’s complicated, I guess. I mean, I want to adopt a cat, but your son—” she glances at me, elbowing me with her eyes, “he’s allergic, so…”
Both of my moms’ eyes widen ever so slightly. My insides chill, as if cryogenically frozen. I lock eyes with my moms, willing them not to say anything. Neither of them do, thank God.
When people hear that my moms are sirens, they think their magnetism is supernaturally rooted. They actually believe all those stories about sirens singing on the rocks and luring sailors to their deaths.
The thing people don’t realize is my moms don’t need any special powers to enchant people. They’re beautiful, interesting, unique women. They’re passionate, engaged, and listen to others. They ask questions. Compliment people. Turn the spotlight around and let others shine. That kind of charisma doesn’t need supernatural assistance.
I’ve learned all my best moves from them. It’s how I got Emma to let me take her out on our first date, back when she was an undergrad freshman and I was a T.A. for her Biology 101 class. And it’s what’s made this relationship so easy, barring the whole cat fiasco.
But I can’t do it like my moms. No one can.
Emma and I came close to breaking up over that damn cat. She wanted one. I didn’t. I’m not actually allergic. I made that up. I just can’t commit to a cat. Moving in together was no big deal, but a cat takes the relationship to a completely new level.
I watch Emma nod along eagerly as my moms talk; she leans on one elbow, her eyes glued to them, a wine glass casually dangling from her opposite hand. The bitter cold spreads down into my gut and up into my heart, and I know it’s over. Even if Emma doesn’t find out that I lied about the cat, there’s no way that I’ll be able to continue to coast through this relationship, not after she’s met my moms. I’ll end it tomorrow, on our way back home.
I get up from the table, my steak half-eaten, and start collecting the dishes. Emma and my moms, embroiled in their conversation, don’t notice as I take their plates. I go into the kitchen and start on the dishes. As I stick my hands in the rubber gloves and grab the first plate, I feel someone touch my shoulder. I turn and see Samara.
“I’m sorry,” she says.
She reaches her arms around me. I bury my face in her shoulder, the feathers tickling my neck. In the morning, when I ask Emma if she wants to drive home, she tells me that she isn’t ready to go.
M. M. Pryor is currently studying Fiction Writing at the Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, VT. She writes predominantly horror and speculative fiction. Some of her short stories have been published in Visceral Uterus, Flashes in the Dark, Tales of the Zombie War, and Jeopardy. In addition to her other stories, M. M. Pryor is working on a chapbook, When Silver Fox Met Rage, which is about two vigilante superheroes who meet on a rooftop shortly after midnight and fall in love. More of her work can be found on her website, mmpryor.com.