by Christina Scott
Martin knew the figure grasping the side of the rain-slick dumpster was not human. The eyes were too oval, the skin lightly blue. She wore a large wool shawl, pulled over a hiker’s backpack, her silhouette that of Quasimodo.
“Help.” The voice was deeper than what Martin expected from a woman, yet the word was softly spoken. He stared through the rain. If it were not for her heavy pregnancy he might have believed her to be male. She was at least 6’5”, Martin’s height.
“Are you hurt?”
Martin watched uncertainty flash behind her eyes, making him think of his niece, Ella, when anyone touched her Cabbage Patch Kid doll. She steadied herself, muscles primed. The hand on her belly shook.
“Are you in labor?” Martin kept his voice low. She said nothing, and he thought perhaps his words were torn away by the rain.
“May I come closer?” He asked. She stood watching him until she doubled over in pain. He touched her cheek. Flat and cold. “How close are the contractions?”
She smelled tangy, foreign, not of this Earth.
“Three minutes,” she said, and being closer now, Martin felt his bones vibrate with her words.
“Okay. Will you come inside?” he asked.
He searched her face, read the fear.
“It’s only me and Delores tonight, and she’s asleep in the break room.” Delores was seventy-two. Great at her job but prone to napping. All other clinic staff left at midnight. Martin took the woman’s hand—rough, slick with rain—and guided her to the door he’d just locked. It popped open. The woman stepped over the threshold and her deep, even breaths skittered off-beat as her bare feet touched the linoleum. Martin heard a clicking as they walked toward the nearest patient room. When he switched on the lights her feet were scaled with long claws.
“Turn the light off.” She pulled the shawl over her face. Martin turned the lights off.
“I need to examine you.” The woman reached up with a veined hand and touched the light fixture. The lights grew brighter, but only by a fraction. Then she closed her body inward again, looking small and fragile despite her size.
“Please, sit.” Martin indicated the exam table.
When she sat down, the table sagged under her weight.
Martin told her to lay back, and as he stared between her legs, he asked, “What is your name?” He’d forgotten to ask.
“Okay, Valdis, take even breaths.” It was human anatomy, as far as Martin could see. He went to work. Soon the head was crowning.
After Valdis had done much pushing and deep breathing, Martin asked, “Could you lay back more?” He was having trouble rotating the baby.
Martin looked up to her shoulders. “Maybe you’d like to take off your pack?”
Valdis had red eyes, deep red. How had he not noticed before?
“I must unfurl them.”
Them? But Martin said nothing as the shawl fell off the woman’s shoulders and large, bird-like wings spread out from either side of her body. They were golden, iridescent. She sat back, and Martin was able to get a better grip on the struggling infant.
Delores opened the door, staring down at a clipboard. She wore faded black slacks and a pink blouse with tiny black kittens repeating. Her mousy grey hair was tied into a ponytail. “Martin, have you restocked the…”
She looked up and saw a blue creature with wings spread wide, Martin’s hands trying to deliver her baby.
“Oh. My. God.” She shut the door behind her and locked it. She stumbled to the sink and wet some paper towels, and without hesitating, put them to Valdis’ temple.
“Thank you,” Valdis said.
When the baby slid out, and he heard the shrieks, Martin was surprised to see a human child. After cleaning the infant and making sure he was breathing correctly, Martin placed the child on Valdis’ bare chest. Slowly he realized her skin was soft and white. She was not just a beautiful woman, but his friend, Megan. He’d known Megan all his life, when her family moved next door at age five. She’d gone away after high school, six years ago now. He always harbored a crush on her, but settled for friendship. He thought for sure they would at least remain friends. But she didn’t respond to his inquiries, and he’d given up on ever seeing her again.
“Hello, Martin.” She said, smiling. Blond hair accentuated her long face and orange eyes. Her voice was high, now.
“Megan,” Martin said and blushed. He’d been between her legs.
Delores patted the baby’s brow. “We need to report this. We can’t just have a birth and not report it. What about the damage to the exam table?”
Megan said, “Thank you, both. I truly appreciate it.”
“What are you?” asked Martin. Where have you been? He wanted to add, but didn’t dare. She was here—back, with him. She would tell him everything—why she left, where she’d gone. He could help her with the baby, if she wanted.
“When I give birth I must be in my real form. Not until the babe is out can I change back.”
Back into what? he wanted to ask, but instead he said, “You’ve given birth before?”
Megan smiled. “I am the only female. Without me the race would die out. I must protect my children.”
A thought occurred to him. “Were you looking for me?”
She answered obliquely. “I was visiting family, but they….they were not pleased with me.” She got up. “I must leave.”
She pulled the shawl over herself; it was now ridiculously large.
“You can’t just leave,” Martin said. “You need to deliver the afterbirth.”
Sadness shivered through Megan’s features, furrowing her brow and her delicate lips. She was still slick with rain and sweat.
“I must leave,” she said. “Will you take care of him? His name is Jacob. The male of my species is not—forgiving. So it’s best he does not know of me.”
Martin looked towards Delores, who was now cradling the infant.
“I can’t,” he said. “And what do you need to be forgiven for?”
But when he turned back, Megan was gone.
Twenty Years Later
I am six feet, three inches with a solid frame. I keep my brown hair cut short to emphasize my brown eyes and strong nose. I make sure to keep my hair gelled with pomade and just a touch of cologne on my wrists so that if Maria leans in to ask me a question she will get a whiff of manliness.
Maria is a beautiful woman with a heart-shaped nose ring who sits next to me in my remedial college Math class. She has long black hair and wears the same yellow blouse every week, like she rotates a row of outfits in her closet without self-consciousness.
From the first day when we do ice breakers, I discover that Maria is divorced and has a five-year-old son named Michael. Michael has yet to speak his first words. His pediatrician thinks he’s autistic, Maria explains, but he can write his name and he is a keen observer of his surroundings.
I tell her I grew up locally and D.J. at a radio station. Not the main D.J., I explain, but a tangential one. I say a sentence or two each sports show and then go back to my life. A life that now involves math. I want to learn something about business, maybe open my own sports store. But first I must adequately manipulate numbers. She smiles when I tell her these details.
One day after class, I gather my books, and I see Maria. She stands there, her face turned toward me.
“Fun class, huh?” I say, hefting my books onto my shoulder.
She smiles. “Could you do me a favor?” She looks at me with her dark brown eyes and my gut fills with hope.
“Will you come home with me?” She smiles again, and I am thrilled to be the recipient of her charm. Of course I say yes.
A twenty-minute walk later and we are in Maria’s fifth floor walk-up apartment. There is a playpen and stuffed animals strewn about the living room, in front of a television with rabbit ears on top. I peek into the bathroom and see that the hamper is full of dirty jeans and Cars- themed pajamas.
Maria directs me to the bedroom. My heart pounds as I near the door. I’m about to touch her hips and draw her close when I peek into the room. Her son is there sitting on the bed.
“How are you, Michael?” She asks, giving him a hug. Michael looks up at me, and his eyes are so lightly brown they seem orange. “This is my friend, Jake. I met him in my math class, and he has come to help you.”
Michael smiles at me. He has the same dark complexion as his mother, though his hair has a dirty blonde tinge where his mother’s is a deep brown. He is wearing an adult sized Dallas Cowboy’s t-shirt and child’s sweatpants. It looks like he hasn’t bathed in at least two days.
“I’m going to leave you two alone,” Maria says, and before I can object she has left the room and shut the door.
I’m alone with a stranger’s child. This is not what I was expecting. It’s not what I wanted. I stare at the boy and reach for the doorknob. But Michael lets out a squawk. I turn to look at him, and something about his expression—birdlike, quizzical, head tilted—causes me to sit on the bed beside him.
Michael scoots closer and holds out his hand. I take it. At the moment of contact I see Maria perched on the side of her bed, in nothing but her underwear and a thin black tank top. Maria’s body is beautiful, dipped and curved in the right places, accentuating her long neck and almond-colored skin. Two points of blood form on the back of her shirt at the shoulder blades. And then the almond skin is becoming blue, starting at her lips and moving down her neck, colonizing her body with rough patches. Through Michael’s eyes I see her naked now, a twisted and angular silhouette in the moonlight, golden wings moving, crinkling. Her face is broader, her nose smashed upwards. Yet her ears are the same. She opens the window, and when she looks over her shoulder to see her son in the corner of the room, she lets out an ethereal screech that sends shivers down the boy’s spine.
With no transition, Maria is now sleeping in her bed. Michael plays with a rattle, and as he plays, his skin begins to itch. He tries to pick at a scale that has burst through the skin. Maria’s arms go around him. I sigh at the sight of her in her nightgown, and the soft touch of her cheek as she holds her son.
Then she places Michael on the bed and takes off her heart-shaped nose ring. She grabs his hand and pricks him with the stud. Michael’s skin is stubborn for a moment, still blue and rough. Then the patches recede, and he is left with smooth, unadulterated baby flesh. Maria places him back in the crib, and he falls asleep.
When all of this is done, I am in Maria’s bedroom with her son, and he has removed his hand from my own. His skin is bubbling, little patches converting over to scales in front of me. His eyes deepen and are now irrefutably orange. Wings burst from his shoulders and grow rapidly into a larger version of a dragonfly’s wings, transparent and beautiful. Michael begins to screech, and a moment later Maria is at the door.
“Did he show you?” she asks.
“Yes,” I say, getting up from the bed. My heart is racing. I look from mother to son. “Why? Why did you show me this?”
“All I need is some of your saliva.” Maria holds out a vile.
There are questions I want to ask, yet none of them fall from my lips. No. I’m starting to feel cheated. My expectations have not been met. I’ve wasted an evening. And I don’t really care why she needs my saliva.
“Maria, you said you would be grateful if I helped you.” I stare into her eyes.
She stares back at me a moment, then her eyes narrow and she lowers the vial. “Is that who you are?”
Instead of speaking I move closer and touch her cheek. She looks away.
“Give me a moment.”
She picks up Michael, and in her haste his left wing scrapes her forehead. Blood trickles down and into her left eye. She places Michael in the living room.
“I will be back soon, my love,” she says. He screeches, but soon he’s mewling as he settles into a comfortable spot on the couch. Curled up and vulnerable.
She comes back into the room and closes the door. I hand her my hanky to wipe her forehead. She takes it. “Thanks,” she says, her voice low. She wipes away the blood and then hands it back.
Before she touches me she says, “I thought I had found a good male.”
Ten minutes later I’m zipping my pants up when I think about her words. “What do you mean ‘a good male?’”
Maria is already dressed. She has the vial underneath my chin. “Spit.”
I spit into it.
“Females always change. Males sometimes do, like Michael. But the rest, those descendants from Valdis, they live within the general population and have no idea they are not human.”
It happens before I process it—my hand is out and I have slapped her. I am horrified and—if I admit it to myself—pleased as a welt appears on her face. Her eyes flash an inhuman red, but she does not move.
“I’m human.” I place these words in the air and turn to go.
“I knew your mother.”
“She would have been disappointed, but not surprised,” she says. “She died twenty years ago, before I was born.”
I face her. “My mother is alive and living in Dallas.”
Maria smiles again, and instead of wanting to hit her I simply want to go.
As I leave the apartment I see Maria kneel before her son and touch a drop of my saliva on his tongue. I do not wait to see if he has changed.
About Christina Scott
Christina Scott holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has appeared in Spry Literary Magazine, Maudlin House, The Quotable, and Riding Light. She currently teaches college English in Westchester County.