Leigh Ann led Penny to the deepest part of the pool and sat in the corner, their backs against the wall with their tails stretched out before them. Leigh noticed how relaxed Penny had become after being in the water on the a few minutes. She’s already growing acclimated; genetic memory has taken over. “Are you comfortable?”
Penny nodded. “I have a question, though. How are we talking underwater?”
“You know how dolphins speak to one another, with clicks and whistles?” Penny nodded. “We’re doing the same. To your ears and now some like were speaking normally to each other.”
Penny nearly rolled her eyes. “How can I know how to talk like this?”
“Because you were born knowing The Language. All mermaids like this. It’s due to genetic memory, passed down from one generation to the next. You got it for me.”
“And how are we able to breathe? I don’t see gills on you.”
“Our lungs are extremely efficient: they’re almost like giant sponges where air is concerned. Because of that, they’re able to extract all the oxygen we need from water.” Leigh chuckled. “This is one of the reasons why we can hold our breath so long. The reason I pulled you out of the water the other day was because you could have held your breath a lot longer than three minutes.”
Penny gave her mother a quizzical look. “Like maybe ten minutes?”
Leigh smiled back. “The longest I’ve held my breath was about eighty minutes. You probably could have stayed under thirty, forty minutes easy.”
“Wow.” Penny ran her hands long part of the length of her tail before turning to her mother. “What are you going to tell me?”
“That I was born in the ocean—the Pacific Ocean in particular. That both my mother’s are still alive—
“Mothers? Don’t you have a father?”
“No. Ours is a matriarchal society; there are no mermen. I grew up in our pod—that’s what we call an extended mermaid family. When I left there were about forty-five of us; most pods have between twenty and thirty mermaids at any one time.”
Something about what her mother said drew Penny’s interest. “So, I’ve got two grandmothers?”
Her mother nodded. “Yes.”
“Any other relatives?”
“I have a couple of aunts and I’m sure you have a few nieces by now.”
Penny found it almost fascinating that she had an unknown family living somewhere nearly impossible but she was just on learning about. “Why did you leave?”
Leigh shrugged. “I was eighteen and I wanted to see the world beyond the ocean. I told my mothers I was going to go up to the Land of the Walkers and spend some time among humans.” She wrapped an arm around Penny’s shoulders. “Many mermaids do this. Both my mothers spent time on dry land before returning to the pod, so I thought I do the same.
“So not long after my eighteenth birthday, the pod through party for me and wished me a great adventure on dry land. And with that, I swam off and came to surface at Cape Lookout in Oregon. I found clothes and money—”
Penny shook her head. “How did you do that? Did another mermaid meet you?”
“No, silly.” This time Leigh laughed. “You know the stories about how mermaids can lure men to their deaths by singing?”
“It’s what we call the Sirens Song: we can manipulate our voice and the way to make humans do things for us. It’s only really effective when you’re dealing one on one, but when you’re in a pinch and you need something, we usually use this ability.
“That’s what I did. I managed to get a ride into the town of Tillamook, found clothing and food and a little money, then made my way to Portland and found a job. I worked there for a few years and, with the money I made, I began working my way southward and inland.
“I eventually found my way to Albuquerque and began working in a landscaping job, because, as you’ve seen, I’m extremely good with foliage. I was so good, in fact, that after about ten years I managed to become a partner in the company, and five years after that I bought it.”
Everything about work was pretty much what Penny had heard before, though she had never quite heard this timeline as explained by her mother. And there was another question as well… “Is this where you met my father? Or did you go back the ocean and I have a mother there?”
Once again Leigh gave her daughter a squeeze around the shoulders. “No, Honey, your father is human. You see, every so often I’d head back to Oregon on so I could see the ocean and feel it draw me forward. When I met your father I was almost ready to go back to the pod for a while, just to visit. Instead, that night I met up at the lounge the hotel I was staying in Tillamook and there was something about him that just said…” A dreamy look filled her eyes as the memory of seeing her daughter’s father came rushing back.
“It told me I was ready to have a child. In a couple of weeks later I found out I was going to have one—” She touch Penny on the tip of her nose. “You.”
Before this Penny had been told little about her father: she didn’t even know if he and her mother had been married at the time she was born. Now she was learning the truth: her father was a stranger her mother had met so she could have a baby. “Did you ever meet him again?”
Leigh shook her head. “No, I didn’t. The next morning I drove back to Albuquerque. I never gave her my phone number told him where I lived. I know it sounds somewhat selfish, but I only wanted him so that I could have you.
“After you were born I divided my time between the business and raising you. There were stories that mermaids who had children by human fathers often had human children, but in the last couple of years had begun to see signs that told me you weren’t going to be human: you were going to be as much a daughter of the sea as me. I was one of the reasons why I wanted to keep you away from water as much as possible: I knew the moment you got into deep water the genetic instinct in you to transform your legs into a tail would take over and—”
Penny looked down her body. “I’d be like this.”
She gave her mother a hard stare. “So is this going to happen every time I go swimming now?”
“Not at all.” Leigh flashed a bright smile. “Now that this is happened, you’ll be able to control the transformation. The thing is, the moment you get into deep water like this the urge to become your true self is going to grow strong. Going to have to learn how to fight that.”
Penny looked up toward the surface of the pool inside. “How my going to do that without practice?”
Leigh flicked her tail and moved off the floor the pool. She turned to face her daughter. “Let’s swim a little while I tell you about the surprise I’ve been working on…”