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The Oldest One

Mary E. Lowd writes stories and collects creatures. She's had more than one hundred short stories published, and her novels include the Otters In Space trilogy, In a Dog's World, and The Snake's Song: A Labyrinth of Souls Novel. Her fiction has won an Ursa Major Award and two Coyotl Awards. Meanwhile, she's collected a husband, daughter, son, bevy of cats and dogs, and the occasional fish. The stories, creatures, and Mary live together in a crashed spaceship disguised as a house, hidden in a fairy garden in Oregon. Learn more at marylowd.com. Read more stories at deepskyanchor.com.

Anno watched her mother tuck in each of her siblings to their differently shaped beds. Lut folded his feathered wings into his nest-bed; T'reska stretched out her scaly-green back on her heated bed of rocks; and Iko cradled her primatoid body, swinging lightly, in her hammock. And that was just in this room. The younger ones had been put to bed in their own room an hour ago.
Anno wondered what it would be like to live in a family where everyone was the same species, all of them curled up on flat, round mattresses like her. Sometimes she tilted the mirrors in the bathroom towards each other and watched her reflections fan out--two, four, six... hundreds of red-furred canids smiling back at each other with perked triangular ears and grinning muzzles. All of them happy. She'd liked that. Everyone the same. Everyone getting along.
Instead, Anno was stuck with avian, reptilian, primatoid, felinoid... oh goodness, so many different types of siblings. Practically every species that the Myrmecoid Matrons could genetically tweak to be reproductively viable with Anno's marsupial koala-like mother.
All different. All needing different things. All taking up Mother's time.
Anno waited until she heard Lut whistle-snoring through his beak--he was always the last in the room to fall asleep--and then she crept out of her bed, leaving the blankets in a crumpled pile, and padded softly out of the room. T'reska stared at her with open eyes as Anno passed, but the reptile girl slept that way sometimes. Eyes open. So creepy.
In the hallway, Anno twisted her triangular ears, listening carefully to hear if her mother had gone to bed herself or was still up in the living room. Quiet humming. Anno followed the humming to the living room and peeked around the corner to see her younger brother, Ky the felinoid, purring in their mother's lap as she hummed him a lullaby.
Anno resented that she had to wait her turn to sneak out of bed for a private moment with her own mother. Her triangular ears burned with frustration and impatience as she waited for Mother to shuffle Ky back toward bed. The gray-striped felinoid hissed at Anno as he passed her in the hallway. She merely rolled her eyes at him. It was so cliche for felinoids and canids to not get along. But Ky wasn't old enough to understand that yet.
"What is it, Anno?" Mother asked. The gray koala-like being was always kind, but her voice didn't have the same patience it had held for Ky.
That little cat had used up their mother's patience on himself! Leaving Anno without a gently hummed lullaby of her own. It didn't occur to Anno that her mother might have higher expectations for her, being the oldest.
"Nothing!" Anno woofed, impetuously.
Mother sighed and ran her claws through the long gray fluff of her koala-like ears, like she did every time Anno annoyed her. She'd been doing it a lot lately.
"You clearly don't have time for me," Anno continued, bushy tail swishing. "You never have time for me anymore."
With a sigh, Mother listed all the things they'd done together that day on her claws, and Anno's tail slowed to a sad droop. They had spent the whole day together, but they hadn't spent any of it alone together.
"Now, would you like one last good night hug?" Mother held her fuzzy arms wide, and Anno couldn't resist rushing forward to snuggle in her warmth.
With her head pressed against Mother's belly, Anno felt a squirming that reminded her: even now, she couldn't have her marsupial mother to herself. The family's littlest member had been born two months ago, but it was easy to forget about it... since only Mother had seen the baby before it had hidden inside her pouch to keep developing.
None of the rest of them even knew what species the baby was yet. Anno hoped it was another Heffen like herself. Or even a koala-like Woaoo. Mother claimed that the Myrmecoid Matrons wouldn't do that--they believed in fostering peace between species by forging natal mother-child bonds using their mad-science gene therapies. That meant cross-species relationships.
Still, Anno missed her dim memories of being a baby--just her and Mother; koala and red wolf, closed circuit. They hadn't needed all the others.
The squirming in Mother's pouch intensified and Anno felt herself kicked by a sibling she hadn't even met yet. "Hey!" she barked. "That's not a great way to introduce yourself to your oldest sister!" She started to growl, and the red fur along the back of her neck prickled out.
Then, to Anno's great surprise, her youngest sibling did pop out an orange-furred knobby head from under the loose blouse covering Mother's gray-furred pouch. Other than the orange colored fur, this new sibling's face looked very little like Anno's. Or any of her other siblings. He looked more like a giraffe. And in fact, his head rose up and up on a neck that was hilariously long for the size of his head.
The baby made an inarticulate honking sound, and Anno laughed. Though she didn't feel like mocking the new baby. More like showing him off to all of her other siblings.
A keratinous hoof-like hand reached out of Mother's pouch, and Anno wondered what kinds of games that long neck and those hard hands would be good at.
"I'm glad you were here for this," Mother said, giving her oldest child a squeeze.
Anno missed having time alone with her mother, but right now, she couldn't be more excited to have a big crazy family. She couldn't wait to show off this new bizarre baby to them. Tomorrow. For now, Anno's eyes met her mother's, and they both smiled. Red wolf and koala, closed circuit, encircling a new baby giraffe.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, September 26th, 2018

Author Comments

I started imagining the family depicted in this story (and "The Pink Agate") shortly after my daughter was born. I loved her fiercely from the first moment I saw her, but she was constantly surprising and confusing for me. There are so many ways that we're different. Those differences made me think about what it would be like to have a family composed entirely of members of different species. This particular story was written much later, after my son was born, and I was figuring out how to balance my relationships with both of them at the same time.

- Mary E. Lowd
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