The cab driver parked next to the white sign hanging from a wrought iron post. It creaked in the slight breeze. “Schuyler Animal Healers,” he read aloud. “You one?”
“Family biz,” Andy answered. His nostrils flared. The lingering onion and lunch meat, stale-sweat atmosphere intensified since the cab stopped. Andy lunged for the window button.
The cab driver glanced in the rearview mirror. Andy gulped for air. One hand fidgeted with the door lock and the other scratched his shoulder. This skin’s so dry!
“In trouble or meet a girl?”
“I met… someone.”
The driver smirked. “I get it. Not the type of,” he gestured air quotes, “‘someone’ your parents expect.”
“Something like that.” Andy tapped his foot. If he only knew.
The driver drummed his fingers against the dash. He peeked in the rearview at his immobile fare and deliberately turned the meter back on. He looked out his side window. “Is that an emu?”
“Probably a sore throat case. Dad’s the bird healer.”
“What’s wrong with the moose? Too horny?” The cab driver chuckled.
The radio crackled. “Got another fare. That’s Eighteen seventy-five, Dr. Doolittle.”
Andy paid the driver, grasped the door handle and then, reluctantly, stepped out of the vehicle. The cab peeled out almost before the door clicked shut. Andy choked on the sprayed grit. Soon, no more dirt.
A horse trotted to him and with a loud pop transformed into his human mother. An eagle swooped and batted Andy with the tip of a wing; its raucous screech drowned out a faint pop. Human legs skidded to a stop. After a sharp crack the rest of its avian body transformed into Andy’s human father.
“So how was spring break?” his father asked. “Meet any ‘Girl’s Gone Wild’?
Before Andy could respond, his mother smothered him in a tight hug. Andy gasped for air. He wheezed, “Let’s go inside.”
His mother wiped her feet on the novelty “Finish Line” doormat before she led the way to the kitchen. As she washed her hands she nodded for Andy to sit and said, “Beauty’s lonely since her colt noticed fillies. He chases every twitching tail.”
She dried her hands and raised her eyebrows at her son. Andy stared at the Blue Seals Feed plaque decorating a door that led out of the kitchen.
“Don’t nag Rosa. You’ll get your grandchildren,” his father said. Rosa shook her head but smiled a toothy grin at her son.
Andy squirmed. And stalled. “Uh, why were you in eagle form, Dad?”
“A skein of Canadian geese flew toward a golf course. The ‘endangered list’ years made them arrogant. They don’t believe people hate ’em. I had to use intimidation to divert them.”
“Mom, Dad, I met… someone,” Andy blurted.
“Oh thank goodness!”
“Arnold, we both worry that his time spent as different fish has made him,” she nudged Andy’s arm before she added, “…aloof. So how’d you meet?”
“In the Caribbean. She’s sleek and graceful and, and… we’re soul mates.”
His father cocked his head. “Aanndd?”
“And… she’s a dolphin.”
He gushed out his explanation. “She was depressed swimming with tourists, so I became dolphin and helped her escape and… and we connected.”
His mother snorted. “So, how’s this going to work? If you’re human and she’s dolphin?”
“I’ll—I’ll live as a dolphin.”
His father said, “You know you can’t do that. The longer you stay dolphin, the harder it is to change back to original human form.”
“I won’t have my son live as… as a creature. What about grandchildren?” His mother stomped her foot. “How am I supposed to spoil them? ‘Here’s your bucket of herring?’”
“You always say I can be anything I want.” Andy quivered under his father’s fierce glare. “I want to be a dolphin.”
“That’s not what we meant!” his father squawked. “You don’t have to be a healer, but use your talent! Become a deck hand! A magician! A, a… whatever! But not a PERMANENT DOLPHIN!”
“In a couple years,” his mother whined, “you’ll regret it, but you’ll have been dolphin too long to change back completely. Then what’ll you be? A merman?”
“I love her. This is what I want. The open sea, intellectual communication, freedom from city living…”
“…and caught in a tuna net!” his mother interrupted, “You’ll be lunch!” She sobbed.
Andy shook ‘no’. “Ridiculous! Didn’t you teach me, look for inner beauty? She has it! Outer beauty too. The cutest little bottlenose…”
“Okay Flipper,” his mother spat, “since you brought it up, what about sex?”
Andy squirmed. “Er, that’s pers…”
“Well, it’s called animal needs but it’s human! You’ll look dolphin, but….”
“Dolphins have sex for pleasure too.” Andy added, “Once you rub fins….” His face burned.
His father strutted around the kitchen and rubbed his bald head.
“Dad, sure I can be a bass or a goldfish, but they don’t need healers, not like birds and mammals. With ‘Chtkh’…,” Andy clicked her name, then realized his parents couldn’t speak dolphin. He stood.
“If you want to meet your future daughter-in-law,” he paused to retrieve a brochure from his pocket, “tell an albatross to find me. Meet us here.” Andy dropped the brochure on the table. The resort offered “therapeutic swims with dolphins”.
“Mom, Dad. I love you, but I have to be with her.”
Andy strode across the room and gripped the doorknob. The plaque clattered against the door.
“Son, that’s the bathroom.”
Andy darted inside and flushed. When they realized what he was doing, his parents dashed to the doorway, only to see their son’s orange tail twitch down the drain.