Tina’s toilet brush hit something thick and firm under the rim of the toilet bowl, and then a snake tumbled into the water.
“Oh, bugger,” the snake said.
Tina stumbled backwards and ripped the earbuds from her ears. The sound of podcasters exclaiming about container gardening floated upwards from her shoulders.
During her tenure as a New York City subway janitor, she’d cleaned up a lot of surprising and revolting messes: human waste, dead animals, mysteriously soiled clothing, drug paraphernalia. This wasn’t even her first animal in a toilet, just the first that spoke.
“Um, excuse me?” She addressed the snake, her heartbeat pounding through her skull.
The snake looked up at her. It was about the length of her arm with a narrow, pointed head. Its scales gleamed gold under the florescent lights.
“Listen, rather revolting in here. No offense to your efforts, of course, but could you please remove me from this bowl?” The snake had a British accent, but not like a period BBC show, a little rougher.
Tina closed her mouth and refrained from rubbing her eyes with her filthy gloved hands. She looked around, unsure if she wanted someone to confirm what has happening, but the bathroom was empty. It was dank and humid from the heat of summer and no circulation, making it even harder for Tina to breathe.
“Why are you in a toilet?”
“I don’t know. I’m a snake. It seemed like a good idea until it became clear that it was an awful one.”
“Get yourself out then.”
The snake tilted its head beseechingly.
“Look, I read some story when I was in high school where a lady was nice to a snake, and it promised it wouldn’t bite her, but then it did, because that’s how snakes do. Right?” Tina was relieved that she remembered anything about a woman and a snake talking like it was normal. She stood and stared down at the snake slithering feebly around the white porcelain bowl.
“I hate that story,” the snake sniffed. “It makes everyone seem stupid and terrible. I guarantee that we are both intelligent and lovely.”
“Ok, well…” There was nothing for it. She couldn’t just leave a snake in a toilet, and it was asking nicely.
She crouched down and grabbed the snake, supporting it as best she could while holding it at arm’s length. The snake was heavier than she expected, and it drooped between her hands.
“I’ll just rinse you off,” she told the snake. “Sewage and bleach cannot be a good combo for you.”
Tina took off her gloves to check the heat of the water, then gingerly washed the snake using a bit of slimy, pink soap from the wall dispenser. She used one hand to hold the snake and the other to splash warm water over it.
“Sorry, this is the best soap we have. It makes my skin crack.”
The snake rubbed the side of its head against her wrist. Its eyes were half closed, and its tongue flicked out. Tina’s hands stilled, her pulse pounding hard again. Oh God, oh God, oh God, I’m sorry I never go to church. Just please, please, please, please don’t let it—
“I won’t bite you, love. Sorry to scare you,” the snake said quietly.
Tina released a shaky breath and patted the snake with crisp, brown paper towels in an attempt to dry it. She began lowering it to the ground when it began inching up her arm, muscles alive with strength again.
“What do you want? I got you out of the toilet. Oh God, I’m an idiot.”
“Ok, listen—What’s your name?”
“Tina,” she squeaked out.
“Tina, listen. You don’t seem to understand how these things work. You’re a nice enough person, and you got me out of a tight spot.” The snake raised itself up until it was at eye level, hovering on nothing. “Talking snakes aren’t common, love. This is your chance to get some wishes.”
Tina’s mouth worked silently before she could speak. “I wish that I could put you down so we could both get on with our days.”
The snake’s head wove back and forth in a lazy shake. “I’m afraid that’s not how this goes.”
Tina stared back at the golden snake, aware that she was nearly hypnotized, but powerless to move. She supposed she could force the snake off, flail her arms and scream for help. As long as the snake wasn’t poisonous, getting away from it more or less unscathed probably wouldn’t even be that hard.
“I see that this is all a lot to take in,” the snake said, lowering itself back to Tina’s arm, pressing its cool, smooth belly to her forearm. “Why don’t you set me somewhere safe, and we’ll talk about it later.”
“I need to finish up here. I can’t lose this job.”
The snake nodded.
Tina hid the snake in her cleaning bucket before hiding it in her locker. She wrapped it up in her spare T-shirt, even though she was fairly sure that snakes don’t bundle up to keep warm. It looked back at her with slitted golden eyes from the depths of her locker.
“I’ll see you in a bit, um, what’s your name?” Tina asked.
“Just call me Snake.”
“Uh, well, see you later, then.”
Tina cleaned the rest of the station in a haze, giving the remaining toilets only the most perfunctory scrub. She always avoided eye contact with people waiting on the platform—a way to keep her day more private, more safe—but now she was afraid of what they would see. A crazy woman maybe? Perhaps her eyes were darting around her head as she hallucinated about gilded speaking animals. But when she came back to her gray, metal locker and opened it, she found Snake inside, burrowed in her Hogwarts shirt. Snake yawned, its mouth pink; its sharp, white teeth flashing.
“Let’s go then,” Tina said.
Tina smuggled Snake in her faded backpack, which was decorated with pins from K-Pop bands and marker doodles. Her attention was completely on the rope of muscle twitching in the backpack behind her as she walked or on her lap on the train.
“Christ, you really are out of the way,” Snake said from inside the backpack. “You don’t get paid enough to clean up shit.”
“Sorry,” Tina muttered to herself.
“Don’t be,” Snake said. “It’s not your fault the world isn’t fair.”
Tina climbed the three flights to her one bedroom apartment, a real luxury even if it was well away from everything and the size of a parking spot. She had no roommates and a door to shut everything else out when she went to sleep. Just because the city didn’t pay her enough to “clean up shit” didn’t mean that they didn’t pay relatively well all things considered. And who was this snake to judge her? She wasn’t the one who ended up in a toilet on whim.
Tina put her backpack on the floor and unzipped it. “Ok, I have to feed my cat. Don’t…don’t eat my cat.”
Snake slithered out of the backpack. “Wouldn’t dream of it.” It made its way into the apartment, faster than Tina expected, and began experimentally butting into furniture.
Charlemagne ran up to Tina, meowing and winding her way around her ankles, dusting her jeans with long, orange fur. “Everyone’s talking to me, today,” Tina cooed to the cat. “We have a weird guest, and I hope you two play nice.” She put a saucer of wet food on the floor and looked at the sitting area a few feet away. Snake was making a valiant effort to climb up the plush red couch she had found in the rich people’s garbage.
Tina’s friend Ashley had said that the day of moving the red couch up three flights of stairs should be a national holiday. They had just about killed themselves hauling it all the way up and barely had the energy to answer the door for the breathless pizza guy who complained about delivering to the fourth floor.
Ashley moved for her job a year or so ago. Maybe I should text Ashley about this snake? But they hadn’t talked in a while, and “I have a talking snake now” was a hell of an opener.
“Well, Snake, you don’t eat cats, so what do you eat?”
Snake seemed to fall in slow motion to the floor. “What do you have?”
“Frozen burritos, ramen, sad lettuce… No mice or crickets unless I’ve got a pest problem.”
“I’m a reptile, Tina. I’ll be fine doing without for a couple days,” Snake said.
“Oh hell, no.” It was as if something cracked, and Tina felt inexplicably angry that she couldn’t feed this passive aggressive snake. “Guests don’t go unfed in my home.” When was the last time I had guests?
She started sorting through her fridge and freezer, listing everything she touched as she pushed it out of the way. “Old pad thai, Grey Poupon, orange juice, box wine—”
“Really, Tina, it’s alright.”
“Pickles, jelly, string cheese, cookie dough, ice tea—”
Charlemagne yowled and leapt onto the table, hissing.
“Expired hummus, frozen peas, fudge pops, um, um, coffee creamer—”
Tina felt something cool and slick slide across her ankle. “I’ll manage, love, really,” Snake said.
Stupid tears pricked Tina’s eyes, and she sighed, pushing the coffee creamer to the side. Her hand dropped on a rough paper carton, then she dragged it forward.
“When did I buy these?” It was a container of eggs, miraculously fresh.
Tina looked down at Snake, glinting against her ankle. “How about eggs?”
Snake looked up at her, and raised a couple inches. “Eggs would be great, thank you.”
Snake and Tina watched reruns of a baking show as they ate. Tina had the old pad thai, which was heated up unevenly. Snake ate three eggs, unhinging its jaw and working them down whole. Tina could see them moving down its body before settling heavily in Snake’s middle.
Snake scoffed at the TV between eggs. “Everyone knows you need to sift the flour. Christ, these amateurs.”
“I don’t know, like, anything about snakes. So well…I guess…what are your pronouns?”
“I’m a snake. Does it matter?”
Tina shrugged. “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”
Snake worked down another egg, its golden face and body distorting in the blue light of the TV. “I suppose he/him will do.”
“Ok, cool. I use she/her. Um…”
“If you, you know, need to potty, there’s a litter box in the bathroom. I figure you’ve had enough of toilets today.”
Snake let out a hissing laugh.
“So, Tina, any questions about wishes and what not?” The snake looked at her expectantly, his middle bulging from his meal.
Tina heaved a sigh and took another drink of wine. “Not tonight. It’s all kind of overwhelming.”
When it was time for bed, Snake was curled in on himself in a gleaming pile of coils.
“You need a pillow or a blanket or anything?” Tina asked around her toothbrush.
“Just this slightly stained couch cushion, thanks.”
Tina gathered up Charlemagne and closed the bedroom door behind her.
The next morning Tina let Charlemagne out the fire escape, leaving the window cracked wide enough for a cat, preferring to bet on Charlemagne’s street smarts rather than her ability to take on Snake if push came to shove. Tina bid goodbye to Snake, who was still curled on the couch cushion, and made her way to the first of her interminable subway stops before she would get to work, still in a station. Work was devoid of any more magical, toilet animals. Tina was almost disappointed.
She continued the Sisyphean task of making New York subway stations clean while listening to a podcast and convincing herself that, this time, she wouldn’t kill her houseplants. Each day took several episodes before she could head home. Tina learned a lot about container gardening.
On the ride home, watching ads blink by, Tina almost believed that yesterday was just a figment of her imagination, born from boredom or exhaustion. She looked at her haggard reflection in the dark glass of the subway car. Tina thought about calling her mom, maybe asking for advice, but figured no one had advice for “maybe there’s a magic talking snake and maybe I’m losing my mind.” Her mother was someone she only went to with good news, anyway.
“Charlemagne, honey, Mommy’s home! Come get your num-nums!” Tina called as she entered her apartment.
“Well then, welcome home,” Snake said from the couch. He was still a bit distended in the middle.
“I got you num-nums, too,” Tina said, holding up some eggs. “I mean, if you’re hungry at all.” She had stopped on the way home, just in case the magical talking snake was real.
“I could manage one to keep you company,” Snake said, thumping heavily to the floor.
“Where’s my cat?”
“Hiding on your dresser and screaming at me.”
Tina fed Charlemagne by bringing a saucer of food to the dresser, then she microwaved her own dinner and brought an egg to Snake. They watched a ghost hunting spin-off show set in Miami.
“Jesus. If that many people died in that hotel, I’d say it’s two stars no matter how swank it is,” Snake said.
“If I had to be ghost, Miami sounds nice,” Tina said. “A lot better than some cold, shitty house in the middle of nowhere.”
“I hate to break it to you, love, but Miami’s kind of a dump.”
“What? No. What do you know anyway?” Tina swallowed the bite of burrito she was talking through. “You’re a snake. You don’t go to beaches. I found you in a toilet.”
“Ok, ok, fair point.” Snake wriggled until he faced Tina. “But you could do better than Miami.”
“What do you mean?”
“If you had infinite choice of a place to haunt for eternity, what would it be?”
Tina picked her cuticle. “I don’t know.”
“Oh come on.”
Tina shrugged. “You’ll laugh at me.”
“I cross my cold-blooded, measly heart that I won’t. Even if it actually is Miami.”
“It’s cliché… But, if I had to be a ghost, I’d haunt Paris. It’s beautiful and romantic, and there’d be lots of other ghosts. I’d never get bored, and there would always be something to do. I wouldn’t be stuck shaking the blinds in Room 1313 for eternity.”
Snake’s tongue darted in her directions a few times. “That sounds lovely.” He slithered a bit closer to her. “So, you’ve had some time. Any wishes? Any questions about wishes?” Snake asked.
Tina’s breath shallowed as she looked at Snake’s unblinking eyes and flickering tongue. “I’m good.”
They fell into a routine, and things pretty much went back to normal for Tina. The biggest difference was that she spent a couple more dollars on groceries and had more conversations with someone who answered. Charlemagne had even come to a detente with Snake; she’d prowl around the perimeter of the room and hiss in a kind of perfunctory way before going about her business, and Snake would ignore her entirely.
The routine broke several weeks later when someone finally took advantage of the open window by the fire escape. Tina didn’t wake up when the window slid open or when footsteps thudded over the thin, beige carpet. She didn’t wake up when her bedroom door opened. She did wake up when a flashlight shone over her eyes and a deep voice demanded, “Get me all your shit.”
Tina clutched her blanket and stared into the blinding light at the shadowy figure. She counted to ten, hoping that it was a bad dream and that she would wake up.
The man dragged her out of bed by her arm—hard—and she fell to the floor. Tina curled in a ball and started hyperventilating. The man grabbed her arm again, jerking her to her feet. “I told you to get me all your shit. Hurry.”
“I-I-I-” Tina was wearing a tank top and underwear. She wished she had more clothes on. She wished she had anything to give this man to make him go away.
A gun cocked. “Bitch, what did I say?”
Tina walked out of her bedroom with leaden legs to the catchall space that wasn’t the bathroom. “There—There’s the TV and, um, I’ve got a Netflix password—-”
She felt cold metal on her back between her exposed shoulder blades. “Don’t be funny.”
Tina started crying and shaking. Her muscles screamed at her to run while her brain screamed that to run was to die.
The man pressed the gun into her flesh. “I told you…” He coughed, and the press of metal went away.
“I…Huuuunnnnghhh…” The flashlight swung upwards, casting an erratic spotlight all around the tiny apartment.
“Help,” the man wheezed.
There was a reverberating thud and the flashlight bounced to the floor. The man wheezed and wheezed, the sound grating, until he was silent.
Tina’s breathing was loud in the dark room. She was still crying. She fumbled for the light switch and blinked against the glare. The man was wearing all black. He had dropped his handgun and his flashlight. His glassy blue eyes bulged from his head, and his jaw was slack.
“Oh God. Oh God. Oh God.”
“Tina, love.” Snake slithered out from under the couch. “Perhaps you should call the police?”
“Oh, God. Is-is he dead?”
“Oh, yes. Definitely.”
Tina squeaked out a sob. “What? How?”
Snake rested his head on her bare foot and looked up at her. “I don’t judge wishes, you know. I only grant them.”
First, the thief’s body was taken away by quiet, efficient uniformed people. This happened quickly, and for that Tina was grateful. But her meeting with the police was over sooner than she would have liked. Tina had to give her story in fits and starts as she was prompted for more details. It was pretty clear she didn’t lay a finger on him. He was twice her size, at least, and there wasn’t a mark on him. That’s what one of the quiet, efficient people had said. The police officer, a gruffly reassuring middle-aged woman, told her there would be an investigation, but not to worry too much, and to stay with friends or family for the rest of the night. Tina nodded even though she knew she wouldn’t.
She felt stupid and scared. She almost called her mother, but didn’t. Ultimately, she was alright. No need for her mother to lose sleep over it. She couldn’t handle comforting her mother on top of everything else.
Tina sat on the couch next to Snake; she stared at the TV without registering what was on. “I didn’t want that you know. I didn’t want to hurt anyone.”
Snake didn’t respond.
“I actually wished for other stuff before he died.”
Snake uncoiled and raised himself up to Tina’s eye level. Snake was bigger now, about the length of Tina’s leg. “There are wishes, and there are wishes, love,” Snake said, not unkindly.
“I didn’t say anything,” Tina whispered.
“You didn’t have to.”
Tina tried to keep the routine going the next day, but everything was stilted and wrong. She had fallen asleep on the couch with the TV on, too afraid to go back to her room. Her neck and back were stiff. Charlemagne refused to eat and begged to be let out, but Tina vowed she’d never open the window to the fire escape again.
“You could take a day, Tina,” Snake said. “I’m sure the people of New York will survive somewhat less clean subway stations.”
“I need this job.” Tina walked out the door and fumbled for what felt like minutes before she could lock up.
When she reached the fourth station’s bathroom, there was someone lying on the floor, a skinny, dirty man, practically a kid. Tina rushed over and shook him; he was barely breathing and didn’t wake. Tina called 911, bursting into tears as she described her emergency. That made it two 911 calls in less than twenty-four hours.
Tina’s manager sent her home because she was distraught. Tina wished she hadn’t cried; she needed the hours.
It was early afternoon when she returned to her apartment. Snake was still on the couch, and Charlemagne was prowling around the perimeter of the apartment.
Tina picked up Charlemagne, clutching her tightly to her chest. The cat wriggled against the pressure and launched herself away. Tina started crying again. “Go to hell, Charlemagne.”
Snake uncoiled and slithered to her. “What’s wrong, love?”
“I’m cursed,” Tina sniffled.
“Hardly. I would know.”
She told Snake about the kid in the bathroom and how stupid she was to cry over it. She almost told him that she wished that one of her old friends would call, but that would be wasting a wish when she could just pick up a phone.
“If memory serves,” Snake said after she had finished, “there is some perfectly good ice cream in your freezer.”
Tina ate some ice cream and fell asleep on the couch. She awoke in the early evening to Charlemagne batting her face. Tina fed Charlemagne and heated up some food she didn’t feel like eating. She gave Snake his eggs. She didn’t call her mother or anyone else.
When it was time for bed, Tina put on a baggy T-shirt and fuzzy pajama pants that were too hot for summer. She lined up some empty soda cans at the threshold of her bedroom and got in bed. She was still awake from her nap, and, as if her brain delighted in tormenting her, she replayed the night before over and over—the man’s grip on her arm, his wheezing, the terrible silence afterwards.
She turned on the bedroom light, the main room light, the bathroom light, and the TV. Not caring about her electricity bill for once. Tina paced her apartment until her feet were tired and the light of dawn crept through her blinds. Only then did she turn everything off and go to bed.
Tina’s insomnia became her new routine. She would wake herself up by yelling, feeling the ghost of a hard grip on her arm. She was afraid of the thief in her dreams, but upon waking, she would reassure herself that she would never see him again. No one would. It made her wonder about herself and the tiny spark of satisfaction buried beneath the horror. She thought of how quickly the man had died, rolling the thought through her mind like hard candy. Then, Tina would get out of bed and pace with the lights and TV on, wearing new paths in the carpet. Snake would slither next to her in silence, leaving a waving line in the carpet behind him.
“It seems to me,” he told her one night, “that a wish is in order.” He had stopped slithering next to her, breaking their pattern.
“No!” Tina shouted, surprising herself by how upset she sounded. “No. I’m done with your wishes. I don’t even know why you’re still here.”
“You could ask me to leave,” Snake said gently. “It wouldn’t even be a wish, just a conversation.”
Tina crumpled to the floor and started bawling. “I just don’t want to make a wish, ok. I didn’t say you had to leave. I just don’t want to wish. I just—”
“Shhhhhhh.” Snake slithered over Tina’s bare feet, his tongue flitting out at a frantic pace. “I could also simply stay. We don’t even have to talk about it.”
“It’s settled then.”
She patted Snake’s narrow head with a couple fingers. “My feet are cold, and you’re cold. This doesn’t work well.”
“We’ll just be cold together.”
It was better than nothing. Far, far better than nothing.
Tina woke from the nightmare again, and began crying uselessly, again. She was about to go on to her next step, reassuring herself that the thief was dead, when she heard a knock. She stopped crying immediately, her heart in her throat.
Oh no. Oh, no no no no.
“Burglars don’t knock, love.”
Tina wrapped herself in her blanket and cracked open her door, tipping over an empty soda can. “Oh shit.”
A man stood on the other side of the threshold. He had blond hair, tawny skin, and gold eyes.
Tina slammed the door and clapped her hands over her mouth as she tried to breathe deeply. The man knocked again. “Please open the door, Tina.”
Tina sagged against the door.
“I promise,” he said, “that I’ll only come inside if you ask.”
Did the man sound like Snake? It was hard to say.
Gathering her courage, she opened then door. The man smiled at her. “I know it’s a bit of shock. Sorry about that, love.”
Tina waited for herself to freeze up, to look away, to slam the door and climb out the window into the night. She didn’t, though. She stood at the threshold to her bedroom, hand on the doorknob, looking at a man who was no longer a snake. She saw that he had light gold hair on this chest, forearms, and jaw. He stood passively, making no move to crowd her or push his way in. He looked like she could tuck her head under his chin, and he would put his arms around her. He’d probably have that indefinable smell that clean, warm humans have.
“Were you human all along and you never told me?”
“Christ, no. But like I told you, I don’t judge your wishes; I merely grant them.”
“You’re an arrogant turd, did you know that?”
The man laughed, then, and Tina was struck by it. He was still golden like Snake, had long, strong muscles like Snake…was definitely naked like Snake.
Tina huffed. “You know what I think?”
“I think, you only grant wishes that you wish for yourself.”
Snake laughed again, all happy and golden and naked looking.
“Get in here, then,” Tina said.
Snake wrapped his arms around her, tucking her head under his chin. He rubbed his hands up and down her back, and Tina almost started crying again. Instead, Snake kissed her, and his mouth was warm against hers, though his body was cool beneath her fingertips. Snake took her to bed, and he’d occasionally flick his tongue out against Tina’s skin. Finally, the thief disappeared from her mind.
She slept through the night and woke to find his limbs twined about her. Tina told herself not to take it personally, that certainly reptiles were attracted to heat, but when her phone alarm went off Snake reached out past her and silenced it.
She did. She stayed in bed with Snake until afternoon when she finally took pity on Charlemagne and fed her. Discovering she was ravenous herself, she heated up a Hot Pocket.
“Um, Snake? Would you like me to, well, cook your eggs?”
“Tina, love, I never want you to cook for me.”
Tina huffed. “So you just want more raw eggs then?”
Tina opened her mouth then closed it. She handed Snake the carton of eggs. “Help yourself, then.”
“You won’t be horrified?”
Tina was quiet a moment. “As long as you don’t have to unhinge you jaw and all that stuff we’re good. That’s normal for a snake, but it might be a little weird for a human.”
Snake ate the whole carton next to her on the couch, swallowing the eggs whole as they watched a black and white B-movie. They went to bed again after that.
Snake asked Tina to stay the next morning, and she did. She saw her phone light up with her work’s phone number and silenced it. She listened to her voicemail after a couple days. Her manager had called to ask if she was alright and did the same the next day. Tina didn’t call her back.
The day that Tina’s manager left a voicemail saying that she was fired, they ran out of food in the apartment. Tina called for Chinese takeout.
Snake was spooning her, his face against her neck. He was wearing one of Tina’s big T-shirts from a 5K she didn’t run and her fuzzy pajama pants because they had an elastic waistband.
“We can’t actually stay here forever,” he said.
Tina petted the fuzzy pants on his thigh. “What if I wish to stay here forever?”
Snake tensed behind her. “I thought Paris was your forever.”
Tina laughed. “Oh, Snake. I’m never going to Paris.”
“Why the fuck not? I mean, you don’t even need a magic snake—man to go to Paris. We’re in New York, for Christ’s sake. You could get a direct flight.”
“I told you it was a cliché. I don’t know if I’d even like Paris.” Don’t tell me I won’t know if I don’t try.
“Ok. So you wish to stay here forever, in this puny apartment.”
Tina rubbed the hair on Snake’s arm, which was warm and solid and wrapped around her. “Yes. I wish to stay here forever.”
Snake groaned and rolled away from her.
“Well, did you do it?” Tina felt the same, but may be that was what she was asking for.
Snake made a noncommittal grunt.
“Do you have to be a snake to grant wishes?”
“It’s not about whether I’m a snake or not a snake. It’s about your wish.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted me to do?”
“Then I fucking make a wish, and you’re all hedging and grunting. What gives?”
Snake rubbed his hands over his face. “Alright then, love. Try again.”
“I wish to stay here forever.” I’m never going to Paris. I’m never going anywhere.
Tina still felt the same. Snake rolled back to her and kissed the top of her head. “We’ll try again another time.”
They stopped at a corner shop for supplies and spent another few days holed up together. Tina pushed away thoughts of rent and bills being due. She pushed away the thought of finding another job cleaning up shit so she could stay in her tiny, worn apartment. She pushed away the the thought of how humiliating it would be to call her mother to ask for money; her mother hated talking about money. For a few glorious hours the thoughts were contained, and Tina simply stopped worrying.
The first of the month came and went. Tina was positive her wish hadn’t worked.
Snake was flipping through the bills she received, eyebrows pulled together. “I know I mainly deal in bullshit, and am probably not authorized to work in the US, having spent the majority of my life as a magic snake, but it is possible that I could…” Snake’s mouth twisted, “find gainful employment.” He was still wearing her clothes, and his beard had started growing out. He looked like a beautiful, golden vagrant.
“You want a job?”
“Want is a strong word.”
“Can you even read?”
“Christ, Tina. You thought you were fucking a guy who can’t read?”
“I don’t know.”
Snake sighed and flopped onto the plush red couch.
“Look,” Tina said, “don’t take it personally. I wasn’t sure if snakes could read. And even if you couldn’t, I’d still want to have sex with you.”
Snake buried his face in his hands. “That’s great, love.”
Tina looked at her mail and cringed. “I’m an idiot.”
Snake pulled Tina on top of him. “I wouldn’t say that. Though perhaps foresight and planning would’ve been a better idea.”
Tina groaned. “You told me to stay.”
“Yes, without foresight or planning. Before I walked on two legs the only plans I had were for eating and potentially hibernation. Everything else was kind of instinct.”
“Jesus, Snake. Why do I listen to you?”
Tina felt him shrug. “I suppose because you want to.”
Tina emptied her last paycheck from her checking account. Considering that she could simply run up her credit card for a couple weeks, she figured that she had about a month to find a new job with no reference from her last one. Unfortunately, she’d probably not get another job with the City, but there was always a need for someone to clean up shit. With a bit of effort, she could get back to how life was: endless subway stops and toiling, with only podcasts to keep her sane. Podcasts…
Tina’s eyes flicked to the window by the fire escape. Her African violet looked mummified, yet strangely shiny.
Snake and Tina stood on the fire escape; Charlemagne deigned to rub against Snake’s leg. It was a breezy, bright day, and they watched flocks of pigeons swarm from the streets below and listened the the blare of traffic.
Snake reached out and pressed his palm against Tina’s cheek. “You don’t have to visit if you don’t feel like it. I’d appreciate it, but you don’t have to. I just want to let you know that.”
The railing of the fire escape seemed to grow taller, and Snake loomed above her. She felt different then, felt a searing kind of spark inside her. There was a sure strength in her chest and along her…arms? She waved them, and a great gust lifted her upwards before she halted suddenly. Tina’s feet were stuck in the platform of the fire escape, like when she stepped on a grate in the sidewalk while wearing spike heels.
“Oh hell. Sorry, love.” Snake uncurled her talons from the fire escape and set her on the railing. He stroked her gleaming, silvery feathers. “I’ll take care of Charlemagne, too. I’ll take care of things here.”
Tina looked out at the cityscape with new, sharper eyes. She registered all the roosting spots made by the buildings, tracked the movements of the pigeon flocks with a great hunger to attack with her talons and beak, to snatch one of the lazy New York City pigeons from the air.
A deep compulsion over took her, and she flapped her wings, wild to be away. She had people to see, wishes to grant, and all the pigeons she could eat.
“Go on then,” Snake said.
Tina looked at him, hoped on his shoulder, and nibbled his ear. “Careful with toilets, ok?”
Snake laughed, and then whooped as Tina dove—her body speeding like a bullet toward the ground before she pulled up, her muscles hammering as she rose, rose, rose, rose. She soared over the city until the apartment building was a speck in the distance and the skyline stretched out before her.
Featured image from: http://wafflesatnoon.com/is-this-golden-snake-real-or-a-hoax/