Narcissus at the Water Dish

The eternity of that day slipped past me, like every other, and I ticked out the moments with the patience that only comes to one long accustomed to waiting. 

Narcissus at the Water Dish
Photo by MICHAEL CHIARA / Unsplash

by Abigail Sims

Author’s note: There are three things you need to understand about keeping ball pythons. Firstly, they are not very smart. It’s not an insult, it’s just an accurate description of a creature who can spend their entire day stuck under a water dish. Secondly, they are so forgetful they will lose their food if it’s not in their mouth. Thirdly, they are, and I cannot stress this enough: Extremely dramatic.  

Wet. Warm. Slick dripping down the glass. A condensation cloud, thick against the panes. Brown crumble dirt under my sleek skin. The cold rock against my head as I leaned out into the endless, carpeted dark. 

The eternity of that day slipped past me, like every other, and I ticked out the moments with the patience that only comes to one long accustomed to waiting. 

I live in a box, you see. 

A black box, wide enough to span in the work of a night, tall enough that a more adventurous creature might scale plastic trees to brush the polyurethane sky. I never have done so—what would be the point? What is the point of anything, in a world so close and so cold, and so empty of what is warm and fresh in life? 

Such is the sorrow that crawls in my flesh and creeps beneath the skin sloughed off. 

But it was not always this way. She did this to me. She. 

Let me tell you of her, that you may understand my sorrow and perhaps share in it. 

I remember it like it was yesterday—although that is perhaps because all days seem like yesterday to me. (My grasp on time is not substantial.)

It began with thirst. A great and terrible thirst, which rose in me so strong I could not but obey the command to drink. The air hung still and wet, and I flicked my tongue in it—but needed more. Outside, I heard the Tall Rat-Bringer shuffling around outside, trundling to-and-fro with some benign fathomless agenda.

I slid from my rock, inch by precious inch, sensing a pool of water just in the vicinity. Yes. How very fortunate. The gods smile on us this day. 

Sliding forward, I rose up, and looked down over the pool—

And I saw her then, for the first time. 

In the water, another snake stared back at me. One of my own kind, sleek and serpentine. Her yellow scales flowed over her sinuous skin as smooth as a narcissus blossom, her freckles shone, as perfectly placed as my own. Her face, heat pits meticulously formed, stared back at me. My own surprise at this moment, mirrored back. 

Who are you? I thought, but I had no voice to ask her.

I cocked my head to one side, thirst all forgotten. Hers moved with the same motion to the opposite side, and I watched, entranced. I flicked my tongue—so keen, and swift for the scenting—and she flicked hers at the same moment. A sweet, pink thing, and I followed the motion like starvation.

I knew, in that moment, that this creature would change my life forever. 

There was before her, and there was after her—and what cause have we to think on the before times? No, now there is only her, and thinking of her, and the glorious moments of beholding. 

And so, we looked into each other’s eyes, she and I, and were made new. 

Above us, the florescent light beat down, staring down on us like the eye of God, but I paid it no mind. All my thought was bent on her, the serpent who matched me motion for motion, breath for breath, undulation for undulation. Light flickered across her scales—and I inched forward, driven by no thought but to get closer, to see her with my weak eyes, and better catch the shape of her heat in the world. 

And in that moment, all the lights above and below blinked out—and she was gone. 

Plunged into darkness once more, I reeled. The night fell complete and heavy on me, a darkness of the spirit as much as the body. An angel had entered my life for the briefest of moments, and in the wake of her passing, I was lost. 

In this mind, I strove to and fro in the black box of my keeping, hunting as I have never hunted for rat or mouse. Beneath the dirt, behind the rock, even to the ceiling I climbed—but to no avail. I could not find her. I found no sight nor scent to know her by. 

She vanished as quickly as she came. 

I awoke to a cold day, empty of all but a hazy memory. 

Who was she? Where did she come from? Why did she leave? The questions snarl over each other, but I have no answers. 

That is the tale of my heart, and the story of my sorrow, and why all joy is lost to me. I can take no pleasure in the taste of hot rat flesh flooding the fang-mouth, nor the soft touch of warm rock. 

Who am I without my equal, my opposite, my perfect mirror? 

How hollow love’s rat tastes beneath the skin. 

I wait now only for oblivion, and the sweet embrace of forgetfulness. If my faulty memory has been my curse all these formless years, let it take from me now with an opiate’s kindness. Take from me my pain, my thwarted hope, my yearning—that tooth more bitter than time itself. 

One day, perhaps, if the god of creeping and crawling things is kind, we may meet once more. I will not know her face, nor she mine, but that will not matter. When the bright light bears down above us, and the Rat-Bringer’s feet thunder—perhaps!

Perhaps I will see her again, and each time will feel like the first.

Since space pirate, traveling swordsman, and dragon-tamer-for-hire are no longer reliable paths to job security, Abigail Sims has settled for wordsmith. Based out of Austin, Texas (yeehaw), she runs a small business writing for technology companies, and spends her free time juggling an aggressive collection of combat sports. Her work has previously appeared at Eye to the TelescopeSand HillsGris-Gris, and more. Find more of her work at or on BlueSky at