Reptilian

Horatio was almost too big for the tank she’d purchased. His scaly bulk pressed against the glass, his golden eyes flashed as he undulated. His scales were green with flecks of metallic blue.

Tara sat on her bed, watching him. The flat was silent, save for the loud tick of the kitchen clock. Her ex had bought it from a two-dollar shop. Its face said ‘Home Sweet Home’ in a patchwork font. She levered herself upright, went to the kitchen and lifted it off the wall. With a grimace she hurled it to the ground and stomped on it with the heel of her boot. The perspex splintered like ice and the frame came loose. The hands bent into satisfying L-shapes. Tara felt better.

She opened the fridge and retrieved the ziplock bag of defrosted prey. Dead mice. Nebulous grey shapes under the plastic, the fur wet. In the bedroom she took the glass top from the tank and dropped the mice inside. Horatio’s head jutted forward in a smooth movement—a small bulge below his head formed then disappeared.

Tara reached in and ran her fingers along his back. He felt like an expensive handbag, cool and smooth. For the first time in weeks she felt a glow of joy, like an ember in her chest. She stretched out on the bed. For a moment, she was sure he was watching her as she peeled off her jeans and top.

Every night, she stroked his back after giving him the prey. His purple tongue darted out and his body turned, fluid and beautiful, the scales catching the light in an oil-slicked rainbow.

Weeks later she noticed some scales on her arms as she showered. Indigo, purple and viridian. She started and leaned against the tiled wall, open-mouthed. The soap bubbles sat on their surface. They were tight on her skin, like scabs. The steam swirled around as she stood immobile.

As soon as she woke each day she checked her body. They were appearing everywhere. Her stomach, legs and neck. One morning she opened the fridge, pulled out a ziplock bag, tipped back her head and crunched on some prey. It went down in one swallow, a lump forming and vanishing on her scaled neck. In the bathroom she examined the creature she had become, skin merging with scale, eyes narrowing to black and gold crescents. Against her will, a purple forked tongue flicked out and in.

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