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The Morrigan and the Mechi

Annalise Torcson

Crows Marcus Meissner (Creative Commons)

The neighbourhood noises climb through the window cracks of Aideen’s apartment. The snow plough’s trundle at 11 p.m.; the twenty-somethings waiting in line at the overpriced pizza parlour; Mr Avram from the downstairs unit dragging his trash cans to the curb. Inside, the radiator hisses. The snowfall is quiet, but Aideen likes that: she can layer it with any sound that she wants.

For the third time in three hours, she tiptoes past the sofa to her son’s room. When she cracks open the door, two lights play against the wall. The first is a nightlight in the shape of Boba Fett’s head. The second swarms up from her son’s chest, green like the algae that floats in their goldfish bowl. She walks closer: the light is brighter than the last time she checked. Twisting her hair over her shoulder, Aideen switches on the electric space heater. The blast of heat lifts its wings, enveloping his bed. He rolls over suddenly, his cheek pressed into the pillow. The air smells like rain’s first strike on cement.

She keeps an eye on the green light, the colour spreading into distinct shapes: three snakes, their tongues flickering in touch, as they curl around one another. Aideen is used to this now, and she has learned to still her muscles at their appearance. The first time they uncoiled she had jumped backwards, knocking into the dresser that had contained her son’s diapers and jumpers. She had never liked snakes. When she was six, her brother had caught a garden snake between his fingers and chased her around the yard. Then, as a teenager, she had been tanning on a rock when she discovered a territorial rattlesnake.

In the delivery room, when Aideen realised that she would share her son’s body with three snakes, she panicked. For nine months she had known him as a pressure under her ribs, a weight that altered her gravity. And now here he was: dimpled elbows and a fuzz of black hair laid out on her chest. The snakes had been babies then, as well. Their shadows no bigger than her pinkie finger, hatched from the egg that was her son’s beating heart. As the doctor had explained to her, tugging on one end of her stethoscope, her son’s heart would stop beating if the snakes were removed. There was no transplant, no incision, no radiation that could be done. All Aideen could do was keep them comfortable. The snakes liked the heat. When they were cold and torpid, they made her son complain of heavy lungs.

“Mum?” his voice asks from the nest of covers. She crosses to him, smoothing pieces of dark hair away from his forehead. “Go back to sleep,” she whispers.

His eyes open to a slit. Green, like sliced peridot. Aideen has blue eyes, and so did the boy’s father. The doctors attributed the green irises to some mutation of a recessive gene, but she knows the truth. He squeezes them shut again, the lids wrinkling.

“Did you have a bad dream?”

He bites his lip, a lisp slinking out between his teeth. “They’re cold.”
His heart is punching up through his Spiderman pyjamas, but that’s normal. Aideen flicks her eyes to the ceiling where the shadows slide. “They want to leave…” he says suddenly, slurring into the pillow. His eyelids relax. His body deflates. A wire of drool stretches across the pillow.

Aideen looks again. The snakes stop their coiling motions and twist into an ouroboros. Their heads indistinguishable from one another, their eyes cut from the same stone. Watching her as she stands guard over their home, her hands hovering above his chest.

Annalise Torcson hails from the swamplands of New Orleans. She was the winner of Oxford’s F.H. Pasby Award, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards’ National Gold Medal in Short Story. She holds an M. Phil in Irish Literature from Trinity College Dublin.