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EQUINOX opens the freezer, the one that doesn’t contain food for humans, and stares down at the frozen rats packed within. Alice and Venus are out, which means that feeding Dolly falls to her, today. This isn’t exactly the best part of EQUINOX’s day, but she’s gotten used to it. She plucks a frozen rat out of its packaging, holding it by the tail, and walks over to the sink, depositing it into a plastic bag and then plopping it into the already prepared hot water to thaw.

She washes her hands immediately afterwards, even though she’s going to take the rat back to Dolly anyways once it’s done thawing. But the idea of having rat on her hands isn’t exactly an appealing thought to EQUINOX. Her thoughts stray elsewhere soon enough, while the rat heats up. Alice has had Dolly longer than EQUINOX has known her, and it shows. Her terrarium is lavish, filled with real plants maintained by Venus and well-lit by the lights above. Every couple of days, Alice will sit down with Dolly on her lap for a couple of minutes, sometimes as long as an hour, treating her with such care that, as the years have gone by, EQUINOX has grown more and more jealous.

Not that she has anything against Dolly. She’s just a corn snake. If she has anything against anyone, it’s Alice. Thinking about it makes EQUINOX feel guilty, and brings up all the other things she has to feel guilty about, so she stares at her feet, and then at Dolly. Maybe she deserves being one-upped by a snake, since all her thoughts regarding Alice grow so sour the moment she’s alone. Already, she dreads her return. What’s wrong with her?

But, of course, EQUINOX knows what’s wrong with her, and what’s wrong in general.

The rat should be done now. EQUINOX pulls the bag from the water and extracts it from its bag, bringing it over to Dolly. “It’s feeding time, Dolly,” she says, more to herself, as she slides open the terrarium’s cover to deposit the rat inside. She gives it a shake or two, and then drops it down. It takes a few minutes for Dolly to advance. This never gets any less novel to watch. She stretches her jaws open wide - Alice has insistently told her that snakes don’t actually dislocate their jaws virtually every time she’s done this in front of her - and takes the rat in, facefirst.

Alice never watches. Too squeamish, which EQUINOX thinks is funny. She can rattle off more snake facts than anyone EQUINOX has ever met, bought her daughter a snake as a Christmas present one year, and has two tattoos of snakes, too. But actually watching them get down to business is too much for her. It’s not too much for EQUINOX, though, so she watches, feeling almost mesmerized. That’s not to say it isn’t a lot, however. It’s a bit uncomfortable to watch. But EQUINOX does it anyways.

Dolly continues her hard work. It takes time, a lot of it, for her to work all of the rat into her mouth. It feels like it takes a few minutes for her to just get the head all the way in. EQUINOX is glad she can chew, and also glad that she can chop up her food before eating it, so she doesn’t have to go through this. It doesn’t look like it’s exactly enjoyable for Dolly, after all. But she works at it, the little trooper that she is. It reminds her of a video she saw, once, of a snake consuming a live frog feet first, its victim’s eyes wide, its expression unreadable, a cold, lifeless mask even though it still lives. All the way until the jaws close, and it’s gone. Alive, but as good as dead, to spend its last moments in unbearable agony as it is digested, broken down into raw resources. EQUINOX stares as Dolly continues, and she thinks about Alice.

When it comes to snakes, Alice might just be at her cutest. Once, EQUINOX asked why she had chosen a corn snake, and what had been a pretty simple answer about how they’re harmless and easy to handle had turned into a small rant about how the exotic pet trade hurt snakes. She didn’t care about the other animals affected, no, at least not very much. But snakes? That’s where she drew the line. That’s where she decides that stuff like that isn’t okay. With snakes. Snakes.

EQUINOX looks away only as Dolly gets the last of the rat into her mouth, throat bulging, tail protruding from her wide open jaws. She wanders back over to the sink and washes her hands, feeling nausea rise up in her belly, a turbulent sickness taking route. It’s always like this after she feeds Dolly. No, no, that’s not true. It’s always like this in general. EQUINOX shakes off her hands and then leaves the room, anxiety stirring her stomach into worse and worse hysterics.

She ends up retching at the toilet for a couple minutes before vomiting, and what little food she had eaten that day swirls down the drain as she fights back tears. She can’t cry. It’ll only make her bruised eye hurt more.

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