Thursday, October 06, 2005

The Snake Wife

Category: Issue 1, Short Story Winners

It had been three years since Anna had given up the search for her daughter. The villagers had dredged the pond, but Raisa’s body had never turned up. The other girls had said they had left her there on the banks, laughing at their girlfriend, still wet from her swim, and paralyzed with fear as she confronted the animal lying on top of her clothes.

“Raisa, it’s only a snake,” they had teased. “It wants to be your boyfriend.” They never saw her again.

Anna swept the steps of her cottage. She heard the cry of an infant and looked up. Down the road was a young woman with a baby in one arm, leading a small child with the other. Even before she could see the young mother’s face, she knew it was Raisa. The broom hit the steps with a clatter as she dashed out to the road.


“And your husband, he is good to you?”
“Yes, mother, we want for nothing.”
“Please, Raisa. Stay? The children… they should know their grandmother.”
“I’m sorry, mother. I made a promise. I must return.”
“How will you go back?”
“I will stand on the banks of the pond, and call, ‘Joseph, Joseph, come to me.”
“You must stay the night. You can return in the morning. Let me hold the children again.”
“We will stay. But you must wake me early.”


The autumn air was damp and chill, and mist hung low. Anna’s heart raced as she stood on the banks of the pond. The water was blacker than the misty predawn sky, and her fingers tightened on the handle of the axe. She cleared her throat.
“Joseph, Joseph, come to me.”

She had expected a monster. But the snake that emerged from the water was no longer than her broom. She had to kneel to meet it as it emerged onto the bank. In a single motion she brought the axe down through its neck.

She tossed the head and the body back into the water.

“Don’t go.”
“Mother, we must.”
“If he is not there for you, come back.”
“Why do you say such a thing? Of course he will be there.”


Anna hurried down the path after her daughter and her grandchildren. She heard Raisa’s voice echoing across the water, more frantic with each call. “Joseph, Joseph, come to me!”
“Raisa—don’t trouble yourself so, come—”
“Joseph! Joseph!”
“Come back to the house.”

A gentle wind stirred ripples on the surface of the pond, pushing brown leaves in circles. At the edge of the water, something rolled beneath the water.

Raisa stared at her husband’s head, and turned with disbelief to her mother. In that instant, Anna knew that what she had done was unforgiveable. “You belong with me, dear heart—”

Tears spilling from her eyes, Raisa whispered to her infant daughter, “Fly about as a wren, henceforth and evermore.”

And it was so.

She gathered her son in her arms, and said, “Fly about as a nightingale, henceforth and evermore!”

And it was so.

Anna grabbed her daughter by the shoulders. “Enough!”

But Raisa turned her eyes to heaven, and in an instant, Anna’s hands held nothing, as a cuckoo darted toward a nearby tree. It alighted on a branch, turned, cocked its head at Anna, and flew away.

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Old Comments

  • Adapted from W. R. S. Ralston’s translation of “The Water Snake,” in his Russian Folk-Tales (London, 1873), now in the public domain.

    Posted by Captain Vegetable  on  10/06  at  01:17 PM
  • The lyricism in this piece reminds me of Dostoevsky, like A Gentle Spirit or The Little Orphan. Good write, I liked it. I like the fact that you ended the story w/ the allusion to the girl going cuckoo instead of running around babbling it. Nice touch. What happened to the gaggle of wriggling snakes, though, I liked them.

    Posted by deminizer  on  10/06  at  02:13 PM
  • Well done. Strangely, the Native American tribe near where I grew up has a story that sort of follows a similar line. You reminded me of one of the tribal storytellers. Thanks for sharing!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  02:40 PM
  • Cap’n,

    I noticed that you didn’t rank your own story yet.  Are you waiting to see how it fares with others, or is there some other reason?

    I ask because I think there are several possible reasons people have for not ranking:
    We’re taught to avoid self-promotion.
    We don’t like judging others.
    People don’t realize that when a new entry comes in, they can and should add it to their list.
    It’s just too hard to figure out.
    Politics has made us feel that our opinions are useless.

    Clearly, some of these reasons don’t apply to you, but I thought I’d ask because my ideas about it are all uninformed conjecture.  Hmm… I think I’ll make a new post about it.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  10/06  at  02:45 PM
  • Very nicely written and a good folk story. I am surprised it was Russian. i’d have thought South American or maybe even African.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  11/05  at  04:42 PM
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