The time was right. The scales were old, and worn. New skin was eager to emerge beneath. She rested, waiting, avoiding food, her eyes cloudy and unfocused, all but blind. She curled under her favorite rock, out of sight, out of the light. The surface of the rock was rough, as was the bedding in the enclosure. The air was moist and warm, perfect for her. The time was right.
Slowly, deliberately, she rubbed against her rock. She pushed her head forward towards the hazy light ahead of her. The moisture of the air in the open areas of the enclosure kiss her new scales. Inch by inch, she emerges from her old skin. White and dry, it begins to fall behind her. It is a long, difficult process. But it is necessary for her to live.
It isn’t quite halfway along that things start to go wrong. She’s moving forward but nothing is happening. It feels like she’s going nowhere. The more she moves, the tighter the ring of old skin becomes. Her tongue flicks out. The air has gone dry. She is trapped in her own skin.
It is irrational to hate the air, hate the tank, hate the rock that is no longer assisting her. But she can’t hide the frustration. There is a hiss. A waste of precious air. The air is closer, now, more entrapping. It’s getting harder to breathe. This isn’t right. Our skin is not supposed to be our enemy. This is supposed to be an exciting time, a new beginning, the next step forward. Instead, with each passing, gasping moment, it feels like the end.
There is a large shape outside the enclosure. Noise, movement, things that seem superfluous because it’s getting harder and harder to breathe. There is a rush, a breath, moist and warm and welcome across scales old and new. A surge of hope. A burst of energy. Maybe just one more inch. It would be easier to quit, to lay down, to rest, to sleep. Forever. Maybe just one more inch.
She sheds another inch. And another. And another.
When it’s over, she curls up on her branch, near the light she doesn’t comprehend. It’s not as distant or warm or complete as the one outside with the noises and the breeze. It’s closer, and it hums, but it’s warm and welcome and she rests. Her old skin lays forgotten near the rock. It would have killed her. But she was stronger. She was more determined. And she had help, help unlooked for, but help she had needed, help she adored nonetheless.