This is the freebie for the April 2013 Muse Fusion. It was inspired by a prompt from ellenmillion, along with some requests I've gotten for showing touch aversion as an everyday challenge rather than something that has to be "cured." This poem also fills the #17 "Onslaught" line in the Rainbowfic Sunlight list.
"Why won't she settle?" Dasa complained,
holding the fussy newborn to her breast.
"Some babies have trouble latching on,"
Luulan said soothingly. "Switch sides
and let's try this again."
Switching sides did not help.
Lekeeth cried and kicked weakly
inside the knitted blanket.
It took a long time to get her to nurse.
"She was born early," Tekura said.
"That never helps. Maybe she just needs
a little more time to get used to the world."
Lekeeth arched her back and whined,
trying to squirm away from her mother.
Dasa put her down with a frustrated huff.
"I've had it with this," Dasa said.
"I'm not cut out to be a raiser,
and this infant doesn't even like me."
She crossed her arms over her shrinking breasts.
"Lekeeth nurses so little, my milk is drying up.
I'm going back to ranger work now."
With that she pushed the cranky baby
into Tekura's arms and left.
Tekura put Lekeeth on a bunk
so that he could get a bottle of snowy-milk.
By the time he returned, she had stopped fussing.
When Tekura picked up her up, though,
Lekeeth cried and pushed at him with her little fists.
He put her back down and tried feeding her that way.
And she ate just fine.
"Huh," said Tekura. "That's peculiar."
At the summer gather,
Lekeeth's father Osafoi
wanted to spend time with her.
He had fathered many children
and tried to keep touch with them.
Lekeeth hid in her bedroll
and refused to come out.
"Lekeeth, come out and see your father,"
Luulan said firmly. "It's not very nice
to ignore people like that.
Osafoi just wants to give you a hug
and maybe play a fun game."
"No," Lekeeth sulked. "Hurts."
"Lekeeth, he's not going to hurt you!"
Luulan said, shocked by the accusation
since the toddler barely knew her father.
Tekura frowned over the oddity.
"Lekeeth ... what hurts?"
he asked her.
"Hugging," she said.
"Well, if you don't like hugging,
then I won't hug you," Osafoi said.
"How about we play ring-the-horn instead?"
So they played that game,
which did not require touching,
and Osafoi clapped loudly
when Lekeeth finally got the ring
to land on the spindle.
The next day, Osafoi returned
with a stuffed snow-unicorn
for his peculiar daughter.
Lekeeth carried it everywhere,
held it horn-first in front of her
and whistled "Stop!"
when people tried to hug her.
Tekura took some of the toddlers
to pick early spring greens.
They were supposed to be
looking for fireweed,
but of course some of them
got into the nettles instead.
They were all crying
over their prickled fingers,
except for Lekeeth,
who was usually the fussy one.
"Are you all right?"
Tekura asked her.
Lekeeth shrugged and said,
"I'm used to it."
"Used to what?"
"That's how touching feels,"
"stinging like nettles."
Well, there were people
who didn't like loud noises,
and some allergic to snow-unicorns.
You dealt with people's quirks
and didn't make a fuss about it.
Tekura was just glad that
Lekeeth finally got old enough
to explain what was going on.
If she couldn't handle
the onslaught of sensation
from ordinary body contact,
they would work around it.
"In that case," the raiser declared,
"we'll make sure people know not to touch you
without a good reason or without warning you."
When news of the strangers reached Itrelir,
the infant-house turned into an uproar
of squealing toddlers and crying babies.
They climbed over Tekura and Luulan
demanding answers to questions
that nobody knew how to answer yet.
Lekeeth stayed in her bunk,
safely out of reach of the scrambling crowd.
She peeked out from under the heavy drape,
stuffed snow-unicorn clutched in one hand,
and smiled at her more rambunctious friends.
And that was all right.
* * *
Some babies really don't like to cuddle. This can have physical or psychological reasons, as for example Lekeeth's tactile hypersensitivity.
Back arching is a sign of discomfort in babies.
Nettles are a popular spring food in the North.
Also worth mentioning, Lekeeth appears in an illustration for my story "Winterheart" which hasn't been submitted and approved yet, but will appear on the Torn World site eventually.