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The Wordsmith's Forge
The Writing & Other Projects of Elizabeth Barrette
Poem: "No One to Greet the Season"
This poem came from the November 2013 crowdfunding Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from Dreamwidth user Perfectworry. It also fills the "Wild Card: taking care of someone" square on my 8-13-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest. This poem belongs to the series Frankenstein's Family, which you can find via the Serial Poetry page. It features Victor and Igor trying to celebrate Christmas around some personal and environmental challenges.

This poem is posted here as the participation perk for Winterfaire 2013, which you can visit on LiveJournal or on Dreamwidth. All of these activities will reveal a new verse each time someone does them:
* link to this Winterfaire page to boost the signal
* comment posting a Booth of your wares/services in the Winterfaire
* buy something from a vendor listed in the Winterfaire
* host a similar holiday market in your own blog or other venue
LiveJournal and Dreamwidth will notify me of comments to the Winterfaire post and links to it elsewhere on those services; for everything else, you need to TELL ME in order to get credit for it.

This is now also the linkback perk for the 2013 Holiday Poetry Sale.  Link to the sale page, or sponsor a poem, and reveal a verse

There are 67 of 72 verses posted.  Participants so far include: cissa, technoshaman, moonwolf1988, kestrels_nest, msminlr, Dreamwidth user Elizabethconall, DW user Elliemurasaki, DW user Killing_rose, DW user Mousibaldq, meepalicious, mdlbear, marrael, thesilentpoet, forests_of_fire, DW user Chanter_greenie, Anne B. Walsh, ellenmillion, Julie A., kyleri, paka, laffingkat, janetmiles, Anthony & Shirley Barrette, thnidu,

No One to Greet the Season

A cry of pain woke Victor
from a sound sleep.
The bedroom was dim,
windows heavily frosted
even on the inside,
the hearth no more than
a faint ruddy glow.

Christmas Day had arrived
with a raging blizzard
after the mildness of early winter.

Victor abandoned his warm bed
to shrug into a housecoat and
pad over the freezing flagstones
to Igor's side of the room.
"What's wrong?" Victor asked.

"Back, my back hurts,"
Igor said tightly.
"Let me check," Victor said
as he peeled back the blankets.

Igor whimpered.
"Cold makes it worse?"
Victor guessed.
"Yessss," Igor hissed
between clenched teeth.

"All right, I can work around that,"
Victor said, covering him again.
It was simple for the doctor
to slip his hands under the covers
and feel his way down
the rounded length of Igor's back.

Victor found a tight knot of muscle
high up between the shoulderblades
just to the right of the spine,
and another farther down
on the opposite side.

"Want me to see if I can help?"
Victor offered.
Igor nodded against the pillow.

Victor cupped a hand over
each of the hard lumps,
pressing and shifting gently
to encourage the cramped muscles
to release their tension.

Igor cried as quietly as he could,
but Victor heard him anyway.
"Ah, I know it hurts," Victor said,
his voice low and soothing.
"You'll feel better soon."

It took several agonizing minutes
for the cramps to fade.
Victor could feel the knots
slowly loosening under his touch.
The rest of Igor's back
remained tenser than Victor liked.

"You can let go now," Igor said.
"Are you feeling all right?"
Victor asked, believing his fingers
more than Igor's assertion.
"Close enough," Igor said.

"Your back still feels taut to me,"
Victor observed.
"That's probably not going away
until spring," Igor said.
Victor prodded him for more details
and eventually pieced them together.

"Hmm," said Victor, his hands
still sweeping lightly over Igor's skin.
"It sounds like you have two different
but overlapping symptoms here:
the acute cramps that come on fast
and let go soon, and then
the widespread ache that comes on slower
but lasts for a long time.
Both get worse in cold weather?"

"Yes," Igor said.
"Winter is miserable for me."
"I don't remember that from last year,"
Victor said quietly.
"I don't like to show it," Igor said.
Snow swished against the windowpanes.

Victor thought about last year,
when they hadn't known each other so well
nor been sharing a bedroom.
It would have been easier for Igor to hide
his pain under those circumstances.

Plus they had lived at a slightly lower altitude
and in a more comfortable castle -- this one
was draftier and they hadn't had time to fix it up yet
because they were both busy with the baby.
Now it was Christmas, and the cold was a problem.

"All right, I'm going to take care of some things,"
Victor said. "Then we can talk more about your back."
"You can't fix my damn back," Igor snapped.
"I know, I've tried."

"I think we can at least figure out
ways of keeping you more comfortable,"
Victor said. "I'm going to start
by stirring up the fire."

Victor moved away from Igor's bed
to rekindle the banked hearth,
stacking fresh wood over the coals
where it quickly took light.

He found the washbasin iced over,
so he set that beside the hearth to thaw.
The goat milk for Adam also needed warming,
and Victor put that on, along with the spare bricks.
Then he moved the blankets from his own bed
on top of Igor's little nest.

Igor tried to get up,
only to yelp in pain.
Victor pushed him down,
saying, "Lie still. I don't want you
getting out of bed this morning."

"I can do my work," Igor insisted.
"I have to make breakfast
and take care of the baby."

"I know you can," Victor said.
"I don't want you to work
while you're hurting this much.
Be honest with me, Igor --
when your back goes out like this,
it can put you down for hours, right?"

"Sometimes," Igor said grudgingly.
"Usually I can bull through it."
"That's not a good idea," Victor said.
"Oh, and you know so much about it,"
Igor retorted. "Have you even seen this before?"

"I'm a doctor, so yes, I have,"
Victor said. "All kinds of people
have back problems. I've also seen
a couple of other patients with humps like yours.
Everyone's a little different, but I know
what the common complaints are,
what tends to help, and
what makes matters worse."

"Doesn't change the fact
that there's work to be done,"
Igor said. "I'll just grit my teeth."

"I don't like seeing you in pain,"
Victor said, smoothing a hand
over the layered blankets.
"It's not good for you and
it's miserable for me to watch.
You sound like you could use
a dose of laudanum."

"I hate that stuff," Igor said.
"It makes me hallucinate."
"Most people consider that
part of the appeal," Victor said.
"Well I don't," Igor grumbled.

"Would it help if I promised
to stay with you the whole time,
and tell you what's real
or what isn't real?" Victor offered.

"All right," Igor said.
"We can try that."

So Victor hurried off
to the medicinal cabinet, returning
with a small cup of laudanum
and a larger glass of apple cider
to take away the bitter, resinous
taste of the drug.

Igor swallowed both
as quickly as he could, then
burrowed back under the covers.

By then the frost-silvered window
was turning faintly pink with dawn,
and Adam was starting to fuss.
Victor changed him and washed him
in the warming water, then
filled a bottle with goat milk.

"Here, you take him," Victor said
as he settled Adam beside Igor.
"I don't think he likes the cold either."

Igor blinked at him drowsily,
his eyes glazed with pain and drugs.
Then he curled an arm around their son
to draw him into the warm nest,
taking the bottle with his other hand.

"What about ... our breakfast?"
Igor asked then.
"I'll manage," Victor said.

He wasn't a skilled cook,
but he could press sausage into a pan
and fasten bread in a toasting basket.
He also put more cider in a kettle
with a muslin sachet of mulling spices.
Soon the rich smells filled the room.

"Is there anything you've found
that helps your back?" Victor asked
while they waited for breakfast to cook.

"Some stretches," Igor admitted.
"I do better if my spine is straighter,
but it keeps wanting to curl up ...
and the worse the weather gets,
the worse my back feels.
Cold, wind, rain, snow, it's all bad."

"Then one thing we need to do
is dress you better," Victor said.
"Some good wool sweaters
would go a long way toward
keeping you warm and healthy."

Igor sighed. "I'm not rich," he said.
"I have shirts and a vest,
but no sweaters."

Obviously he couldn't borrow
some from Victor, who had plenty,
because Igor was short and thick
while Victor was tall and slim
even before accounting for the hump.

"Then I'll work out something
with one of the village women,"
Victor said firmly. "Another idea ...
well, this one may sound a bit strange ..."

Igor gave a giddy laugh.
"Can't be stranger than anything else
we've done," he said.

"True," Victor admitted.
"Did I ever tell you that I had
terrible posture as a child?"

"No," Igor said.
"You don't talk about
your childhood much."

"Well, I was always bending over books,
and it made my back ache," Victor said.
"As I grew older, though, my mother
made me start wearing a corset.
I hated cinching the waist,
but I loved how it flattened out my breasts --
and then my back stopped hurting too."

"So that's why you still do that,"
Igor guessed, "and you think
wearing a corset would help me too?"

"It's worth a try," Victor said,
"if you're willing. I don't want to push
so hard it makes you uncomfortable."
"I suppose ... I'm willing to see,"
Igor agreed.

Adam finished his bottle.
Victor set it aside to wash later
while Igor burped the baby.

As soon as he was tucked
back into the blankets,
Adam fell asleep again,
apparently uninterested in venturing
out into the chilly room to play.
It was warming up but
still not particularly comfortable.
Igor and Victor watched Adam fondly.

Victor got up to fetch their breakfast,
tucking the sausage patties
between thick slices of toast.
It was something they could eat
without needing a table.
He also wrapped hot bricks in cloth
and tucked them around Igor.

"Here you go," Victor said
as he handed Igor a plate.
"Thank you," Igor said,
plainly still unhappy
at the role reversal
of master and servant.

They'd need to talk about that too,
but it was a delicate conversation
that Victor didn't want to open
with Igor in such a state.

"The next thing we need
is more firewood," Victor said,
"and we really must start
working on this castle
so it will hold heat better."

It was a good castle,
but it had stood empty for a while
before Victor bought it, and there
were chinks in the roof and windows.
They hadn't had time to address that before,
and now it was more urgent.
Victor laid out his plans for that.

"Nice if you can afford it,"
Igor said as he finished his breakfast.
"We'll manage," Victor said.
"I've been meaning to start up
my practice again anyway."

Victor took Igor's plate
and set it with his own
on the end table.
Then he grasped the blankets
and asked, "Do you mind
if I crawl in here with you?
I think you'll feel better
with the extra body heat."

"Go ahead," Igor said.
"I'm starting to see things anyway."
"What are you seeing?"
Victor asked him,
crawling into the bed.
It was a snug fit, but quite cozy.

"The light is melting," Igor said.
Victor looked around at the room
lit by flickering firelight.
"I think that's about half true
and half false," Victor said.

"It's making puddles of gold
on the floor," Igor added,
clinging to the arm that
Victor draped over his body.
"I'm starting to worry it will melt through."

Victor glanced down at the shadowy floor.
"No, that part is definitely hallucination.
It's not real; it's just the drug," he said.

"I really hate laudanum," Igor said.
"Shh, I'll get you through it," Victor promised,
rubbing gentle circles over Igor's chest.
"How does your back feel now?"

"Better," Igor admitted.
"Can't feel much of anything."
"So that's an improvement," Victor said,
snuggling against Igor.

After a few moments,
Igor sighed and shifted backwards,
fitting their bodies together.
"Mmm-hmm," he said.

"This is a nice way to spend the day,"
Victor said, watching the window where
the frost was beginning to disappear
although it was still snowing outside.
"If you're feeling better by evening,
we'll see about getting up then."

"You have things to do,"
Igor protested as Victor cuddled him.
"And I'm doing the most important ones
right now," Victor said firmly.

On the hearth, the cider steamed,
giving off the scent of cinnamon and fruit.
Downstairs in the great hall
they had a fine evergreen Christbaum
decked with garlands and silver tinsel
and candles waiting to be lit,
under which lay a few presents
wrapped in colorful cloth.

As far as Victor was concerned,
all of that could wait
until Igor could climb out of bed
without screaming.

"All right, it is nice," Igor admitted.
"It just doesn't seem right ...
"to have Christmas with
no one to greet the season."

Victor buried his face
in the soft curls over Igor's neck,
reaching over the shorter man
to hold their son against them.
"Everything I want for Christmas
is right here in my arms."

* * *


The official name for hunchback is kyphosis, and it has become a part of "The Igor" trope.  Read about the evolution of the character Igor in Frankenstein. The social implications of Igor's condition usually take what little focus falls on him, while the physical aspects rarely come up. But back problems tend to have a pervasive impact, so I wanted to be more thorough.

Backache can be caused by various things. There are different ways to relieve chronic and acute back pain.

Muscle spasms and cramps are characterized by sudden, localized pain. Victor, being an actual doctor, knows what to look for in trying to figure out exactly what's wrong.  There are ways to prevent cramps. Cold weather is notorious for causing or worsening cramps because it decreases blood flow and tightens muscles, making them more susceptible to stress or injury. Barometric pressure changes can also make joints, nerves, and muscles hurt more.  There are tips for treating back spasms, and most of the advice for cold weather leg cramps also applies.  Here are ways of dealing with cold weather pain in general.  The most common solution?  Take steps to keep your body warm.

Hiding problems is a common tactic to avoid negative responses from other people.  Many people hide illness or injury even from their families.  Igor is used to concealing his condition as much as possible in hopes of keeping his job, and his emotions haven't all caught up with his current situation yet.  There are steps to stop thinking that accepting help is a sign of weakness.  Know how to help a friend with a chronic condition.

Laudanum was a medicinal product popular during the 19th century, although its use actually dates back to the ancient Greeks.  It consisted of about 90% alcohol and 10% opium, usually flavored with cinnamon or saffron, often with other medicinal herbs depending on purpose.  It was primarily used as a painkiller and sleep aid, although many creative people used it for inspiration.  The vivid hallucinations encouraged abuse, but as poor Igor pointed out, not everybody liked those side effects.

Hearth cooking is an old skill that benefits from specialized tools, such as a long-handled skillet and grilling basket.

Mulled cider is heated and spiced, usually with spices tied in a bundle.

Various stretches are good for a hunched back and other cases of back pain.

Corsets have been used for healing purposes such as back support and for binding breasts. A pipe-shape corset, as mentioned in this essay, was designed to create a straight and slim silhouette.

Hallucinations are a side effect of many drugs, and can happen for other reasons too. While some people enjoy that, others really don't. There are ways to cope with hallucinations and to comfort someone having hallucinations.

Snuggling has a variety of beneficial effects.  Read the Cuddle Sutra for ideas.

The tradition of the Christmas tree or Christbaum dates back for centuries. Silver tinsel originated in Germany around 1610.

Family is important, whether conventional or innovative.  There are tips on how to put family first.

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21 comments or Leave a comment
kestrels_nest From: kestrels_nest Date: November 29th, 2013 11:12 pm (UTC) (Link)
Boosted on my FB page. :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: November 29th, 2013 11:19 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

Your new verse is up.
thesilentpoet From: thesilentpoet Date: December 1st, 2013 03:48 am (UTC) (Link)

You know, I had honestly forgot about this verse. So, thank you for swinging it back onto my radar!

Also, Igor? I can definitely relate. While it may not be back problems for me - although, I do have issues with tension there too - the headaches due to barometric pressure changes are enough to knock me flat.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 1st, 2013 04:04 am (UTC) (Link)


>> You know, I had honestly forgot about this verse. So, thank you for swinging it back onto my radar! <<

Yay! I'm glad you like it. This is the third published poem in Frankenstein's Family, and I have another one written which will become available after this one finishes posting. The series is also listed on the Serial Poetry page now.

If you want more, the next Poetry Fishbowl is coming up on Dec. 3 with a theme of "angels and deities."

>> Also, Igor? I can definitely relate. While it may not be back problems for me - although, I do have issues with tension there too - the headaches due to barometric pressure changes are enough to knock me flat. <<

Bummer. Yeah, weather changes can make a lot of things worse. I was a little surprised by how many other conditions I ran across while trying to research muscle cramps and back problems in particular.

My back is such that I can sympathize with Igor's situation too. Different cause, different degree, but it's not hard at all to extrapolate. You can tell that he's usually written by able-bodied people because they almost never stop to think about what would logically happen when you put someone with a severe back deformity into a cold drafty castle and have him bending over things.
thesilentpoet From: thesilentpoet Date: December 9th, 2013 02:57 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Just posted a reminder of the Winterfaire post to dreamwidth account. This automatically cross-posts to my livejournal account. Hopefully this is enough to reveal another verse or two? :)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 9th, 2013 03:11 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Thoughts

Thank you! Your two new verses are up.

Since this project runs for a long time, I allow people to re-boost the signal periodically. I'll try and remember to mention this in my Monday update post.
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: December 3rd, 2013 02:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Ugh, I've had muscle spasms before--it was more in my shoulder, rather than my back, but oh man, were they unpleasant. Hurt like a beast, seemed to come out of nowhere, and I never did find a way to break them in less than a few days. Igor has my sympathies.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 3rd, 2013 02:33 am (UTC) (Link)


>> Ugh, I've had muscle spasms before--it was more in my shoulder, rather than my back, but oh man, were they unpleasant. <<

Yeah, it really sucks.

>> Hurt like a beast, seemed to come out of nowhere, and I never did find a way to break them in less than a few days. <<

There seem to be different kinds of cramps. The ones that come on fast usually go away soon. Some others come on slower but can last a long time. Acute cramps that last for days are unusual though.

>> Igor has my sympathies. <<

He needs it, poor guy, though he's stubborn about it because of past experiences. It will take him time to learn that his current situation allows him to take better care of himself -- or let Victor take care of him.
lb_lee From: lb_lee Date: December 3rd, 2013 02:38 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

Yeah, they've only happened to me a couple of times, but they were definitely fast, hard, and long-lasting. The best of all worlds! A good masseuse could probably break them, but I didn't have access to one at the time.

I'm really enjoying this series; I look forward to seeing more of it as time goes on, and might request some more at later Fishbowls, alongside Damask and Clay of Life.

ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 3rd, 2013 02:53 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: Yes...

>> Yeah, they've only happened to me a couple of times, but they were definitely fast, hard, and long-lasting. The best of all worlds! <<

0_o That sucks bowling ball through garden hose.

>> A good masseuse could probably break them, but I didn't have access to one at the time. <<

At least cramps tend to have a smallish set of causes and solutions. Massage usually helps. Either heat or cold can, but it's tricky to figure out which to use when. haikujaguar once posted a cute cartoon about how ice is for numbing sudden agonizing spasms, while heat will help relax achy cramps. And some cramps are caused or worsened by dietary issues.

>> I'm really enjoying this series; I look forward to seeing more of it as time goes on, and might request some more at later Fishbowls, alongside Damask and Clay of Life. <<

Yay! I'm happy to hear that. Next fishbowl is tomorrow with a theme of "angels and deities." You gotta figure these guys have an interesting relationship with God, beautiful angels, and the grotesques/gargoyles that people used to put on churches. That whole beauty = goodness schtick is bullshit.
mdlbear From: mdlbear Date: December 23rd, 2013 04:02 am (UTC) (Link)
I mostly get my spasms in my back, but occasionally in my calf muscles. Walking helps, when it doesn't hurt too much. Torn muscles are worse; they can keep hurting for weeks.

Igor definitely has my sympathy, as do you.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 23rd, 2013 04:18 am (UTC) (Link)


As mentioned in some of the supporting resources, a key problem with cold weather is that it reduces blood flow to the muscles. That not only causes painful cramping, it makes muscles stiffer and more susceptible to injury from slipping or just lifting things.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 19th, 2013 06:12 pm (UTC) (Link)

Re: Four linkbacks

Yay! I'm glad you like it. I have posted your four new verses.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 22nd, 2013 06:39 am (UTC) (Link)



Typo: keeping your warm and healthy.
→ you

Trader Joe's sells very good spiced cider in season. It's even good cold, but fantastic when heated. They're only in about seven states, but if you're near one, check it out.

Edited at 2013-12-22 06:44 am (UTC)
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 22nd, 2013 06:48 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: boosted

Thank you! I have posted 2 new verses for the links, and a third for the editing assist.

I do enjoy spiced cider. I think I've seen Trader Joe's in Michigan. When we were in Tennessee a while back, there was someone selling hot caramel cider. That was delectable.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 29th, 2013 06:59 am (UTC) (Link)

Re: boosted

Google has some screwed-up (out of date?) text. I searched for "Trader Joe's in Michigan" and got listings for stores in several cities there... right after text saying that TJ was in seven states, listed, not including MI. I wrote to TJ about it; they said "That's not our text!" So I gave feedback to Google, but can't tell if it goes anywhere but the bit bucket.
thnidu From: thnidu Date: December 29th, 2013 05:04 pm (UTC) (Link)
Thank you for the link to the Cuddle Sutra. I just read all the way through it and then saved it. Though I have no one to practice with now, the thoughts and memories warmed me to the core, and I'm still smiling.
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: December 29th, 2013 11:16 pm (UTC) (Link)

You're welcome!

I'm glad you found that useful. It's a lovely book. I hope you find someone to snuggle with soon.
book_worm5 From: book_worm5 Date: August 28th, 2014 09:23 pm (UTC) (Link)
This is another interesting universe. I hope Igor's back does come to bother him less, and perhaps they can even do some fixing despite what he thinks. Victor may have different ideas than what he's tried, after all.

The evolution of Igor link seems to be another that's vanished in Yahoo's reorganisation, though it may exist somewhere. In the meantime, I found a similar article: http://cinefantastiqueonline.com/2008/09/antecedents-of-igor/ Interesting stuff - not having read the original novel, I had no idea Igor was an independent invention!
ysabetwordsmith From: ysabetwordsmith Date: August 28th, 2014 09:44 pm (UTC) (Link)

Thank you!

>> This is another interesting universe. <<

Yay! I'm glad you like it.

>> I hope Igor's back does come to bother him less, and perhaps they can even do some fixing despite what he thinks. Victor may have different ideas than what he's tried, after all. <<

Yes, there are various things they can do about Igor's back. Igor and Victor have substantially different areas of expertise, so Victor is thinking of things that will work and Igor hasn't even tried yet. Nothing is going to make it 'normal' but over time they should manage significant improvement.

>> The evolution of Igor link seems to be another that's vanished in Yahoo's reorganisation <<

21 comments or Leave a comment