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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.
"Cold makes it worse?"
"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?"
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,"
"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,"
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
"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.