WARNING: The following poem contains canon-typical angst and messy medical details. Think about your tastes before clicking through.
"A Joy Forever"
Victor encouraged Igor
to fold up his summer clothes
and store them in the cedar chest
along with Victor's own things.
They lifted up the lid of the bench seat,
and Victor sanded the inside of it
to bring up the fresh, sweet scent
while Igor folded their clothes.
Then they lined the chest with linen.
Igor actually had a good wardrobe --
enough shirts that he could wear one a day
for a week without needing to do laundry,
all of fine white cloth, some embroidered
white-on-white, one in color, and one
stitched with deep green ribbon at the seams.
He had a vest of good brown broadcloth
but not a single sweater.
"These are beautiful," Victor said,
admiring the delicate stitches
and eye-catching design work
as they put away the lightweight clothes.
"Thank you," Igor said. "You pay me
well enough to afford some nice things."
"Then I wonder why you have no sweaters,"
Victor said. "I should think you'd want them
for sake of staying warmer."
Igor sighed. "I can buy fabric and sew shirts,
but I don't know how to knit," he said.
"It's difficult to find anyone willing and able
to make clothes to fit my back."
Victor could see how the large hump
would complicate fitting anything.
"I'm sorry, Igor," he said. "I can't knit either.
My mother tried to teach me, but
it just made me feel girlish and ridiculous.
Now I wish I had paid more attention."
"It doesn't matter," Igor said.
"No, I suppose not," Victor agreed.
"We can at least go down to the village
and buy enough wool to make you
some warmer trousers and a coat."
When the blizzard ended,
they bundled Adam into a wool blanket
and headed into the village.
Adam squalled at the cold,
showing off his two new teeth.
Then he became fascinated
with the shell buttons on Victor's shirt,
trying to pry them off to play with.
"You are such a joy," Victor said to him.
They bought supplies for the kitchen
and found a bolt of lovely charcoal wool.
Igor frowned over the price.
"I'll pay for it," Victor said gently,
"and you can make some things for me
along with your own."
"All right," Igor agreed.
They really needed to have that talk
about work and money and family,
because Igor may have started out
as Victor's hired man, but that
wasn't how Victor thought of him anymore.
They moved on, with Igor carrying Adam
and bouncing the baby on his hip.
Adam liked bounces enough to stop fussing.
Igor paused to look over the brewer's wares,
while Victor moved ahead to the blacksmith
who was really quite clever with hearth tools.
Victor had his eye on a toasting fork.
Something went bang!
and Victor whirled in search of his family.
"Victor!" shouted Igor. "Over here!"
Victor ran to his side,
skidding on the snowy path.
Igor leaned over Dénes the brewer,
one hand clamped over a large gash
on the man's left forearm and the other
gripping a pressure point higher up.
Smaller nicks and scratches
peppered the brewer's face.
The brewer's wife Dorottya held Adam,
who didn't like strangers this month,
but shushing him kept her distracted
and that was a stroke of brilliance.
Victor knelt beside the dazed brewer,
heedless of the spreading pool of blood.
"What happened?" he asked Igor.
"One of the bottles exploded,
glass everywhere," Igor said.
"This big cut is the worst of it, though,
and nobody else seems to be hurt."
Fortunately the brewer's leather apron
had protected most of his body from flying shards.
"Thank God for small mercies,"
said Victor. "Show me."
Igor shifted his hand toward the wrist,
pressing on the veins there,
so that Victor could assess the damage.
Muscle gaped open, along with a peek
of pink-and-white bone at the bottom.
"Oh, that's going to take some work to fix."
Victor pressed his handkerchief over the wound
and said to Igor, "Hold that. Keep it elevated."
Igor shifted his grip to obey.
A crowd was gathering around them,
but Victor didn't care about that.
To him, gawkers were just workers
waiting to be sent on errands.
He pointed at the nearest women in turn.
"Katalin, I need clean cloths and hot water.
Ilona, clear the table and throw a drape over it.
Anne, find three long sewing needles and
have the blacksmith bend them into half-circles.
Zsófia, get me thread, silk if you can find some,
I don't care if you have to pick it out of someone's ribbon."
Abruptly Adam stopped crying.
Victor glanced over his shoulder to see why,
and found that Dorottya had opened
her cutwork blouse to give him her breast.
It wasn't the bottle that Adam was used to,
but he figured out there was food in it.
As soon as the table was covered,
Victor turned to the men.
"Bálint, Gyuri, help us lift him up,"
Victor said, and they fell into place,
hoisting the victim onto the table.
The brewer groaned,
coming out of his daze
enough to protest the treatment.
"Dénes, listen to me," Victor said.
"This is going to hurt for a while,
and then you'll be fine.
Try to hold still for us."
Imre the blacksmith came in
with the required sewing needles.
"You'll need someone to keep him steady,"
he said, taking a grip on the brewer's shoulders.
"I've done this before. I was a soldier once."
"Excellent," Victor said.
"That will help a great deal.
The less he moves, the better his chance
to keep full use of that arm."
The other supplies had arrived,
and someone had shooed away
the idle gawkers in the crowd.
Igor and Victor cleaned away the blood
and set about closing the deep wound.
They fell into the comfortable teamwork
that they had first learned in Victor's lab,
and it was so much easier to fix things
with four hands instead of only two.
Igor made the tiniest stitches and then
matched up edges for Victor to do the larger ones.
Victor couldn't help admiring the subtle play
of muscle and tendon as they worked,
murmuring the names in Latin.
Igor flashed a grin at him. To them,
the human body was a thing of beauty.
Dénes muffled his cries as best he could,
and Igor soothed him with gentle words
to take his mind off the pain.
At last the long gash was closed
with a line of neat stitches.
While Victor slathered it with salve
and wrapped it in layers of bandage,
Igor went over the face very carefully,
picking out all of the glass splinters and
spreading more salve over the small cuts.
Afterwards, several of the men
carried Dénes up to his bed,
and his family listened closely
while Victor explained how to care for him.
"I'll come back to check on him periodically,"
the doctor finished.
"We haven't much money,"
Dorottya said hesitantly.
There was the matter
of payment to discuss.
Victor's tired brain
managed to shift gears.
"Then what do you have?" he asked.
"I'm as comfortable taking barter as coin."
"We have beer and birch soda," she said.
"My brother is a woodcutter; I'm sure
he'd be willing to share something --"
"Splendid," Igor said, clapping his hands.
"We can use plenty of firewood."
"Knitting," Victor suggested.
"Igor needs sweaters."
"I can knit," Dorottya said.
"I'll need to measure him for size ...
and, ah, you may want to change anyway."
Victor looked at their messy clothes.
The blood didn't show much
on their dark vests and trousers,
but the white shirts were largely red.
"It's a shame about the stains," he said.
"That blood will never come out,"
Igor agreed. "Ah well, I can probably
still find some walnuts under the snow.
If you like, I'll dye these shirts brown
and we can wear them that way."
"I brought spare clothes for both of you,"
Bálint said. The ones he offered
to Victor seemed like a good fit.
The shirt for Igor flapped like a tent
but at least it would go over his warped back.
"Bless you," Victor said.
He washed and changed quickly,
taking Adam to free Dorottya's hands
so that she could measure Igor.
"Can you not simply guess?"
Igor grumbled as she moved about
with a length of knotted string,
self-conscious as always about his body.
"No. You have returned my joy to me,
so I want to do a good job for you,"
Dorottya said to Igor with a stern look,
her hands light and careful in their work.
"Stand still for me, and I'll be done the sooner."
She didn't seem bothered about his shape,
only the pattern required to cover it.
Igor never really relaxed, but
he did stop actively fussing.
Finally Victor and Igor managed to head home,
along with Adam who had fallen asleep.
"Well, you wanted to open your practice here,"
Igor said as they trudged up to the bedroom.
"We certainly made a memorable start on it."
"That we did," Victor said.
The bedroom was frigid,
so he stirred up the fire.
"You know ... it would be warmer
if we pushed the beds together
and shared the blankets."
Igor gave him a long, thoughtful look.
Their Christmas cuddle had been
inspired by necessity, but both of them
had deeply enjoyed the contact.
"All right," he said. "Let's do that."
So they remade two beds into one
and snuggled up together,
with Adam tucked safely in his cradle
on Igor's side of the bed.
Over the next two weeks,
they returned to the village several times
to check on Dénes as he healed.
His left hand remained weak, but
at least he could move all his fingers.
Victor picked out the stitches
and Igor demonstrated a few exercises
to get the hand back in working order.
A load of firewood had already
been delivered to the castle,
with the promise of more to come.
It made their home a lot more homelike.
Dorottya had portioned out the knitting
among her friends, so Igor now owned
a v-necked ash-gray pullover sweater,
a lush brown cardigan with antler buttons
and a sleek black vest whose silver buttons
Victor had secretly contributed.
Igor smiled as he put them into the dresser
along with his heavy winter shirts
and the first pair of woolen trousers he'd made.
Now Igor could dress comfortably in layers
with his shirts and vests and sweaters
to keep him warm in the cold weather.
He stroked his long gray sleeve
which Dorottya had decorated with cableknit
in the distinctive four-strand braid of this locale.
"This is so pretty," Igor said.
"I've often wondered why women
use so many different designs, though.
It must take a lot longer to make things this way."
Victor looked at the gorgeous sweater
and the elegant carvings on Adam's cradle
as he remembered the hidden wonders
within every human body.
"Beauty brings its own reward,"
he said. "It is a joy forever."
Igor twined his fingers with Victor's,
admiring the grace of their healing hands.
"Yes," he said. "That it is."
* * *
A thing of beauty is a joy forever. Prov. Beautiful things give pleasure that lasts even longer than the beautiful things themselves. (This is a line from John Keats's poem "Endymion." Also a thing of beauty and a joy forever, used to describe something beautiful in lofty terms, often ironically.)
A cedar chest is a traditional way of protecting clothes. A bench seat provides both a storage unit and a place to sit.
Adam is about seven months old in this poem.
Bottle bombs are a hazard of brewing, and can injure people.
Women's blouses may be embroidered white-on-white with cutwork. Men's shirts are usually solid. Walnut trees produce nuts whose outer hull turns soft and brown.
Carpathian walnuts grow in central Europe. Walnut hulls make an excellent deep brown dye.
Tracht refers to the traditional folk garb of German-speaking countries, and is typical of the diverse and colorful dress of central Europe. Trachten sweaters are part of historic clothing in Germany and other parts of central Europe. There are patterns for knitting them. See a brown cableknit cardigan with antler buttons and a plain black vest with antler buttons (where Igor's has silver buttons). Local fashions vary; I decided that one distinctive motif of this village is a 4-strand cableknit.
Sleeping together is a form of nonsexual intimacy.