This poem came out of the September 2014 Creative Jam. It was inspired by a prompt from kestrels_nest. It also fills the "difficult pregnancy" square in my 8-12-13 card for the Hurt/Comfort Bingo fest and the "confessions" square in my 9-1-14 card for the Genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Damask thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.
I check the chore board and notice
that Danielle and Paige have
already done theirs for the day,
emptying the garbage and
towel laundering respectively.
Walden hasn't picked one yet;
she forgets a lot, and then winds up
stuck doing whatever's left.
It is Josephine's turn to cook,
so that's her contribution today.
I find her in the kitchen,
her brown hands busy slicing tomatoes
and squiggly dark hair held back by a headband.
"I have a guest probably staying for supper," I say.
"Her digestion is a bit delicate right now."
Josephine rolls her eyes at me. "You don't say."
Probably the whole house heard Mallory throwing up.
"So it's really lucky that you're making supper
tonight, and I'm hoping for something that
will be appetizing but not smell too strong," I say.
Josephine is vegetarian, and the other girls often
whine about it, but right now it's a blessing.
"I'm making spring salad with cashews and cranberries,
tomato quiche, and quinoa pudding for dessert,"
Josephine says. "If you want to help, you can
make the salad." She points at an open book.
"Okay, that can be today's chore for me," I say.
I'm not a gifted cook but I can follow a recipe.
Surely there will be something on the table
that Mallory feels comfortable eating.
It's the pain that draws me out,
Mallory's misery seeping down
through the ceiling like water
from a leaking pipeline.
Fortunately Clarity has already
finished most of the salad, except
for pouring the cranberry stuff
over the lettuce leaves, and that
doesn't get added until just before
the bowl goes onto the table.
I excuse myself from the kitchen
and head upstairs to see how
Mallory is doing. At least she got
a decent amount of rest before waking up.
This isn't hot pain; it's cold.
The bedroom feels like the spring storm
outside the house, chill damp gloom
as if the sun will never shine again.
I sit down beside the bed
and lay my hand over Mallory's.
Her hazel eyes blink open at the touch
as I let my power brush against her.
She doesn't protest, though, as I imagine
the dank rain drying up, the clouds thinning,
and at last the sunlight peeking through.
"You're good at that," she says,
her voice hoarse from crying.
"Glad I could help," I say.
Her pain curls inside me,
a pool of power waiting for use.
Up close I can see the dark smudges
under her eyes, a silent hint that
she hasn't been sleeping well.
"I don't know what I'm going to do,"
Clement nudges gently at my back,
and I sidle out of the way
to let him take over.
"You'll figure it out. I'll help
if you like," I say. "You've already
decided to continue the pregnancy."
"The baby's innocent," Mallory says.
"It shouldn't pay for the parents' mistakes."
"Thinking about adoption, maybe?" I ask.
Mallory shrugs. "I don't know.
I don't really want to give it up."
"You could keep it," I say.
"I can't even take care of myself,
let alone a baby," she says. "I don't
know anything about raising kids, except
maybe don't do it like my parents did."
"There are parenting classes," I say.
"You could learn before you need to do it."
"Everything is just such a mess," she says.
"You feel like your life is messed up," I echo.
"That happens sometimes. Remember that
you don't have to fix it all at once.
It's okay if you're a wreck for a while."
She looks at me through her frazzled bangs,
dry now but tangled from the storm.
"That's not what people say."
"Then it sounds like they're not trained
to handle this kind of situation," I say firmly.
"When bad things happen, it hurts, and
it takes time for people to recover.
If you need to talk to someone, I know
some folks at the Student Health Center.
Jason's great, or there's Cindy if you want a woman."
"Maybe," says Mallory. "I'm not really
in college anymore, though."
"Do you still want to be?" I ask.
"God, yes," she says. Her fingers
play with the edge of the blanket.
"SPOON has funding for superpowered students,
and enough leverage to get you back in
for real," I say. "You could keep relying on
forged papers instead, but that's a lot riskier."
"I'll think about it," Mallory says.
"It's just hard to think of the future
when I don't even have a place to live."
"If you agree to follow the house rules,
you can stay here for two weeks," I offer.
"That peach futon on the big landing
folds out into a bed, and even has its own
drawers underneath and bookcases on the arms.
It would give you some time to catch your breath."
"And then what?" she asks. "Go back
to couchsurfing like I was before?"
"If you fit in here, we can work something out.
Josephine plans to move out at the end of
this semester, so there's a room opening
on this floor," I say. "If it doesn't suit,
you can look for another place."
"I'm so tired," she whispers, and yes,
she looks like a ferret with those shadowed eyes.
"There's all this stuff I have to do, and
I have no energy to do it with."
"You made it here," I point out. "You don't
have to do anything right now. Go back to sleep
if you need more rest. I can leave you alone."
"Don't go," Mallory says, her thin fingers
curling around my hand to keep me close.
"Okay," I say. "I know things are hard right now,
but I'll help if you want. There are ways
to fill in the gaps for all the stuff that you
don't have yet. Just take one step at a time."
"I can try," she says with a small nod.
There comes a crisp knock on the door,
then Danielle calls, "Josephine says
that supper is ready and you need
to come put the dressing on the salad."
"I'll be right down," I reply.
Then I turn back to Mallory.
"You're welcome to join us for supper.
Do you think you could eat something?"
"I should at least make the attempt,"
she says, pushing off the blanket to sit up.
I lead the way downstairs, with
Mallory tagging along behind me.
Walden flits past, silent as always,
and I hear Mallory's startled "Eeep!"
On the steps below, Walden whirls in place,
black hair fluttering and blue eyes wide.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you," she says.
"I do that to everyone all the time. Danielle
keeps threatening to tie a bell around my neck."
"Good idea," Mallory mutters, but she
waves off the rest of the apologies.
In the kitchen I introduce everyone,
park Mallory at the table, and take care
of dressing the salad that Clarity made.
It smells good, sort of orangey with
bits of cranberry and spiced cashews.
The quiche just has a mild eggy aroma.
I glance at Mallory to see how she's doing.
She takes tiny portions but seems okay.
"This is really good, thanks," she says,
keeping her eyes on her plate.
"I made the main dish and dessert;
Maisie did the salad," says Josephine.
"Mallory needs crash space," I say.
"I gave her our standard two-week offer
for the futon on the upper landing."
"I don't have a summer sublet
for my room yet," Josephine says.
"The house rules are posted on
the communication center in the foyer,"
Danielle adds. "The chore board
is in the living room. If you pick early,
you get more choice of what to do."
"Okay," Mallory says. She looks
like she wants to hide under the table
even though everyone's trying to be nice.
"Don't worry, I can go over everything
with you later," I tell her.
Walden is just as quiet as Mallory,
although Paige shares an update
on her textile project. After that,
Danielle chatters about a boy
in her composition class, and
I'm content to let her fill the air.
Finally Josephine brings out dessert.
The quinoa pudding is rich and creamy,
not too sweet, flavored with cinnamon.
Mallory finishes the small spoonful
that she started with, and surprisingly
goes back for seconds after that.
"This I can eat," she says.
"The flavor's not too strong."
"I'd enjoy having it again," Paige says,
and there are nods around the table.
Josephine preens a little.
Once supper is over, Walden
starts packing up the leftovers.
I gather the glasses to put them
into the dishwasher.
Mallory collects the plates,
stacking them neatly before
bringing them to me.
"You don't have to help
if you're too tired," I say.
"I should be useful, if ...
I'm thinking of staying,"
Mallory says quietly.
"I can carry a few dishes."
I give her a careful look.
She's still not in great shape
but seems better than before.
"Okay," I say. "Thank you."
By the time everything is
cleaned up, though,
she's wilting again.
I drape an arm around Mallory,
just in case she gets wobbly;
I've got the strength
to catch her if she does.
"Come on upstairs, and
I'll help you get settled," I say.
She lets me touch her,
despite our choppy history,
and that gets me thinking.
"I'm sorry for ... well,
we've had a lot of fights,"
I say as we climb the stairs.
I'm not good at apologies,
but I know that confession
has to be part of your new life,
and that's as true for me
as it is for Mallory.
"More my fault than yours,"
she says, sitting on the futon.
The wooden slats barely creak
under her slight weight.
"I'm still sorry," I say.
I could seriously punch
whoever hurt her.
All of them. A lot.
She gives me a faint half-smile.
"Guess I'm sorry too. I wish
we could've been friends."
Clement is friends with her,
more or less, and Keane too
sort of, who will both freak
if I just let that stand.
"We could be ... better,"
I flounder. "Just stay here;
I'll get you some bedding
out of the linen closet."
I come back with sheets, blankets,
and a couple of spare pillows.
"The end table can stay, but
the coffee table has to move," I say.
Mallory scoots the table out of the way
and follows my instructions as we
unfold the futon into a bed.
"Tomorrow you can get your stuff and
stash it in the drawers under the futon,"
I say as she puts on the sheets.
"They hold more than you'd think,
and you can shelve your textbooks
in the bookcases on the arms."
"I don't have much," she says.
And she's not a college student now,
I remember belatedly, kicking myself
for the thoughtless remark.
"I just meant ... you know ...
if you need help carrying things,
you could ask me," I say.
"I'm, uh, going to bed now."
I make my escape as Mallory
climbs into her bed. I'm not
as good at social things
compared to my headmates;
it was the combat skills I got.
Having her here is going
to be awkward as hell,
but behind me I can feel
Clement and Keane
and that doesn't suck much at all.
* * *
Josephine Frazier -- She has light brown skin, hazel eyes, and very curly brown hair to her shoulders. She is the older of two sisters. She lives in the same house with Damask. She is vegetarian. Josephine knows what she wants and goes after it, usually towing other people in her wake. She studies Political Science to understand how the world works and how to fix various kinds of discrimination. She has a double minor in Ethnic Studies and Gender Studies.
Qualities: Good (+2) Leader, Good (+2) Physically Fit, Good (+2) Political Science
Poor (-2) Working Alone
Walden Hollingberry -- She has pale skin, blue eyes, and long slightly wavy black hair. Her shoulders are wider than her hips and she has small breasts. She is an only child. She is quiet, sometimes emo, and into the goth scene on weekends. She moves silently and often startles people without even meaning to. Walden lives in the same house with Damask. She's majoring in Literature with a minor in Creative Writing.
Qualities: Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Liberal Arts, Good (+2) Mysterious
Poor (-2) Dealing with Popular People
* * *
"A confession has to be part of your new life."
-- Ludwig Wittgenstein
Household chores should be divided among the members of a household. Here's a sample schedule for chores.
Vegetarian people have developed their own cuisine, and some ethnic cuisines heavily favor vegetarian dishes. Animal foods are more likely than plant foods to trigger morning sickness, so Mallory is having better luck with vegetarian food right now.
The supper menu has Hello Spring Salad, Heirloom Tomato and Onion Quiche, and Cinnamon Quinoa Pudding. There is a vanilla-cardamom version of the pudding too.
Pain can feel hot or cold, or have other characteristics. It's possible to map how emotions feel in the body. People may also have thermal reactions to social contact. Frex, nostalgia is warming while loneliness is chilling. The weather can affect human emotions too. Keane's ability to channel and use the energy of pain includes an ability to perceive it in more nuanced ways than most people do.
Life skills include things that people need to know for everyday functionality. Good parenting teaches people how to learn effectively so they acquire these life skills. People with crummy parents are usually missing some important parts of this.
Coping skills are things that kids and adults can do to deal with challenges. There are positive and negative coping skills. Know how to develop your coping skills.
Apologies are necessary to healthy relationships and they consist of several parts. Know how to apologize and accept an apology. You can see how neither Ham nor Mallory are much good at these things, but at least they're making the attempt.
See the futon with its matching coffee table and end table for the large upper landing.
Social awkwardness may have many causes and symptoms. In this case, Mallory had a crummy home life so she never learned a lot of stuff. Conversely Maisie learned social skills, but that got divided very unevenly among the headmates that Mindflare made out of her, so that Ham is not really a whole person. He is just starting to regrow the lost pieces, and they're going to take on a different shape to suit his personality which is very different than Maisie was. There are ways to build social skills.