Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

  • Mood:

Poem: "In the Can"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls, inspired by a remark from [personal profile] redsixwing. It also fills the "make new friends" square in my 8-1-15 card for the As You Like It Bingo fest, and the "locked in" square in my 10-1-15 card for the [community profile] trope_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Berettaflies thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

"In the Can"

Day One

Roy Dobermann was yelling
at three kids to get off his lawn
when the Civil Defense alarms
almost gave him a heart attack.

Wailing sirens vaporized decades in an instant.

He dropped his show cane,
shoved the fake wishing well away,
and yanked open the emergency hatch.
"Everyone in here," he barked.

The boy scurried in without hesitation,
and his grandmother passed him the toddler.

"We can't hide in a stranger's basement,"
the girl protested, but she was eyeing
the nearby alarm pole with worry.

"Shut up, kid, and get in the can,"
he said, pushing her down the hatch.
“What do they teach them at these schools?”

"Certainly not the duck-and-cover drills
that we remember," the grandmother murmured
as she took her turn on the narrow ladder.
"Those were the days, weren't they?"

"Oh yes, I was just dying to remember
the time I cracked my head on the desk
and had to get an ice pack from the nurse,"
the supervillain muttered as he climbed down
after them. "That sure impressed the girls."

The old lady tittered. "Well, if it makes you
feel any better, you certainly impressed me today."
She waggled her silver eyebrows at him.

"Grandma!" said her oldest in a horrified tone.

"I'm seventy, young man, not dead," she replied.

"Are you really him?" the boy said,
pointing to the ancient, peeling posters
of Dirty Dog, Scorpienne, and their minions
that decorated the walls of the old lair.

"You are so busted," the girl sang.

"I am -- I was --" Roy sputtered.
"Just nevermind, I'm retired."

"We're hiding out with a real supervillain,"
the boy gushed. "Gosh golly wow!"

"Oh, Jesus Christ on a cracker,"
Roy said. "Don't make a fuss of it.
Supervillains are just people with
weird abilities and not much
respect for social expectations."

"I'm afraid you just punched out
your villain card for good, dear,"
the old lady said, patting his hand.
"I'm Gloria Lorquet. These are
my grandchildren. Kevin is ten,
Louanna is eight, and Storm
hasn't quite turned two yet."

"Roy Dobermann," he replied.
"Welcome to my lair. You'll just
have to put up with the dust, I haven't
gotten around to cleaning it for
this year's hurricane season."

The shelter and most of its contents
were decades old, but still in good repair.
The television set was the size of a coffee table;
in fact the top of it served as one, set with coasters.
The food and medical supplies, of course,
were up to date and the batteries fresh.

"It's fine," said Gloria, but she seemed
upset by something, her wrinkled hands
clutching the sides of her soft pants
as she took a seat in a chair.

"What's got you all fidgety?" Roy asked.
"Ain't nothing getting in here. This is
an original Vigilance Quark Nebula
shielded with three feet of concrete,
an inch of lead, plus the VapoSilk that I
still regret wasting the extra hundred bucks on."

That managed to tease a faint smile out of
Gloria. "So did my father, though ours was
just a little backyard fallout shelter, nothing
as fancy as this," she said. "He was fit to bust
when the news announced VapoSilk as a scam."

"Everyone was," said Roy. "The fidgeting?"
It was already getting on his nerves.

"I'm worried about my daughter Michelle,"
Gloria admitted, then tapped her head.
"Logically, I know she's safe, because she
does business in a terrific skyrise, but ..."
Her hand moved down to her heart.
"That doesn't make me feel better."

The ex-supervillain sighed.
"Move your caboose," he said.
"You're sitting on the gear I need."

"You have something that can
get a signal through three feet
of concrete, et cetera?" she said,
raising her eyebrows at him.

He cackled. "More than that,
if it had to. Now shoo."

Gloria got up, allowing him
to lift the seat and reveal a gizmo
made from vacuum tubes, wires,
and less-identifiable bits.

Roy pulled out a keyboard that
trailed a hank of multicolored cables.
Then he dragged another chair closer and
sat down with the keyboard on his lap.

After fiddling with it for a few minutes,
he said, "Give me your daughter's vdress
or phone number, whatever you want or
think she'd have on her right now."

Gloria did, and soon the phone rang.

"Mom?" came the reply. "I was so worried!
I rang and rang after the alarms went, but
you didn't answer. I'm locked in at work,
they hustled everyone upstairs and then
blew the roof after the alarms sounded,
so we're already outside the city limits.
Where have you been, are the kids safe?"

"I'm in a bunker with Kevin, Louanna, and
Storm," said Gloria. "That's why you couldn't
reach me. Don't worry, we'll come home
as soon as it's safe to travel again."

"I have no idea when I'll get back.
Since it's not a weather event this time --
some kind of crazy zetetic bugs, the word is --
they're planning to park the top floors of
Jambalaya Bank & Business alongside
our extension, Gumbo Gizmology Lab,"
Michelle said. "It could take a while."

"Look on the bright side, honey,"
said Gloria. "At least this time,
you're only one month pregnant."

Michelle blew a raspberry over the line.
"Don't remind me about Storm's
precipitous arrival," she said.

"You're really okay there?" Gloria said.

"I'm smooth with it," Michelle said.
"Tatum is taking out her braids and
she's going to teach some of us
how to cornrow her hair."

"Her hair that's down to her waist braided,
and down to her butt loose if she stretches
all the kinks out of it?" Gloria echoed.

Michelle laughed. "That's the point, Mom.
Tell the kids I love them, and I'll see
everyone when work lets me off."

They wrapped up the call, and Roy
packed up his equipment to keep it safe
from curious little fingers. The bunker was
nowhere near childproof, but he could
at least minimize the risk to his gear.

"Don't you have any family
to contact?" Gloria asked.

Roy shook his head. "No," he said.
"One went east, one went west,
and I hardly ever hear from
them or the grandkids."

"Who's the lady sitting on the metal monster?"
Kevin asked, pointing to a picture.

"That was my Scorpienne," Roy said quietly.
"She died when Katrina hit -- couldn't
get home in time, and the forewinds
dropped a tree on her car."

"Oh. That's sad," said Kevin.
"How come she's wearing a swimsuit?"

"Because it was the only thing that could fit
inside her rig," Roy said as he hastily tacked
another paper over it. "She hated that suit,
said it always attracted too much attention."
Then he chuckled. "This one time, a cop got
fresh with her, and the next time they met,
she stapled him to the ceiling! With a note."

"She sounds like a crazy lady,"
Louanna said, shaking her head.

"Yeah, she loved me, so that proves it,"
Roy said. "God, I still miss that woman."
He laid his hand over the blank page,
leaning against the wall. The bunker
seemed lonely, even with company.

"My Leon died eight years ago,"
Gloria said softly. "Since then I haven't
been able to find another man who could
keep up with me, or more frankly, who
wasn't intimidated by my wits."

"They're idiots," Roy said firmly.
"Scorpienne could think rings around me --
she was the brain, I was the brawn."

Gloria reached out and playfully
squeezed his shoulder. "Huh,"
she said, when the arm under
the blue plaid sleeve did not yield.

"I have a home gym," Roy said.

"I'm bored," Kevin announced.
"Can we play video games?
Do you even have a console?"

"No, I do not have a video game console
in my fifty-year-old bunker. Your choices
are checkers, chess, or poker," said Roy.

"If you have a deck of cards, then you
can play any card game," Gloria said.
"Kevin is still a little young for poker."

"Statistics are tricky," Kevin said.

"Don't play cards with him,"
Louanna warned Roy.
"You'll lose your shirt."

"Oh really," drawled the retired supervillain.
He had, after all, played cards with friends
from Kraken. He could handle a kid.

Over the next few hours, Roy lost
not only his vintage Dirty Dog t-shirt
but also three posters, two action figures
and his last gum card of the Black Gazelle.

He glared at Louanna.
"Your brother is a hoser."

"Told you so," she said smugly.

Just then Storm blew a very wet fart
and a terrific cloud of stink.

"Oh dear," said Gloria. "I suppose
it's too much to hope that you might
have diapers somewhere in here?"

"Not since my kids outgrew them,"
Roy said. Then an idea came to him.
"But I do have some dishtowels!"

"Perfect, he's cloth diapered already.
I can just reuse the pins," said Gloria.

So Roy sacrificed one of his flour-sack towels
and showed her where to find the bathroom.

Meanwhile he fired up a different console
and checked the shadow bands for news.
Evidently some yahoos had let loose
a bunch of extremely toxic butterflies,
and even supervillains urged caution.

"Your books are scary," Kevin said.

Roy glanced over at them
as he shut down his console
and carefully locked it.

A yellow three-ring binder had
How to Blow Your Hands Off
written down the spine in marker.
Beside it sat an unlabeled one,
and then a copy of Steal This Book.

He reached up to the next shelf
and grabbed what looked like
a thick phonebook but wasn't.

"Here, kid," he said. "Keep yourself busy
with something other than robbing me blind."

Kevin leafed through it.
"This looks even harder than
the statistics book I have at home."

"Flip to the back," Roy suggested.
"It has exercises, with a minion section
that explains the basics in very small words."

Kevin hunkered down with the book,
finally content to stay out of Roy's hair.

Gloria came back with a freshly diapered Storm
and they settled into their seat together.
She plied the toddler with blank pages
and a pencil to scribble with.

Louanna joined them and
began folding paper butterflies.
It made Roy wonder if she could
do scorpions or tarantulas
like the pets he kept.

Roy turned on the television and
the old laserdisc player that
he had spliced into it.

Rummaging through his collection, he
realized that he only had one cartoon
left down here. He crouched down and
popped in Song of the South, hoping
that they wouldn't bitch about it like
folks tended to do nowadays.

"My word, I haven't seen that in decades!"
Gloria said, her voice brightening.
"You kids are in for a treat."

Roy found that he didn't mind
the company so much after all,
once he got into the movie.

After that, he dug around until
he found some of The Little Rascals
and they watched that for a while.

"Hungry," Storm whined,
pawing at his grandmother.

"May I borrow your kitchen?"
Gloria asked Roy.

"Please do," he said earnestly.
"Usually I just have ready-meals
and a college girl who comes by
three nights a week to cook for me."

"Oh, you have a bunker cookbook!"
Gloria said happily, paging through
the recipes. "This is lovely."

She made a pot of two-bean chili
and a pan of quick cornbread, plus
instant chocolate pudding for dessert.

Roy wondered about the toddler,
but Storm seemed happy with a bowl
of cornbread mushed into shelf-stable milk.

By the time the pudding cups had been
licked clean, the table cleared, and
the dishes done, the kids were
getting antsy again.

"I wanna go home," Louanna said.

Her grandmother started to shush her,
but Roy pushed himself to his feet.
"I'll check the bands again."

The news, such as it was, came across
in the chirps of Morse code and chatter of
less famous codes, including someone ranting
about mad scientists and so-called superheroes
in a spate of downright filthy Choctaw.

"The activity is dying down,"
Roy reported. "I can get y'all
a ride home if you want one."

"Yes, please," said Gloria.

Roy opened up his call box again
and hacked through to a friend in Kraken.
"Hey there, Crawfish," he said. "I'm stuck
in my bunker with a grandmother and
her three grandkids. Can you send
a secure truck to drive them home?"

"Always happy to help an old friend,
but are you sure you want to pull
this string?" Crawfish said.

"They're in my bunker, so I'm
already blown," Roy drawled.
"If I'm lucky, maybe they won't
mention it to the police."

"All right then, be there in a few,"
said Crawfish, and hung up.

Gloria was already gathering the kids.
"Listen up now, Kevin and Louanna,"
she said firmly. "I know you're a bit young
to be keeping secrets this big, but Roy didn't
have to let us in, so we're all going to pay him back
by staying quiet about it. That means we holed up in
a private bunker and played games -- you don't say
a word about whose or where, understand?"

"Yes, Grandma," they chorused.

"Thank you," Roy said. It was
more than he had expected.

It took less than half an hour
for the clang of a docking tube
to announce Kraken's arrival.

As Roy undogged the hatch,
he said, "Just mind Crawfish,
and he'll see you home safe."

Everyone thanked him for
his hospitality as he helped
them up the ladder, even Storm
adding a squeaky, "Bye-bye."

After they left, the bunker seemed
somehow smaller and drabber
instead of more spacious.

Roy walked over to the wall
and slowly unpinned the page
covering the picture of his wife.

"Lord, Delora, I'm a selfish evil old cuss
for saying this, but I wish you were here,"
he whispered, one finger tracing
the edge of the photograph.

Then he went back to the television
and put in Let It Be, the familiar music
and flickering images on the screen
washing away a little of the loneliness.

When he sat down, something crinkled.

Roy reached under his butt and
pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper.
The scribbles on it might charitably be
linked with his wishing well, if you
squinted at them the right way.

Carefully Roy smoothed it out --
thanks to that Kevin, he had
plenty of blank space to fill.

Maybe that wasn't a bad thing, after all.

* * *


Dirty Dog (Roy Dobermann) -- He has ruddy skin and dark blue eyes. His hair was black in his youth, now fine and white, except for his big bushy eyebrows which are still dark gray. He speaks Choctaw, English, Esperanto, French, and Russian. Born in 1944, he is 70 years old in 2014. Roy remembers all those years and rejoices in them, especially since he never expected to live much past 30 or so. He was widowed on August 29, 2005 when Hurricane Katrina killed his wife Delora. He has a son with two granddaughters who live in Westbord, and a daughter with two grandsons who live in Eastbord, so he rarely has contact with his family.
In his youth, he was the supervillain Dirty Dog alongside his partner Scorpienne. He was the brawn, she was the brain, and together they cut quite a swath through Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. He retired at 40, and they settled in Louisiana at one of their safehouses that nobody ever discovered. Roy enjoys low-contact projects such as building mason bee blocks and butterfly houses because he can just drop them off without having to talk with anyone. He is grouchy and introverted, but a decent person at heart. He is secretly quite fond of his pets, an assortment of scorpions, tarantulas, and other invertebrates. His current favorite is a jet-black ghost mantis.
Origin: Roy's father Rhett was involved in early nuclear testing for the military, blamed that for his son developing superpowers as a teenager, and sulked over it for the few short years afterwards until Rhett died of cancer.
Uniform: Dirty Dog's old supervillain outfit was plain black wool. Currently Roy prefers soft cotton clothes, often khaki pants with a plaid shirt.
Qualities: Master (+6) Retired Enforcer, Master (+6) Supervillain Contacts, Expert (+4) Handyman, Expert (+4) Nostalgia, Expert (+4) Practical, Good (+2) Card and Board Games, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Invertebrate Keeper, Good (+2) Languages
Poor (-2) Curmudgeon
Powers: Good (+2) Minions, Average (0) Super-Strength
Motivation: Enjoy retirement ... if people would just quit bothering him!

Gloria Lorquet -- She has ruddy skin, blue eyes, and wavy blonde hair going white. Born in 1944, she is 70 years old at the time of the Berettaflies incident. Her husband Leon was Creole with a lot of Hispanic in the mix. She has a daughter, Michelle, who lives in New Orleans; two sons, one in Slidell and one in Huntsville, Alabama; grandchildren Kevin, Louanna, and Storm plus one in the oven by Michelle; two by the son in Slidell; and one more by the son in Huntsville. Gloria used to work at Loyola University, helping various professors with their research and academic materials. She never got much credit for it ... but everyone at the college knew that those guys would have fallen on their faces without her. Although not as flexible as she used to be, Gloria still enjoys good health for her age.
Qualities: Master (+6) Smart, Master (+6) Grandmother, Expert (+4) Cook, Expert (+4) Retired University Assistant, Good (+2) Classic Entertainment Fan, Good (+2) Knowledge of Easy City, Good (+2) Practical, Good (+2) Still Pretty Healthy
Poor (-2) No Longer Limber

Michelle Sherman -- She has fair skin, brown eyes, and long straight hair of dark brown. She is 30 years old at the time of the Berettaflies incident, and pregnant again, though it doesn't show yet. Michelle married straight out of high school, divorced a few years later, and then put herself through college by waiting tables (with her mother Gloria Lorquet babysitting the kids) to get a much better job in banking. Her oldest son Kevin Marlatt is 10, daughter Louanna Marlatt is 8, toddler Isaac "Storm" Sherman is not quite 2, born August 29, 2012. The older two are from her first marriage, younger two from the second.
Michelle works at Jambalaya Bank & Business in a gizmotronic skyrise, which means their "shelter" is actually a top floor that detaches in case of emergency. She enjoys the tight-knit culture among coworkers there, mostly women of color. Between work and family she is always busy, with very little time to rest or relax.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Banker, Expert (+4) Logical-Mathematical Intelligence, Good (+2) Learning from Mistakes, Good (+2) Mother
Poor (-2) Never Enough Time

Kevin Marlatt -- He has tinted skin, brown eyes, and short brown hair. He is 10 years old at the time of the Berettaflies incident. He is the grandson of Gloria Lorquet, son of Michelle Sherman, older brother of his sister Louanna Marlatt, brother Isaac "Storm" Sherman, and his mother is pregnant again. Bright and inquisitive, he loves getting into things and trying to figure them out. He is particularly good at card games, although he finds statistics a challenge. He is much less good at remembering his manners.
Qualities: Master (+6) Smart, Expert (+4) Card Games, Good (+2) Curious
Poor (-2) Manners

Louanna Marlatt -- She has pale skin, brown eyes, and long straight blonde hair. She is 8 years old at the time of the Berettaflies incident. She is the granddaughter of Gloria Lorquet, daughter of Michelle Sherman, younger sister of Kevin Marlatt, older sister of brother Isaac "Storm" Sherman, and her mother is pregnant again. Louanna understands other people very well and tries to be polite with them. She enjoys crafts that involve paper. She tends to be too careful sometimes.
Qualities: Good (+2) Emotional Intelligence, Good (+2) Graceful, Good (+2) Papercrafts
Poor (-2) Overcautious

Isaac "Storm" Sherman -- He has pale skin, blue eyes, and blond hair. He is not quite 2 years old at the time of the Berettaflies incident, born August 29, 2012. Storm is the grandson of Gloria Lorquet, son of Michelle Sherman, younger brother of Kevin Marlatt and Louanna Marlatt, and his mother is pregnant again. Storm is flexible and affectionate. He is learning to walk, but not really steady on his feet yet.
Qualities: Good (+2) Adaptable, Good (+2) Cuddly
Poor (-2) Wobbly

Tatum Bateman -- She has sorrel skin and brown eyes. Her nappy black hair reaches to her butt if stretched all the way out, and she usually wears it in many tiny braids. She is MTF, born Tate and preferring a name that's a bit -- but not too much -- more feminine. She has a large frame with small breasts and hips, and is quite satisfied with her new body. Tatum works at Jambalaya Bank & Business, heading up the business nest floor, which aims to support the development of new businesses in Easy City. They especially focus on marginalized people, although they help others too. Most of the employees are women of color, plus a scattering of friends and family pulled in by one of them. Tatum enjoys the exchange of grooming hair and telling stories that is central to ethnic communities where people have nappy hair. She still has close ties to her mother's side of the family (who was actually delighted to have a daughter, as all the others are boys) but her father and his family refuse to have anything to do with her.
Origin: Her superpower grew in gradually.
Uniform: Tatum wears women's fashions, usually business clothes.
Qualities: Master (+6) Determination, Expert (+4) Businesswoman, Good (+2) Body Image, Good (+2) Ethnic Hair Care, Good (+2) Gender Activist
Poor (-2) Rejected by Father's Family
Powers: Average (0) Super-Intellect
Motivation: To help start businesses by marginalized people.

Scorpienne (Delora Dobermann) -- She had fair skin, black eyes, and short black hair. She was married to Roy Dobermann until her death on August 29, 2005 during Hurricane Katrina. They used to work as the supervillains Scorpienne and Dirty Dog. She was the brain; he was the brawn. They had a son with two granddaughters who live in Westbord, and a daughter with two grandsons who live in Eastbord. Her last protégé was a boy called Crawfish who wound up with Kraken.
Origin: Delora started out with Gizmology and accidentally zapped herself up to super level.
Uniform: As Scorpienne, she wore a little black swimsuit and squeezed into the carapace of a truly impressive battlesuit shaped like a scorpion. Unlike most battlesuits, the pilot fought from a prone position, operating the pincers with her arms, legs with her left foot, and stinger with her right foot. Among its most famous features was firing heavy staples that stuck people to walls. She hated the swimsuit, but it was the only thing that would fit into the battlesuit.
Qualities: Master (+6) Dexterity, Master (+6) Strategy, Expert (+4) Mentor, Expert (+4) Wealth, Good (+2) Invertebrate Keeper
Poor (-2) Just Because I'm Dressed Like This Doesn't Mean You Can GROPE Me!
Powers: Good (+2) Super-Intellect, Good (+2) Super-Gizmologist
Motivation: To think rings around the sexist men.

* * *

Emergency preparedness largely began with Civil Defense. In local-America it hasn't developed into a very cohesive system, as much of it fell apart after the Cold War ended. In Terramagne-America they have a thriving system of bunkers useful in all types of emergency, and people generally have a good level of family preparation.

Gradient alarms usually have either two (cover/run) or three (drop where you are, take nearest cover, evacuate the area) alarms to cover all emergencies. They are stored in a case similar to a fire alarm but with multiple handles, and you can switch modes if the situation changes. The "take cover" alarm is a rising-falling wail that sounds like an air-raid siren and is used for things like tornadoes or, in this case, venomous insects. For comparison, "evacuate" is a long honk like a foghorn, while "drop" is a fast warble like some ambulance sirens use. The reason they do this is because there are many different emergencies that could happen, but very few actions the civilians should take toward safety. It's more efficient to code for the response than the threat.

In Terramagne, the Vigilance company makes bunkers and the Quark is a leading favorite line for supervillains and a small handful of minions. The Nebula model has a 4-person bunkroom and two bedrooms each with a full-size bed, so it can house up to 8 people comfortably, or quite a few more in a short-term emergency.

“What do they teach them at these schools?”
C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Duck and cover drills date from the 1950s.

Disasters can cause acute stress reactions. People can help each other with family coping skills.

Despite all the attention paid to exposures of various types, some supervillains do retain their secret identity and eventually retire.

A skyrise is a building whose "shelter" is actually a top floor that detaches and flies away in case of emergency. Gizmologists at Jambalaya Bank & Business developed the reusable model that lets them return the shelter to the base building after the emergency has passed.

Black women's hair is political. They tend to be very sensitive about who is allowed to touch it, not just for reasons of agency, but for reasons of intimacy. Because hair care is an important female bonding ritual in black culture, it is seen as something that only relatives and best friends -- or professionals, for the salon crowd -- are permitted to do. However, white people can learn to care for black hair too. If a black woman invites you to braid her hair, it usually means that she considers you family. In this case, it's a mutual exchange of recognition (Tatum saying "You are my people" and her coworkers saying "You are a woman") and reassurance during a stressful time.

Most men think smart women are intimidating. Some men think smart women are hot.

Card games are good for teaching about statistics and probability.

The Anarchist Cookbook got that nickname due to certain errors. Serious activists customarily have a photocopied version to avoid leaving a sales record. The unlabled volume beside it is, of course, the corrected version. Steal This Book is another classic activist title.

Children can learn to entertain themselves with many fun activities. Coloring and drawing are good for young children. Older ones may enjoy crafts such as origami.

Laserdisc choices include Song of the South (which is actually a combination of live-action and animation) and The Little Rascals.

Bunker cooking uses recipes such as two-bean chili and quick cornbread. Desserts are often instant or easy-mix.

In L-America the Choctaw codetalkers came primarily from Oklahoma, but it looks like T-America pulled from Louisiana too.

Baby talk grows in gradually, so Storm still has a modest vocabulary.

Loneliness can be equal to or greater than major risk factors such as obesity, smoking, and alcohol problems. It is especially hard on elders. Learn how to stay connected.
Tags: cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, fishbowl, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
  • Post a new comment


    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 1 comment