Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Filled with Joyous Surprises"

This poem was written outside the regular prompt calls. It fills the "shopping together" square in my 4-19-16 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. It has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. This poem belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series.

Warning: This poem is mostly fluff, but Turq is still carrying a lot of damage and is trying to stretch his limits. So there are periodic angsty moments, but no major meltdowns. Think carefully if mental issues are touchy territory for you.

"Filled with Joyous Surprises"

Ansel came down the slope
of the pedestrian bridge across
Concord Avenue just south of
its intersection with Main Street.

He caught a glimpse of blue hair
and found Turq panhandling,
as badly as ever, at the base.

"Turq! Just the man I was
hoping to see," Ansel said.

Turq shied away. "Now what
did I do wrong?" he asked.

"Nothing," Ansel assured him.
"I thought you might like
to help me out, is all."

"With what?" Turq said.
His hazel eyes narrowed
as he looked up and down
Ansel's body for clues.

"To make a long story short,
I took the day off call so that we
could do our major shopping trip
to stock up for winter," Ansel said.
"Then Janie got an emergency call --
flooded house, out-of-state guests
due soon, urgent reflooring needed --
and she really didn't want to leave
a favorite client in the lurch like that."

"What does that have to do
with me?" Turq asked.

"I could really use someone
to help me carry all those groceries,"
Ansel said. "I can't handle that many
by myself, and I need to get the shopping
done today. I can pay you in cash or
in barter, whichever you prefer."

Cambridge Commons routed
a majority of parking away from
the center of town, which improved
access for pedestrians and bikers.

One of the few drawbacks of this
was that it made large shopping trips
harder because you couldn't easily hop
your car from one store to the next.
You had to carry the bags.

"I don't know ..." Turq said.

"You can say no, if you are
busy today," Ansel reminded him.

"It's not that," Turq said, looking down.
"I'm just ... not much use anymore."

"Even if you can't make it all the way,
it's more than I would have managed
without the help," Ansel told him. "You
don't have to make a snap decision; you
have time to think about what you want."

"Okay, then," Turq said.

He fell into step beside Ansel,
his battered sneakers making
a rhythmic slap-thwap against
the pavement because the soles
were coming loose from the canvas.

First Ansel led the way to
Yancy's Yard Mart. "I need
a snow shovel, a window scraper,
a bag of rock salt, assorted batteries,
a box of storm candles, along with
some other odds and ends," he said.
"I'll check their recommended list of
winter supplies too. Can I pick up
anything for you from this store?"

"I don't need anything," Turq said,
dropping his chin against his chest.

"Do you want to come in, or wait outside
while I shop?" Ansel asked him.

"Outside," Turq said, and tucked himself
into the doorway, out of the wind and
out of the traffic flow as well.

Ansel found most of the supplies,
but they were out of storm candles.
Well, he could check the hardware store
down the street; they'd probably have some.

Then he spied the stick-up lights.

Ansel ducked back outside and said,
"Hey Turq, would you like some lights
for your den? I know the gazebo has
its own lighting, but the benches don't.
I found some battery-powered lights
that go anywhere, and you could
push them with your nose or paw
when you want to turn them on."

"Okay," Turq said. "That would
be a great trade for today."

"They're five bucks for a four-pack,"
Ansel said. "Your help is worth
a lot more than that to me."

"Um," Turq said, but didn't protest.

Ansel went back inside and added
a package of stick-up lights to his pile.
Then he realized that he needed
more shopping bags, since he hadn't
brought Janie's along, so he grabbed
a few bright green recycled ones.

Finally he ran everything through
the checkout lane and carried it out.

"Give me a hand?" Ansel said, offering
Turq a couple of the shopping bags.

Turq took all of them, and made
short work of balancing the load.

He looped the bag handles through
each other, around his neck or over
his shoulders, tied them together
with twine, and fastened everything
at the center with a silvery carabiner --
a real one, Ansel noted with approval,
and not just a cheap novelty clip.

In less than two minutes he had
everything slung across his body,
almost like a real backpack, and
tucked the snow shovel under
the straps on his back.

"Ready to go," he said.

Ansel stared, shook his head,
and said, "I am really glad
to have you along today."

As they walked, they came to
a busker, a young man wearing
a light grey jacket over khakis,
his long light brown hair blowing
in the stiff breeze as he played
"Gran Vals" on an acoustic guitar.

Turq slowed to listen to the music,
and Ansel stopped alongside him.

When the song ended, Ansel said,
"Hi, Kyle. How are things going?"

"I flunked my stage test," Kyle said,
slumping over his instrument. "I have
good hands and a good memory, but
you put me on anything resembling
a conventional stage and I just die.
I need to be in with the audience,
you know? I need the connection."

"Sorry to hear it," Turq said.

"Maybe you'll do better next time,"
Ansel said as he dropped a dollar bill
in the coffee can. "Meanwhile, just focus
on learning what you can. You know
what kind of work you want, and it's
not on a concert hall circuit."

"Thanks, man," Kyle said.
He looked a little less wilted.

"That was nice of you," Turq said
as they walked on. "Do you
tip everyone like that?"

"Not quite," Ansel said. "It depends.
I won't tip anyone rude. I don't tip when
I'm broke. I won't tip for a lousy performance
unless the person looks really desperate.
I always tip if I make a request."

"Huh," Turq said. Then his head
came up, and his stomach rumbled.

"Smell something worth checking out?"
Ansel asked, even though he couldn't.
He had learned how much more sensitive
Turq's nose was compared to his own.

"Salami, cheese, bread," Turq read aloud.
"I think it's from hot sandwiches."

It turned out to be coming from a cart
selling stromboli and bottled sodas.

"Ready for lunch?" Ansel asked.

Turq licked his lips.
"If it's not too much bother ..."

Ansel stepped up to the cart and bought
a foot-long three-meat-and-cheese stromboli,
cut in half to share, and two cold bottles of
bittersweet orange soda from Azure Cap.

"Here you go," Ansel said, passing
a soda and a stromboli to Turq.

"Thanks," Turq said, and
eagerly dug into his lunch.

It was a delicious blend of salami,
pepperoni, and ham wrapped around
several cheeses, then sheathed in
a loaf of chewy Italian bread.

It was also juicy, and before long
both of them had sticky hands.

"Let's stop at the public toilet
and clean up," Ansel said.
"We can swap off watching
the shopping bags."

"Okay," Turq said, following Ansel
into the niche between two buildings.

Ansel hadn't necessarily expected
for Turq to come indoors, but
was pleased that he did so.

They took turns as intended.
Ansel washed his hands first
and then availed himself of a stall,
leaving Turq to guard the purchases.

When Ansel came out, Turq was frowning
at a boy who looked about four or five.
"Don't write on the walls," Turq said.
"You'll get us in trouble doing that."

"But it's a wall for writing?"
the boy said, looking at his father.

Instead of intervening, Ansel went
to wash his hands again, and
watched the interaction.

"It is a wall for writing," the father
told his son, then turned to Turq.
"Have you not seen one before?"

Turq shook his head. "I've
been ... away ... for a while. I
just thought it was a lot of graffiti."

"It is, but it's supposed to be here,"
the man explained. "See, the walls are
all covered in chalkboard paint, so the chalk
comes right off. Restrooms are where we
put things we want to get rid of. But if you
need to write something rude, then it's
polite to 'flush' after you finish."

He reached into a tray that held
several colors of chalk, scribbled
Bite me, dude! and erased it all.

Then he offered the chalk to Turq.

Tentatively Turq took the chalk
and began to draw on the wall.

After a minute, Ansel realized
that Turq wasn't drawing,
but writing -- in Chinese.

Turq made six symbols
in a line, top to bottom,
hesitated, and added
a seventh below them.

Then he grabbed the eraser
and wiped them out with
vigorous strokes, leaving
only the last symbol,
whatever it was.

"My turn to guard our stuff,"
Ansel suggested then.

Turq set down the chalk
and the eraser, then he
shrugged out of the bags.
He washed his hands and
disappeared into a stall.

Ansel leaned against
a bare section of wall and
watched the little boy
draw autumn leaves
in yellow and pink.

"Time to go," his father said.
The boy put the chalk in its tray
and trotted away at his heels.

Ansel picked up a short stub
of chalk, turned it sideways, and
wrote Know hope in rough calligraphy.

The door squeaked as Turq came
out of the stall. He rushed through
scrubbing his hands at the sink,
then dashed outside without
waiting for Ansel or the bags.

Ansel followed him outside.

Turq leaned against the building,
head down, gasping for air as if
he'd been holding his breath
the whole time he was inside.

"You're getting better," Ansel said
when Turq finally looked up again.

Turq looked right back down.
"I can carry the bags now," he said.

So Ansel let him have them back,
and watched with interest as Turq
wove the straps into something
almost like a herringbone pattern
as he put them over one shoulder
and then the other for balance,
redoing all the fastenings.

They walked along the street,
stopping now and then so that
Ansel could duck into this store
or that one for a few supplies.

When the two of them came alongside
the old Honeyman's Hardware building,
Ansel said, "Let's ditch the heavy stuff
in Janie's apartment. She can bring
it out to my place later on."

"I don't want to go in," Turq said,
his voice rising in distress.

"You don't need to," Ansel said
as he took his key from his pocket.
"I can carry the bags up and
then come back for you."

"Here, put them on like this so they're
easier to carry," Turq said, and helped
Ansel into the complicated rig of bags.

He was right. It was easier.
Ansel let himself into the apartment,
unloaded everything, and then returned.

Turq was leaning against the building,
kicking one foot in the air so that
the loose sole of his shoe made
a slop-flap noise as he moved.

"Ready to go?" Ansel asked.

"Yeah," Turq said, pushing himself
away from the wall. "Where to next?"

"The other end of the building --
I need to visit the hardware store,"
Ansel said, pointing out the sign.

That stop only took a few minutes, and
they had storm candles by the carton.

"Why use these instead of a flashlight?"
Turq asked as Ansel put them in a bag.

"They give a warm cheery glow, and
a source of fire," Ansel said. "Also
they're cheap and last a long time,
compared to the batteries."

"Okay," Turq said. "Now what?"

"Pantry run, so we're heading to
the grocery store," Ansel said.
"We need to stock up on staples,
winter foods, and emergency food that
doesn't need refrigeration or cooking."

"You mean like rice and chow mein?"
Turq asked, tilting his head.

Ansel flipped open his grocery list
and read, "Chocolate hazelnut spread,
dark chocolate, macadamia nuts, dry pasta,
graham crackers, tuna, sweet potatoes,
winter squash, dried beans ..."

"Okay," Turq said. "I guess you
have different pantry stuff than ...
what I remember from before."

"There are lists you can get
for stocking a pantry so that it's
easy to make good meals from it,"
Ansel said as he led them between
two of the live-work buildings toward
the supermarket that lay behind.

Once again, when they reached
the grocery store, Ansel asked Turq
if he wanted to stay out or come in.

Turq stayed outside, insisting
that he didn't need anything.

Ansel cruised the aisles with
brisk efficiency, filling his cart
with all of the winter necessities.

He indulged himself by picking up some
Quaker Sun Country Granola with Almonds
and a few cartons of shelf-stable milk for it,
because breakfast cereal worked well as
emergency food but wasn't always filling.

That one had the highest calorie count
of anything he could find on the shelves,
and Ansel was learning that he needed
to fuel up or he'd regret running low.

He also grabbed an extra package
of toilet paper, a box of tampons,
and a carton of condoms. Those
were things that you really did not
want to run out of in a snowstorm.

As soon as Ansel came out of
the store with bags in hand, Turq
lifted them away and wriggled into
them, settling everything around
himself just as neatly as before.

Ansel was really starting to envy
that boy's baggage hauling skills.

"Where are we going next?"
Turq said, looking around.

"Snackin' Max," said Ansel. He
pointed out the little square store
jutting from the end of the big mall
that bordered one edge of the plaza.
It carried a variety of high-energy snacks
along with dietary supplements and such.

Turq stayed outside, but he pressed
his nose against the window to watch
Ansel roam the aisles picking up food.

Snackin' Max had a great selection.
Ansel found Carob-Cocoa Pemmican,
Tanka Bars, and Tanka Trail Mix.

He picked up a box of emergency rations
as backup -- less palatable, but longer lasting.
Ansel had a habit of chucking some into
the glove box of his patrol car at work.

He could always give Turq the leftovers from
the last box of rations. The high calorie bars
would help fill out his malnourished body.

Next Ansel picked up some cartons of
Jumble Munch, each with a dozen bags
inside. He got his own favorite flavor,
Think Pink; Janie's favorite, Cheese Please;
and the high-fat Cozy Crunch for winter fuel.

Turq still had his face and hands
mashed against the window, watching.

Ansel parked his cart near the register
and went outside. "Do you have
a favorite flavor of Jumble Munch?"

Turq looked down, but he was
nibbling on his lip. "You don't
have to keep feeding me," he said.

"If you're at my house and you're hungry,
then you get fed," Ansel said firmly.
"The rule is the rule for everyone.
So I'd like to stock your favorites,
if you want to tell me what they are."

"I like Peacock Fan," Turq admitted.

"I'll go grab a box," Ansel said,
and did so. Then he checked out.

Turq finally let Ansel carry some
of the bags, there were getting
to be so many of them now.

From there, Ansel led the way
toward Footwares, one of
several small satellite shops
scattered around the mall.

As they walked, he could hear
the sound of music coming
from somewhere up ahead.

Ansel recognized the tune, and
when they reached the busker,
he had to muffle a laugh.

Doobie O'Donohue was blind and
dressed like it, his floppy orange hat
and red scarf clashing with his navy coat.
He tended to dress for comfort and texture
instead of colors he couldn't see.

His auburn dreadlocks bobbed
in time as he nodded his head along
with the vigorous melody that he
played on his electric guitar.

Turq was frankly staring, mouth open, at
the spectacle of traditional Irish folk songs
performed on such a modern instrument.

When the medley ended, Ansel stepped up
and said, "Hi, Doobie, it's Ansel and I've got
my friend Turq with me today. We're out
shopping for our winter supplies."

Doobie tipped his ridiculous hat at them.
"Good day for it, lots of people out," he said.

"Want to see a cool trick?" Ansel asked Turq.

When the boy nodded, Ansel pulled out
two bags of Jumble Munch in different flavors.
"Watch this," he said with a wink. "Hey Doobie,
do you want Cheese Please or Cozy Crunch?"
He shook the bags one at a time.

"Cheese Please," Doobie said,
pointing unerringly at the proper bag.

"Right as always," Ansel said,
handing it to him. Then he turned back
to Turq. "That's one of Doobie's party tricks."

"How did you do that?" Turq asked.

"I use my ears," Doobie said with a grin.
"The ingredients sound different. It's
easy with Jumble Munch because
every flavor has a different mix."

"Are you staying with your brother Davis
this month?" Ansel asked, since they were
still more-or-less behind the live-work row.

"That I am," Doobie said. "It's a bit of
a squeeze, but I love playing around here."

"Then we'll leave you to it," Ansel said.
He pulled a bill from his wallet, folded it
lengthwise, and dropped it into the tip jar.
"I'm tipping you a fiver. Pick something
cheerful to play for us, please."

"My pleasure," Doobie said. He began
playing slowly, and singing in Welsh, but
the speed picked up with every verse until he
was singing so fast that the words ran together.

Ansel laughed, then had to explain to Turq,
"It's a Welsh folk song about counting goats --
a white one, a black one, and so forth.
The last goat is pink." Then he added,
"Thank you, Doobie, that was perfect.
We'll be seeing you later."

As they walked onward, Turq said,
"You mentioned him staying with
his brother. Is he homeless, like ...?"

"He's not homeless, he's homefree.
Doobie just loves to move around,"
Ansel said. "He has a big happy family,
scattered around Bluehill and several of
the nearby towns. Doobie stays with
one relative for a few weeks, and
then moves on to someone else."

"They don't ... mind?" Turq said.

"They love the guy," Ansel said.
"Doobie is so popular that they hold
a lottery to see who gets to host him
for each of the major holidays."

"Wow," said Turq. "That's amazing."

"Last stop, Footwares," said Ansel
as he stopped at the shop door.
"You haven't made a single request
all day, so let me make a suggestion.
How about a pair of winter boots?"

"Boots are expensive," Turq said.

"They can be, but this shop gives
good value, so they'll last a long time,"
Ansel said. "Besides, Janie and I
budgeted plenty for today's trip."

Turq looked down at his sneakers,
where his grey socks poked out
through the split seams. "I'd like
new boots, yeah, but ... it's indoors."

The front of the shop was mostly glass.
Ansel looked inside and said, "I know
the guy who runs this place, and Errol
is pretty flexible. Let's talk with him
and see if we can work something out."

"Okay," Turq said, and followed Ansel
into the store, although he stopped
just inside the door as if tethered to it.

Ansel explained Turq's challenges
to Errol, who gave a sympathetic nod.

"My sister Luanne is a veteran and she
came home with PTSD. We've all been
supporting her, but it's pretty rough,"
said Errol. "What can I do to help?
Would you feel better near the door?"

"Yeah," Turq squeaked. "Door's good."

"I'll get one of the footstools from
the back of the store," Errol said.

"I know what I like -- I'm shopping for
a pair of tall solid boots," Ansel said.
"Turq, what kind of boots do you want?"

"Whatever I can get," Turq said.

"Well, we'll need to narrow that
down a bit more," Ansel said.

"Here you are," Errol said as he
set the footstool in front of them.
"Put down your shopping bags.
I'll make sure nobody blocks
the door, and it's fine if you
need to step out for some air."

"I'm looking for sturdy winter boots,"
Ansel said. "I think Turq is feeling
a little overwhelmed by the options."

"What things do you like about
boots, then?" Errol asked Turq.

"Dry? Warm?" Turq said with a shrug.

"Okay, something waterproof and
rated for low temperatures," Errol said.
"Tall or short? Lightweight or heavy?"

"Tall enough I won't get snow in them,
but not up to my knees," Turq said.
"Not too heavy, so I can walk
a long way or run if I have to."

"Pull-up, zipper, or laces?" Ansel asked.
"I like mine solid, but not everyone does."

"Yeah, no, I need laces on mine,"
Turq said. "I have really skinny feet,
so I have to be able to cinch down
my shoes or they don't fit right."

"How about a nice pair of hunting boots?"
Errol said. "They're meant for hiking
around the woods in winter."

"Yeah, maybe," Turq said.
He glanced at the display,
then winced over the prices.

"Perhaps Errol could bring you
several pairs to look at," Ansel said.
"Then you wouldn't have to deal with
the whole store all at once."

"Okay," Turq said. He looked
out the window, but then
returned his attention to them.

"What size do you wear?" Errol said.

"I dunno," Turq said, hunching over.

The question seemed to bother him,
and Ansel realized that Turq may not
have actually checked his size
since escaping from captivity.

"Measuring might be a trigger,"
Ansel pointed out then.

"I can eyeball it and bring
a few sizes to try on," Errol said.
"Turq, could you take off your shoes?"

Slowly Turq peeled off his shoes.
His right big toe peeked through
a hole in the sock, and he quickly
wriggled around to hide it.

"Okay, that'll do," Errol said.

"Get us some socks too," Ansel said.
"I need new layers, and I doubt that
Turq has any winter socks at all."

While Errol went to pick out
some hunting boots, Ansel browsed
the taller ones in shades of brown
and black, turning them over
to look for good grippy soles.

Soon Errol returned with
a stack of boxes, several bags
of boot socks, and a basket of
sample socks for trying on boots.

"Pick a pair each -- you can't try on
winter boots with nylons, so we use
these and just wash them," Errol said,
holding out the basket to them.

Turq was starting to fidget, but he
managed to get the sample socks
onto his feet. Then Errol coached him
through trying on the various boots.

"I like these, but they're a little small?"
Turq said, poking at a pair of black boots with
gray stripes that laced through eyelets most of
the way up and closed with hooks at the tops.

"I'll get you the next size up," Errol said.
"With winter boots, you need plenty of room
so you can layer your socks inside."

"Blister kit," Ansel said. "New boots
have a tendency to make hotspots."

"I'll add that to the stack," Errol said.
He carried away the boxes.

Ansel sat down to try on a couple of
pairs that looked promising, one black
and the other a dusty charcoal.

Errol came back with the new size
of Turq's preferred boots, then
carefully talked him through
the use of sock liners and
the thick-and-thin woollies
for different temperatures.

By then Turq was sweating
visibly and vibrating in place.

"Turq, why don't you go
outside while Ansel picks out
his boots?" Errol said gently.

"Okay," Turq said,
and darted out the door.

"I like these black boots, but
they're looser than I want, and
I can't find a half-size," Ansel said
as he watched Errol boxing up
Turq's selection of boots.

"Let me check in the back;
we may have a half-size there,"
Errol said. "This is a good style,
so it's selling fast, which makes it
hard to keep up the restocking."

While waiting for that, Ansel
picked out a few more pairs
of boot socks for himself, and
kept an eye on Turq outside.

"He'll be all right once
he calms down," Errol said,
setting down the half-size boots.
"He just needs some space."

Ansel tried on the new pair
and found them a perfect fit.

"Ring us up, please," he said,
handing Errol his bank card.

Errol boxed up the boots
along with everything else,
then tallied the order.

To Ansel's surprise, Turq
came back in rather than
wait for him to come out.
The boy started picking up
the pile of shopping bags.

"Find your snacks so you
can put those with your boots,"
Ansel suggested. "It'll be easier
to sort out if all of your stuff
is in the same bag."

"Okay," Turq said. "Thanks."

"You know the drill for breaking in
new boots," Errol said to Ansel, but
clearly for Turq's benefit. "Wear them
for a couple hours the first day, then
switch back to your comfy shoes.
Stretch it out a couple more hours
the next day, and so on until you
can wear them all day comfortably."

"I guess," Turq sighed, scowling
at his tattered old sneakers.

"Or you could wear the new boots
full-time and deal with the blisters,"
Ansel said. "It's up to you."

Turq shuddered. "Rather not."

They packed up their bags
and left the store, heading
back the way they'd come.

"You want to tell me why
the idea of blisters got such
a strong reaction?" Ansel asked

"Sometimes they go away and
then come back, over and over,"
Turq said. "My skin doesn't make
calluses as easily as it used to."

"That sounds awful," Ansel said.

"Yeah," Turq said. "Thanks extra
for the blister kit. That's a big help."

"I'm happy to hear that," Ansel said.
"So what do you want for supper?"

"You already fed me," Turq said.

"That was lunch, and hours ago.
Look around -- it's getting dark,"
Ansel said, waving at the shadows.

"I don't want to mooch," Turq said.

Ansel reached out and playfully tugged
the elaborate rig of shopping bags.
"Oh, because my winter supplies
are levitating themselves to my car."

Turq laughed. "You're being silly."

"And you're saving my bacon," Ansel said.
"Okay, yes, for a regular shopping run
I'd be overpaying you. But this was
a major seasonal stockup and not one
I could easily do another day. I couldn't
have done this without help, so that
is worth extra to me. Plus the fact
that I just like taking care of people."

"Maybe something quick and easy?"
Turq said. "We've been walking
around half the day already."

"I've got some leftover beef
in the fridge. I can whip up
a stew with that," Ansel said.

"I like beef," Turq agreed.
Then he flicked a glance
at Ansel. "I just don't know
why you keep doing stuff
with me. I'm a supervillain."

Ansel had already gone over
that numerous times, but it
never seemed to sink in.

"Well, it's a bit like shopping,"
he said. "You never know quite
what you'll find. Your trip can be
filled with joyous surprises or
great disappointments. However
you try, you can't plan everything.
You just have to go with the flow."

"Yeah?" Turq said softly.

"Of course, good company makes
even a challenging trip better,"
Ansel added with a grin.

Turq's answering smile was
so small it was almost lost
between mustache and beard,
but it was still there. "Okay."

When they got to the car,
Turq actually fingered the latch
of the seatbelt before shaking
his head. Then he sighed.

"It's all right, Turq," said Ansel.
"I'd prefer that you could wear
a seatbelt, but until you're ready,
it's safer to ride in caney form than
push yourself too hard and have
a panic attack in the car."

Turq's only answer was
to turn furry and flop onto
the back seat, leaving Ansel
to load the shopping bags.

When they got home, though,
Turq shifted back to human form
and then carried his own goods to
the gazebo while Ansel put away
the things that belonged in
the garage or upstairs.

Next Ansel chopped up
the leftover beef roast and
threw in some onions, celery,
mushrooms, and egg noodles.

While that cooked, he went
outside to check on Turq.

The gazebo was lit, a golden lantern
in the night, and Turq sat on one of
the benches, still in human form.

"I brought you something," Ansel said,
showing Turq the ration bars. "I got
new ones, so you're welcome to these."

"Yeah, that's great," said Turq.

"Supper will be ready soon, too,"
Ansel said. "Beef stew's on the stove."

"Thanks," Turq said. He still had
his shopping bag between his feet.
The bits and bobs he'd used for
securing the load had vanished
back into his pockets.

"Why don't we clear out a bench
for you to store things in?" Ansel said.

"I don't want to be a bother,"
Turq said. "You already
gave me one of them."

"That's a den, not a trunk,"
Ansel said. "Come on, none
of them are full anyway. I'll
just be shuffling things around."

"Okay," Turq said. Together
they moved a few yard tools
out of the adjacent bench.

Then Ansel showed Turq
the metal camping locker
hidden inside the bench.

"You can keep food in here,
and then critters can't get it,"
he explained. "It's great."

Turq put his Jumble Munch and
the handful of ration bars into
the locker, with the boots
and socks at the far end of
the bench, all perfectly neat.

It was one more tiny bit of
information, hinting that Turq
had learned respectable habits
and his present scruffiness came
from lack of opportunity or
mental injury rather than
a sloppy personality.

Ansel's vidwatch chirped.
"Supper's ready. I'll go get it."

He poured the stew into
two big bowls and carried
them back to the gazebo.

"You don't have to stay out here
in the cold with me," Turq said.

"I have a coat and a hot meal.
I'm good," Ansel said. "Listen,
if you're all peopled out, then
I will absolutely leave you alone.
But if you're just trying to avoid
bothering me again, then I am
not budging from this bench."

Turq tipped his chin down,
a lock of blue hair falling
over one eye. He peeked
at Ansel past the fringe.

"I'm not all peopled out,"
Turq said softly.

"Good," Ansel said.
"Now eat your supper."

It was good stew, and
good company too,
warm and satisfying.

Even sitting outside,
Ansel felt better about
Turq, because even if
things were still sticky,
at least they were together.

Whatever happened, it was
always easier to face with friends.

* * *


Kyle McCartney -- He has fair skin, light brown eyes, and long straight hair of light brown with a short beard. He attends Bouchet College in Bluehill where he studies music, but he comes from out of town. As a busker, Kyle sings and plays an acoustic guitar. His repertoire includes folk and pop songs along with classical guitar tunes, mostly mellow stuff. He does much better in an interactive performance space, and much worse on a formal stage.
Qualities: Good (+2) Busker, Good (+2) Endurance, Good (+2) Memory, Good (+2) Serenity, Good (+2) Reading Crowds
Poor (-2) Starving College Student

Doobie O'Donohue -- He has ruddy skin and blue eyes. He wears his dark auburn hair in dreadlocks to his shoulders, with a beard. He is blind, but that doesn't interfere with his life very much. He gets carsick easily, which is probably because he can't use vision to orient himself within the motion. Doobie only speaks English, French, and Irish Gaelic fluently -- but he can also sing in Cornish, Esperanto, German, Italian, Spanish, and Welsh. As a busker, he sings and plays an electric guitar. Doobie does not have a permanent residence, but rather relies on his extended family in Bluehill and nearby towns. He stays with one relative for a few weeks and then moves on to the next, an arrangement that everyone enjoys. They kind of view him as a family good-luck charm to be shared around -- so much that holiday stays are chosen by lottery.
Qualities: Expert (+4) Busker, Expert (+4) Exuberance, Good (+2) Big Happy Family, Good (+2) Dexterity, Good (+2) Languages
Poor (-2) Motion Sickness

Errol Reidlinger -- He has fair skin, blue eyes, and short ash-brown hair with a mustache and beard. He has two brothers and four sisters; his oldest sister Luanne is a veteran who came home from deployment with PTSD. Errol is married with four children: a son (10), a daughter (8), a son (5), and a son (2). This leaves him with a lot of family obligations. Errol runs the Footwares store in Bluehill. Full of enthusiasm, he belongs to the Glee Club at the community center where he enjoys singing and dancing. The Glee Club also organizes a lot of the parties and other activities at the community center.
Qualities: Good (+2) Energetic, Good (+2) Glee Club, Good (+2) Outgoing, Good (+2) Shoe Salesman, Good (+2) Spatial Intelligence
Poor (-2) Heavy Family Obligations

* * *

"The thing about shopping is that you never know exactly what you are going to find. A shopping experience can be filled with joyous surprises or unexpected pitfalls. No matter how hard you try, you cannot plan every detail of a shopping trip, and you never know exactly how it will end up."
-- Amanda Ford, Retail Therapy

It's important to know your limits in terms of personality and any chronic conditions you may have. The Spoon Theory is enormously useful in gauging the amount of energy you have for facing challenges. Turq has an inquisitive personality and a lot of resilience, but traumatic stress makes life very difficult for him right now. Stretching limits must be done gently to avoid injury; this is true for physical and psychological exercises. For best results, go to the edge of your comfort zone, take one step further, pause to reflect, then step back inside. Don't push too hard or fast, or you're liable to rip something.

Winter checklists of emergency supplies include such things as a snow shovel, window scraper, rock salt, batteries, storm candles, and snow boots.

This was the original kind of stick-up light that I got, apparently out of stock now, so here's another version. As adaptive equipment they work better than tiny wall switches that require fingers to use. You can hit these things with any body part or object to turn them on/off, very convenient for soups who are not (always) human-shaped.

Reusable shopping bags can be made from recycled plastic.

Various items are available for carrying multiple bags such as Grocery Gripps straps, the Yoke Shopper, Shopping Braces, Click and Carry, etc. These have generally evolved from repurposing ordinary items such as belts or mesh sacks to carry multiple bags. Because homeless people have to carry most or all of their possessions with them, they get good at cargo balancing.

Carabiners also work for carrying bags. There are many types of carabiners for different tasks in climbing, such as these. You can get a good basic one for $6-7. Because carabiners are so convenient for snapping things together, people tend to use them for non-climbing purposes. Then it's tempting to make and use cheap ones ... which aren't real carabiners but look like them, a risky feature in emergencies. Terramagne-America requires a clear visual distinction between sturdy carabiners that can take significant weight and novelty clips which can't. The novelty clips have whimsical shapes.

"Gran Vals" by Francisco Tárrega is one of the songs that every classical guitarist should know.

Enjoy a recipe for Three Meat and Cheese Stromboli.

Italian soft drinks include a flavor called chinotto. Bittersweet orange is similar to a lighter, sweeter chinotto or a darker, spicier sweet orange. It pairs well with Italian food, without going as far as Italian flavors that rarely appeal to American customers.

Here's an example of a restroom with chalkboard walls. It's an effective way to accommodate people's urge to express themselves without damaging property.

"Backstopping" explains how to support a person with autism, or absolutely any other trait that sometimes puts them at odds with the surrounding world. (That's everyone.) You learn what matters to someone you care about, and when you see a problem approaching, you give them a chance to solve it themselves. If they can't, you have a backup plan so it doesn't snowball into a disaster. In this case, Ansel was ready to intervene if someone snapped at Turq, but it wasn't necessary because the father stepped up to explain the chalkboard walls.

I got Turq's set of Chinese words from several sources, including this quirky but interesting one for Chinese Bible Encodings. In order from the top down, he wrote: Child, Alone, Ambition, Chaos, Fire, Confusion / Rebellion, Forbidden / Warning, Healing.

Ansel wrote Know hope. T-American citizens often leave little bits of encouragement for each other.

Here is a basic American pantry list which can be used to make many recipes. A Chinese pantry list includes staples like chow mein noodles, which don't require cooking and are good alone or with other foods.

Winter foods include high-calorie things like nut butters as well as seasonal produce. Before getting snowed in, make sure you have at least a two-week food supply including things that don't require electricity to prepare. Ansel's partial list is a mix of those categories: macadamia nuts, chocolate hazelnut spread, dark chocolate, dry pasta, graham crackers, tuna, sweet potatoes, winter squash, and dried beans.

Cereal and shelf-stable milk make a good breakfast during power outages. Quaker Sun Country Granola with Almonds has the highest calorie count of breakfast cereals at 266 calories per serving. You can mimic the effects by making your own granola.

Energy bars such as Carob Cocoa or Tanka Bars are helpful for short power outages. Emergency rations such as Mayday Bars have a much longer shelf life and higher nutrient density. You can also make your own energy bars.

Jumble Munch is a snack mix available in many flavors. Here are descriptions for the ones appearing above.

Think Pink has dried strawberries, dried raspberries, dried cherries, red banana chips, freeze-dried strawberry ice cream, strawberry-yogurt covered pretzels, pink-shelled pistachios, and rose-pepita white chocolate bark)

Cheese Please features Swiss cheese crackers, yellow cheddar goldfish, white cheddar popcorn, cheddar-jalapeño pretzel grids, plain pretzel rings, wheat chex, corn chex, rice chex, and savory cheese-herb granola.

Cozy Crunch contains banana chips, yogurt-covered cranberries, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, ginger-maple roasted pecans, brazil nuts, pine nuts, diced coconut, crystallized ginger, cinnamon cereal squares, honey-oat cereal rings, granola clusters, and peanut butter energy balls. (This fat-rich version is popular with soups who have high-burn powers.)

Peacock Fan has dried purple mulberries, plain dried blueberries, yogurt-covered blueberries, chocolate-covered blueberries, raisins, blue corn chips, pistachios, and matcha green granola squares.

Listen to a medley of Irish folk songs on electric guitar.

This is how blind people identify money.

"Cyfri'r Geifr" means "Counting the Goats." I did not even make up the pink goat!

Read about the distinction between homeless (people who want a permanent place but lack one) and homefree (people who prefer to travel without an anchor).

Glee Club in T-America is a catchall for singing, dancing, acting, and other performance arts enjoyed as part of a group. The exact mix of activities is determined by the talents and interests of the members in each organization. Socializing is also a major part of Glee Club, and it's typical for them to host parties and provide entertainment or to appear at important community events such as fairs and parades. Many schools, community centers, churches, and other institutions have a Glee Club to support team spirit.

Winter boots rely on various important features to keep feet warm and dry. Ansel's boots are made of solid black leather. Turq's boots are composite lace-ups.

Socks and sock liners, particularly double socks, are designed to keep feet warm in cold weather. Here is a good set of sock liners along with thick-and-thin wool socks. Turq has just been layering ordinary socks, which is better than nothing but not ideal.

A blister kit is advisable when breaking in new boots, although there are tips for preventing blisters from new boots. The problem that Turq describes is one of the drawbacks of Regeneration: because the body simply heals damage so efficiently, it's harder to toughen the skin. Blisters can keep appearing and disappearing for days or weeks.  And Regeneration generally does not heal mental  injuries that may be caused by physical pain or body horror.

Here's the recipe for Leftover Roast Beef Soup.

A camping food locker prevents critters from burgling your provisions. Ansel has a small one hidden inside the bench storage of his gazebo, where it's convenient for stashing cookout supplies.
Tags: community, cyberfunded creativity, family skills, fantasy, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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